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Slive Q&A: SEC boss talks oversigning, TV and BCS


DESTIN, Fla. -- Since Mike Slive took over as commissioner in 2002, the SEC has enjoyed unprecedented success both on the field and at the bank.

The SEC has won five straight BCS national championships in football and has been a dominant force in every sport it sponsors. Its 15-year, $3 billion TV contract with CBS and ESPN is among the most lucrative in college sports.

But the SEC also had a tough year on the enforcement front with two high-profile cases (Cam Newton, Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl), which brought the conference under intense criticism.

On the eve of the SEC's annual spring meetings, Slive, 70, sat down to discuss a wide range of subjects including oversigning, the future of the BCS, and if scholarships should be expanded to give more money to student-athletes.

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Related links Let's talk about the fun stuff, first. With the success of your conference, do you believe that someday people will look back and call this the "golden age" of the SEC.

Slive: When you look at five straight national championships in football by four different schools (Alabama, Auburn, Florida, LSU), it's hard to conceive that a record like that will ever be broken. That's a record that we'll be happy to keep. But when you combine that with the success that we've had in men's and women's basketball, baseball, gymnastics, swimming and the rest, it's hard to see another time when the conference has been this successful. So I've encouraged our schools to take a deep breath, look backward a little bit and enjoy it. Then we'll start talking about the future and how to make it better. Why, other than the league's significant financial resources, has the SEC been so successful?

Slive: Obviously, the biggest reason is we recruit great student-athletes. But it is also in the context of the area in which we compete and how historically important college athletics is to our part of the country. The loyalty and the fan support in the SEC is second to none. We drew over 2 million fans to watch our baseball teams this year. That's incredible. This week you are going to bring forth some proposals to change some of the "roster management" issues in football. You believe that this is an issue whose time has come. Why do you feel that way?

Slive: People talk about "oversigning" and "grayshirting" the most, but we're going to look a proposals that deal with everything including early admits, mid-year admits, summer admits and medical hardship cases. Philosophically, we want to make sure that our rules are fair to the student-athlete. That's the context. This isn't about what gives us a competitive advantage with other conferences. We have to be fair to the kids who want to come to our institutions. It will be a good conversation. The majority of your football coaches will very likely tell you that the system is working just fine. After all, the SEC has won five straight national championships with the status quo. They will ask why you want to mess with it.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive has enjoyed a slew of success in all major college sports. (US Presswire)  
SEC commissioner Mike Slive has enjoyed a slew of success in all major college sports. (US Presswire)  
Slive: I have read that but it's not a question of messing with it. It's a question of making sure that we are fair to everybody. We tried to adjust things by limiting the number of signees to 28. Then it was adopted as a national rule. I'm just not sure that change served the fundamental basis of what we wanted to accomplish. Look, roster management is not a science. It is just an issue of fundamental fairness. We want to make sure that it is a more equitable relationship for both sides -- the institution and the students who we recruit. So we'll have this discussion. We'll make some changes. If the changes don't work we'll come back in a few years and make some adjustments. But a guiding principle in what you discuss will be that a football player signed by one of your schools should not learn on Aug. 1 that he does not have a scholarship. At least he and his family should not be surprised by that, correct?

Slive: That's correct. About a week ago you indicated that you would like to begin discussions about changing the value of an athletic scholarship to include "the full cost of attendance." That would basically give each athlete a stipend of several thousand dollars for incidental living expenses. Do you also feel that this is another issue whose time has come?

Slive: The time for the discussion of this issue has certainly come. For the longest time our focus on intercollegiate athletics has been to try and maintain a "level playing field" for all the institutions involved. But now I believe we need to discuss whether or not those of us with the resources should be able to provide the needed help to athletes when the cost of attendance exceeds the actual value of the scholarship. Academic scholarships have for a long time provided this kind of support based on the need and based on the location of the campus. At this point we don't know if it's workable but you can't make that decision if you don't sit down and talk about it. So it's time for us to a least talk about it. You do understand that critics will say that the big conferences are simply using this idea to further widen the gap between themselves and the smaller conferences in Division I-A?

Slive: I know people are looking at this as a competitive issue but I have not. It's just about doing what's fair. If we have the resources and, within the rules, are able to help these kids then don't we want to try and do that? When you took over as commissioner you set a goal to have all teams off NCAA probation by 2008. You came very close to reaching that goal. But there were two very controversial compliance cases in the SEC during this academic year. Let's start with the Cam Newton case at Auburn. Are you satisfied that case was handled properly?

Slive: The facts are what facts are and based on those facts the NCAA rendered its decision (to allow Newton to play in the SEC championship game). The facts generated the result and, as far as I know, those facts haven't changed one bit. You suspended Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl for the first eight games of the conference season after his direct involvement in rules violations. Pearl finished out the season and was eventually fired by the school. Are you satisfied that your office handled that situation properly?

Slive: From a conference perspective it was. I don't want to put myself in the shoes of an institution. There are a lot of issues there and they made the decision based on what they felt was appropriate. Suspending Coach Pearl for half a conference season was in reaction to three things: How strongly I feel about following the rules; the fact that last year our president and our chancellors reinforced the powers of the commissioner to deal with coaches and student athletes through suspension; the fact that suspensions in cases like this put the punishment on the coach, where it belongs, and not on the institution. Earlier today Jim Tressel, who was involved directly in NCAA violations, resigned as the head football coach at Ohio State. What was your reaction?

Slive: We certainly don't want it to happen at any time to anyone. In the summer of 2008 the SEC signed an unprecedented televisions deal (15 years, $3 billion) with CBS and ESPN. Since then, TV has gone on a spending spree with a number of conferences to lock in college football for the long term. What does that say about the sport of college football?

Slive: Regardless if you like the BCS or don't like the BCS, you have to admit that it has changed college football from a regional game to a national game. It is the best reality TV there is and it really translates well to television. People just can't get enough of college football and the television people recognize that. Since the TV marketplace has changed in the past three years, does the SEC have the option of going back to the negotiating table?

Slive: First of all, our contracts are written in such a way that the rights fees have escalators in them. So we feel good about that. Secondly, they have "look-ins," so that every so often we revisit the contract and "look in" at our current deal to make sure that we are remaining on top of our game. We look forward to these "look ins." but we also feel very good about the final 12 years of our deal. The current BCS contract has three more years to run. In the next 12 to 14 months discussions will have to start about the future for post-season football after the bowls of 2014. There are external pressures from fans, media, and potentially the government to change the BCS system. Do you see that happening?

Slive: Right now I don't anticipate any change on the horizon. There are some things we need to look at concerning some of the rules we go by that need to be reviewed. But I don't sense a wholesale change coming. The antitrust division of the Department of Justice sent a letter to the President of the NCAA about the BCS. The attorney general of Utah has threatened to bring an antitrust lawsuit against the BCS. You are a former lawyer and a former judge. Are you convinced that the BCS does not violate current antitrust law?

Slive: Responding solely as a commissioner and not a recovering lawyer, we have been advised from outside counsel that the BCS, as it is currently constituted, does not violate antitrust law. I have been told that if the BCS were no longer viable, it is more likely that the major conferences would go back to their designated bowls (SEC in Sugar, Big Ten, Pac-12 to Rose, Big 12 to Fiesta, ACC to Orange) than to be a part of a post-season tournament to determine the national championship. Do you agree with that?

Slive: We have never discussed that as a league. I'm not committing to that here, but I would say that it would be a significant option for the Southeastern Conference if the BCS were to go away. Will you discuss the growth and influence of 7-on-7 summer camps in football?

Slive: Yes. There is a lot of concern about the role of third parties in the recruiting process. This has been an issue in basketball for some time and now the seven-on-seven camps have raised a concern. Without getting into the details, I'll say that we have legislation to address that. If the NFL does not have a season, will the SEC consider playing some games on Sunday?

Slive: No. We like Saturday afternoons and Saturday nights. We do two Thursday night games per season. We are happy with that. Two final big picture questions: College football has never been more successful in terms of fan interest and finances. But as one of the caretakers of the game, are you concerned about what this wave of scandal is doing to the integrity of the game?

Slive: There is no doubt that we've had a series of happenings that have cast a shadow over the game. It would be naïve of us not to be aware of that and not to think about that. The question is, as trustees for the game, what do we need to do? Our job is to leave the game better than we found it. We have made progress on this front but we have also stubbed our toe. The point is that we need to keep talking about it. Finally, your contract as SEC Commissioner expires on July 31, 2012. I've been told that you’re not ready to retire.

Slive: Next year will be my 10th anniversary as commissioner and unless something unforeseen happens I don't expect it to be my last. I feel good. There are some things I want to work on to finish up over the next couple of years. It is a great time to be a part of the SEC.

Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.

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