When he became the Southeastern Conference commissioner a dozen years ago, Mike Slive laid out an agenda of compliance, improving academic performance, improving diversity in hiring coaches and maintaining the conference’s competitive success.
All of that happened, and much more, including expanding the conference to include Missouri and Texas A&M and creating the most lucrative conference television network.
Slive, 74, will leave a remarkable legacy when he steps down next year. On Tuesday, he announced his retirement, effective July 2015.
Slive also announced he had begun treatment for a recurrence of prostate cancer for which he was originally treated in the late 1990s, before he became the SEC’s leader. He mentioned his health in a news release issued by the conference.
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“I have been blessed in more ways than I can count, and I will have as much passion for this job on my last day as I did on my first,” Slive said. “I consider my health situation a temporary detour in a remarkable road that has allowed me to meet amazing people, experience incredible events and celebrate historic victories. I will relish my final year in this position and look forward to being the biggest fan of the SEC for many years to come.”
Slive won’t soon be forgotten at Missouri. On Nov. 6, 2011, on the Mizzou campus, he stood with then-Missouri Chancellor Brady Deaton and athletic director Mike Alden, all smiles as confetti fell, making Missouri’s invitation to join the conference official.
“Mike Slive is one of the top leaders in all of sport in the country,” Alden said. “He is a visionary, a consensus builder, someone who is focused on the student-athlete and who represents college athletics with courage, character and dignity.”
With football as the engine that drives college athletics, Slive has overseen the game’s most powerful conference, and a case can be made that he and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany are two of the most influential figures in the college game.
They and other commissioners, like the Big 12’s Bob Bowlsby, helped direct a governance structure among the five largest conferences that allows schools with the largest athletic budgets to provide more benefits to athletes.
Slive believed so strongly in autonomy that he threatened an alternative path — perhaps a separate college sports organization — for the largest schools. It didn’t happen, because the new governance structure was approved by the NCAA.
Among Slive’s other recent accomplishments were his role in helping develop the College Football Playoff, which launches this year, and the creation of the SEC Network.
The playoff will match four teams in a semifinal round at the Rose and Sugar bowls, with the winners meeting in Arlington, Texas, for the national championship. It marks the first time in the game’s history that a champion will be crowned through a multiteam playoff.
The SEC Network, which debuted in August and is owned by ESPN, is the biggest moneymaker of its kind in college sports. It reaches nearly 90 million homes and is estimated to generate more than $800 million in carriage rates this year, according to Fox Sports.
The network debuted as the SEC’s popularity is soaring. Its teams won seven of the last eight BCS National Championship Games, and nine of the 16 in all.
In Slive’s 12 years, the SEC has won a total of 67 NCAA championships in 15 of the 21 sports sponsored by the SEC.
Slive has held nearly every major prominent leadership role in sports in his career, including chairman of the men’s basketball committee and BCS coordinator.
He served as commissioner of Conference USA from 1995-2002 and assumed his first role as a commissioner when he led the Great Midwest Conference upon its founding in 1991.
Between sports administration gigs, Slive co-founded Slive/Glazier Sports Group with Mike Glazier, the first sports law practice to exclusively represent NCAA member clients in NCAA-related matters.
The SEC said a national search for Slive’s replacement will begin this fall.