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Mike Slive Retiring: Career Highlights and Who Might Succeed Him

He had a great run as commissioner of the league.

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Kelly Lambert

Mike Slive is retiring as SEC commissioner next summer. He's led the conference through a remarkable period of growth across the board since he took over in 2002. Let's cover some of his highlights and look at who might replace him.

Athletic Success

Here, I'll just quote the SEC's release about how the league's teams have performed:

The hallmark of this golden age of the SEC remains a remarkable seven consecutive Bowl Championship Series national titles in football. In all, the SEC has won 67 national championships in 15 of its 21 sponsored sports during Slive's tenure as SEC Commissioner.

He might not have hired any coaches or recruited any players, but his work as commissioner strengthened the foundation on which the conference sits. He gets a hat tip in regards to these accomplishments.

Financial Success and SEC Network

Slive's first big opportunity here was in 2008 when the SEC's television contracts neared expiration. In those dealings, he raised the league's annual payout from TV networks from $70 million to an average of $205 million. It was a stunning deal at the time, one that paved the way for monster contracts for all of the other Power 5 conferences.

Of course, that wasn't the end of it. The details on the deal with ESPN that created the SEC Network aren't public, but it's going to be a massive moneymaker for the conference:

The SEC Network will reportedly charge $1.40 per subscriber per month inside the SEC footprint and $0.25 per month outside of it, meaning the conference will be in line for a big pay day. Estimates for the conference's total revenue range from $500 million to over $600 million per year, which would come out to more than $35 million per school (Steve Spurrier has some thoughts about that).

All major TV providers carried the SECN at launch except for Verizon, which caved shortly thereafter. It was the largest cable network debut ever, passing up the previous record holder of Fox Sports 1.


The SEC didn't go out looking to expand when the realignment craze of 2010 put the world of major college athletics into a spin cycle, and it completely sat out all of the activities of that year. When you're on top, you don't need to make panic moves.

Slive kept a steady hand on the wheel and made a careful and (mostly) orderly move in bringing Texas A&M aboard in 2011. Having 13 teams in a conference is an unwieldy number, so he brought in Missouri later that year. The schools made immediate impacts, with Johnny Manziel winning the Heisman Trophy in 2012 and Mizzou winning the SEC East in 2013.

A&M has been a natural fit from the start, and while some fans still don't feel like Missouri is a "true" SEC school, it will in time just like with Arkansas and South Carolina two decades ago. Adding those two increased the population footprint of the conference by 53%, which is a big factor in making the SEC Network launch as huge as it was.

College Football Playoff

In 2008, Mike Slive proposed a playoff system to the other BCS leaders that would end up only being supported by ACC commissioner John Swofford:

During five hours of meetings, Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive presented a plan for a plus-one format, matching the No. 1 team in the nation against No. 4, and No. 2 vs. No. 3 in the marquee bowl games. The winners would meet about a week later in the BCS title game. The plan also called for creating a sixth BCS game.

Sound familiar? The details of that plan aren't publicly available, but the broad strokes of it line up very closely with the system we ended up getting. Other conferences wanted other things, but the end result was essentially the Slive Plan from '08. The SEC largely got what it wanted, while other conferences made notable compromises.

By the end of the current 12-year contract, the College Football Playoff will be paying out well over half a billion dollars per year. It's an enormous increase over the old BCS payouts for everyone.

Who's next?

The SEC release says a national search will begin this fall for Slive's replacement. It's unlikely it'll have to go that far to find the next leader.

The favorite is far and away Greg Sankey, the SEC's COO and one of two people holding the title of executive associate commissioner. He came to the league in 2002 along with Slive, and basically every media person who has speculated on the next commissioner has named him first. He ran the Southland Conference before coming to the SEC, and he's worked in NCAA committees in recent years. He's qualified and has no apparent reason to turn it down. He'd represent a continuation of the Slive regime, something I think most SEC stakeholders could live with.

Recent notable conference commissioner hires elsewhere include former Women's Tennis Association CEO Larry Scott at the Pac-10 and former Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby at the Big 12. The SEC's most successful athletic director is Florida's Jeremy Foley, but he hasn't given off any signals of angling for a conference commissioner job.

The next person up will have some notable challenges ahead. The Power 5 conferences will have a new degree of autonomy within the NCAA, and the SEC commissioner will obviously be a big part of that. The commissioner will also be charged with promoting and growing the revenue of the SEC Network and working with ESPN to make sure it adapts as the media landscape changes.

It's not an easy job, and Slive leaves big shoes to fill.