HOOVER, Ala.– He’s progressive, he’s an innovator, he’s 72 years old and among the most powerful men in all of college football; his name is Mike Slive, the commissioner of the Southeastern Conference.
Tuesday, Slive took to the podium and kicked off his 12th SEC media days. The conference he presides over has never been better, which is something we seem to say every summer coming off of a conference power winning another national championship.
The SEC recently distributed $289.4 million dollars to its 14 member schools, a revenue number that increases every year. His conference will soon enter into a potentially lucrative television deal with ESPN, and all signs point to it being a machine that seemingly prints money with the SEC pinwheel logo in the center instead of a dead president.
He reached elbow deep into his “Brag bag” to start things of.
“In the sport of football, the SEC won its seventh straight BCS national championship, finished the regular season with six teams ranked in the top 10 – the first conference to accomplish such a feat in the history of college football – set a record with 63 NFL Draft picks, more than double that of any other conference, and an SEC football player was awarded the Heisman Trophy for the fourth time in the last six years,” Slive said.
Those were only some of the achievements he pounded his chest about in front of some of the record 1,200 credentialed media members that will pass through the revolving doors of the Wynfrey lobby this week.
The achievements of his conference give him a platform above most in the sport and today he used it again to poke the sleeping bear that is the NCAA into reform. It’s a playing record and Slive continues to spin it, pushing for change with his sport’s governing body that seems to be evolving as fast as sap seeping out of a maple tree in the dead of winter.
“The Agenda for Change – something Slive introduces in 2011 – included three areas of primary importance. One, redefining the benefits available to our student-athletes. Two, strengthening academic eligibility requirements for incoming freshmen and two-year transfers. And, three, modernizing recruiting rules,” he said. Chief among those, and what may end up being his final legacy, is his first agenda for change.
By “redefining the benefits” Slive means meeting the full-cost of attendance. Something that he and those that push for reform were close to getting done a year ago. It is the middle ground that may be the bridge between the current sham of amateurism and outright paying of college athletes. At that time, it was in the form of a school sponsored stipend granted to each player to meet the ancillary costs of a college education that the NCAA’s full ride scholarship does not meet. The plan for a stipend failed, and we returned to square one with how the NCAA allocates its funds.
This was the chief message of Slive’s press conference today, reforming and changing the way the NCAA does business.
“What changes need to be made to the NCAA structure to provide significant roles for the stakeholders, the presidents, chancellors, athletic directors, institutional administrators, conference administrators, and coaches?” Slive asked. “Do we need all of the services provided by the NCAA’s national office, its many committees and task forces, or are some of these services better provided elsewhere. And how do we streamline the NCAA committee and legislative processes to provide leaders and visionaries who will ensure the NCAA’s future?”
It is this dogged pursuit to find a better way to do things that keeps Slive and his conference at the top of the heap. Will it be there forever? No. Sports, like many things in life is cyclical. The SEC will have its downfall no matter how tough that is to fathom at the present moment.
This may be Slive’s last media days, with a contract that expires next summer. It may be time for him to take a step back, look at what he has built and ride off into the sunset. If he abdicates his throne, he’ll have a full trophy cabinet of accolades and the knowledge that he’s made a regional conference into a national brand. He could decide to re-up and continue to push for change that he wants to see done. There is no telling if he will be content in simply handing off the reins and the clout while sitting idly by and hope his successor finishes off the work he set in motion.
“My 20 minutes are up. Some of you are happy, some may not be. Wishing you a productive and interesting week. As always, may the muse be with you. Thank you,” Slive said with a smile as he exited the podium today.
No Mike, if it’s the last time we see you on the main stage at SEC media days, thank you.