BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Mike Slive sprawls in a comfy arm chair, propping his feet on a coffee table between one massive tome on Winston Churchill and an even thicker “Encyclopedia of Southern Culture.”
He’s relaxed and feeling awfully good about the state of the Southeastern Conference.
It’s a rare moment of calm for the SEC’s cerebral commissioner, but he can afford it since his “A pile” of things to do has gotten considerably slimmer over the past two years.
• Complete the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri, minus some significant scheduling questions? Check.
• Strike a deal for the SEC Network? Done.
And that recently announced network was a huge check mark for the 72-year-old Slive.
“There were a lot of things that had to be done internally as well as externally,” Slive, who had been up and running since before 5 a.m. before his afternoon interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday at his downtown office. “So when we finally had the press conference, it was a really significant moment for the league but also for me personally as a culmination of something that I’d thought about for a long time and something that I thought was really very important.
“Like expansion, I try to think about the long-term horizon. As exciting as it is to think about whether A&M or Missouri can compete in whatever sport it is, that’s something that’s fun, but really I’m thinking more about 10 years from now and 20 years from now. I think both of these events, both of these happenings, do help ensure that the SEC can continue to maintain its prominence as one of the or the major conferences.”
Slive, whose deal with the league runs through next July, sounds like a man contemplating his legacy even if he balks a bit at the term. Those two huge undertakings, the seven consecutive football national titles and his role in helping craft the particulars for the upcoming college football playoffs will undoubtedly feature prominently.
Slive also takes particular pride that NCAA sanctions aren’t much of a topic in the league 11 years after taking over with Alabama and Kentucky on probation and three other football programs under investigation.
Instead of legacy, Slive refers to his job as “almost a public trust” and himself as a trustee of a league thriving in a region where five of the 11 states with members don’t have major pro sports teams.
“I think more in terms of will the SEC have been better off for my being here?” Slive said. “I’m sure there are some people who would say yes and some people who would say no.
“At least up to now, in my heart I feel like we’ve made a contribution to make the SEC better. Whenever I decide or the league decides that my trusteeship is over, I think I’ll walk away with a sense of satisfaction.”
Others in the SEC aren’t shy about using the legacy word. The SEC Network, a 20-year partnership with ESPN that runs through 2034, might wind up being the big capper.
Slive won’t discuss revenue projections but said the network will carry 45 SEC football games and produce 1,000 live events annually.
“Mike’s legacy ladder has many, many steps on it. I think this latest rung is a real credit to Mike,” Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart said. “He’s a great leader, an outstanding communicator. He’s earned the respect of people in the profession. If Mike Slive calls somebody, they’re calling him back because he’s earned that level of respect.”
Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin credits Slive and other SEC officials for the considerable behind the scenes work in getting that deal done.
“We’re all excited about the exposure and revenue generation possibilities,” Stricklin said. Slive “doesn’t do anything — and therefore our league doesn’t do anything — that isn’t well thought out. He’s the smartest guy in the room. He doesn’t miss anything. He doesn’t miss any issues. And yet he’s very down to earth and it has always amazed me how good he is with people. He never forgets a name.”
Alabama football coach Nick Saban said Slive’s “judgment and foresight and vision for our league has been very impactful.”
The most high-profile agenda item at next week’s SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla., might be the one that most stirs up Saban and the rest of the football coaches.
The league settled last year on a scheduling model that stuck with eight SEC games, where each team played all six division members with one fixed opponent from the other division and another slot for rotating cross-division opponents. Slive said he’s keeping an open mind and hasn’t seen a format that doesn’t have drawbacks.
The SEC discussed adding a ninth league game at last year’s spring meetings. It’s sure to come up again this go around.
“It’s certainly a topic of interest to (reporters). That I know,” Slive said. “Will it be an agenda item in Destin? Yes, of course. I won’t be surprised if the First Amendment is alive and well over the four or five days that we’re in Destin. We understand the importance of the issue. We understand the interest in the issue. At the same time, it’s an important one and we’ll discuss it and approach it in a careful and deliberate manner as we try to do everything we do.”