A coach is measured by victories, an athletic director by the hires. How about a conference commissioner?
Among power conferences, a good place to begin is the league’s image — based on national championships and its value in the media marketplace. A commissioner doesn’t have much to do with the first, plenty with the second but it’s all recorded on the league boss’s scorecard.
Pity Greg Sankey.
Sankey, the new Southeastern Conference commissioner brings ideal qualifications. He’s been with the SEC since 2002 and has overseen the league’s day-to-day operations for the past three years.
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Sankey comes from a compliance background. He was brought on board to help change the SEC’s reputation as a cheater league, and based on where things stood a decade ago he moved the league in the right direction.
The problem for Sankey is that over the next decade or so the SEC could win seven straight football championships, three men’s basketball titles and negotiate what will become the most lucrative TV deal in college sports, and he’ll only match the accomplishments of his predecessor, Mike Slive.
And if he creates a new football championship structure and oversees another phase of realignment with expansion, he’ll duplicate the triumphs of Slive’s predecessor Roy Kramer.
Sankey follows not one but a succession of leaders who established the Southeastern Conference as college sports competitive kingpin. On Monday in his first SEC Media Days address Sankey appropriately paid tribute to the past but pivoted forward in a way that highlights some differences.
Twitter, for instance.
The 51-year-old Sankey pointed out none of his predecessor had an account.
“I, however, have a Twitter account,” Sankey said and called it “a small representation of the changes occurring all around us.”
The avatar at @GregSankey is Sankey lifting a tire with a SEC logo imposed.
From social media, he broke into song, or at least, quoted lyrics from Bob Dylan, “The Times, They Are A’changin.”
The segue worked here as Sankey gave a shout out to member presidents along with coaches and athletes who have been open in the desire to see the Confederate flag move from state grounds to a museum, which has occurred in South Carolina with the focus shifting to Mississippi.
When he took questions on Monday, something Slive didn’t do during his state of the conference address, Sankey was asked about what the social media and pop culture references say about his approach compared to Slive’s.
“That I’m better at Google,” Sankey said. “Yeah, we’re different, but I learned a lot from Mike. Obviously, it is a different day.”
Sankey said he was running through U2 lyrics but couldn’t find the right fit. Something from “Beautiful Day,” apparently didn’t strike him.
But what does, and what Sankey emphasized was a duel theme of celebrating educational goals while keeping athletes out of the police blotters.
In a nice touch, Sankey rattled off a list of athletes from each school who chased their athletic dreams, and later returned to wear a cap and gown. Among those Sankey cited were former Chiefs return specialist Dante Hall, who got his degree from Texas A&M 14 years after leaving school, and Missouri shot putter Christian Cantwell. Cantwell continues to compete after winning the silver medal at the 2008 Olympics while working on his degree through the Tigers’ Total Person program.
Sankey followed with his strongest words.
The goal, “is to never return a championship, never pull down a championship banner, never vacate any wins, and never have a team banned from postseason competition due to NCAA infractions or the lack of academic success under the NCAA's academic performance program,” he said. “We have made great strides … and we cannot even accept one step back.
“Some of you are saying that it’s simply not possible. But no great achievement was ever produced by an attempt to be average and we seek to be excellent.”
At least continue to be, on the field and in the marketplace. If Sankey can add citizenship to the list he’ll have advanced the league. And he can tweet about it.