ATLANTA -- Here is all you need to know about the high regard in which Mike Slive, the SEC commissioner, is held. On May 2, for a press conference which had already been postponed once (because of the bombings in Boston), all 14 head football coaches showed up for the formal announcement of the new SEC Network.
In fact, 32 SEC coaches from many different sports provided Slive with the perfect backdrop to reveal yet another game-changing move from a conference that has won the last seven BCS national football championships and a total of 149 national championships in all sports since 1990.
“That says a lot about Mike Slive and how much everybody respects him,” said Greg McGarity, the director of athletics at Georgia. “There aren’t many people who could have pulled this off.”
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“Isn’t that something?” said Slive, who has been the SEC commissioner since 2002. “That’s got to be your story.”
The story, other than the financial windfall that is sure to come as the SEC joins forces with ESPN to feed the most insatiable fan base in all of college sports, is Slive himself. A former district court judge and “recovering lawyer,” as he playfully refers to himself, Slive cemented his legacy as one of the impactful commissioners in the history of college athletics with Thursday’s announcement.
“For all that Mike Slive has done up to this point -- and it’s been remarkable -- this will be his legacy,” said Dave Hart, the director of athletics at Tennessee. “He has put this conference on a sound financial footing for generations to come. The SEC had already become a national brand because of our success on the field. This just takes it to a whole new level.”
There were veteran people in this conference who really didn’t know what to expect when Slive took over for the revered Roy Kramer in June of 2002. Kramer was, and still is, one of the great visionaries to ever work in college athletics. He pushed through conference expansion to add South Carolina and Arkansas in 1991. In 1992, he created the SEC championship game, the success of which every other conference has tried (and failed) to emulate. He was the Godfather of the BCS, which caused the amount of money in postseason college football to grow exponentially. In short, when Kramer took over as SEC commissioner in 1990, the schools shared $16.3 million in revenue from football television, basketball television and bowl games. When he left in 2002 that figure was $95.7 million.
So when Slive, the commissioner of Conference USA, moved to the SEC offices in Birmingham, there were a lot of people who wondered what was left for him to do. How in the world do you follow an act like Roy Kramer?
Now we know.
In 2008, the SEC signed an unprecedented 15-year deal with CBS and ESPN that would pay the conference $3 billion over the life of the contract. Last year, the SEC schools shared $241 million in revenue, right at $20 million per school. With this deal, which runs through 2034, that number is expected to quickly jump to over $30 million and beyond.
“Mike is a great leader and he is also a great consensus builder,” said Auburn president Jay Gogue. “He is very measured in his approach.
"Sometimes people want us to move faster. But Mike has a great sense of timing. This [the SEC network] is the perfect example.”
Slive thought about an SEC network when the conference signed its deals with CBS and ESPN back in 2008. But he decided to wait and watch the technology evolve. He also decided to watch The Big Ten Network, which had some initial growing pains, particularly in the area of distribution.
“We are in a unique marketplace with a unique fan base. Our fans are the most passionate in the world,” Slive said. “We knew there would be opportunities to revisit the issue of our own network. So we decided to wait until the time was right. And today is that time.”
The SEC’s coaches greeted Slive’s arrival in 2002 with a bit of caution. They had a strong ally in Kramer, a former coach. They just weren’t as sure that the lawyerly Slive would understand their concerns. But on this day, they had nothing but praise for the commissioner.
Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari first met Slive when he was the head coach at Memphis in Conference USA.
“Mike listens. He leads and then he builds a consensus,” said Calipari. “You may not always agree with him but there is never any doubt that he has the best interest of the conference in mind.”
“Oh this is a huge day for the SEC,” said Steve Spurrier, set to enter his ninth year as head football coach at South Carolina and was also head coach at Florida for 12 seasons.
“Just when you think the SEC can’t get any bigger or better then something like this comes along. You’ve got to give Commissioner Slive a lot of credit for that.”
Kramer, 83, watched Thursday’s proceedings from the comfort of his home in Maryville, Tenn.
“Mike Slive has done a masterful job of negotiating some tough waters to get the SEC to this point,” said Kramer, who recently received the Duffy Daugherty Award for his contributions to college football. “It isn’t easy to get 12 or 14 institutions to agree on much of anything. And when you sit in that chair it’s an awesome responsibility. You may steer the ship but you realize that you can’t do it alone.
“I know a lot of people put a lot of work into this. I am happy for the conference.”
Slive, who turns 73 on July 26, told me this time last year that he wanted to remain as commissioner for “a couple more years” to complete work on several things he wanted to do. The biggest of these tasks was the SEC Network, which has really been in the works for 2½ years. He became a grandfather for the first time last June. It will be interesting to see how much longer he will want to put in the hours it takes to stay on top of the most powerful conference in college athletics.
“I enjoy what I do,” Slive said.
This much I do know. When we look back on Mike Slive’s time as SEC commissioner, the crowning achievement will be Thursday’s announcement in Atlanta.
“It has been a remarkable thing to watch him work putting this all together,” said Larry Templeton, the former athletics director at Mississippi State, who now serves as a consultant to Slive.
“He has a skill and patience that not many people have. This has been a big day for the SEC and he made it happen.”
ABOUT TONY BARNHART
Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. He is the host of The Tony Barnhart Show on 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.