NEW ORLEANS – The ruler of college football sat in the shade on a bench at the Windsor Court Hotel on Sunday, looking quite relaxed.
There had been meetings earlier in the day and there were a couple of phone interviews to come, but for the most part, Mike Slive is just along for the joyride at this BCS national championship game.
The biggest concern for Slive, the SEC commissioner, was figuring out the best time to enjoy an afternoon cigar.
Monday night, a Jewish lawyer with an Ivy League education and a Northeast accent will add another line to his résumé as the best commissioner Dixie ever has had. His league will win an unprecedented sixth consecutive national title, when either Alabama or LSU prevails in the Superdome. But first, Slive sat down with Yahoo! Sports to talk about his league specifically and college sports in general.
Q: Simple question: How does it feel to have both competitors in the title game?
Slive: "It's exciting, as you'd expect it to be, when you've got the eyes of the college football world on us. The national recognition and appreciation for the quality of play in our league over the past decade has been made manifest [by] what's happening [Monday] night.
"And at the same time, it's satisfying and rewarding, particularly given the importance of college football and intercollegiate athletics in our part of the world. I remember walking down a concourse at a game and seeing what appeared to be a grandma and grandpa, mom and dad and John and Jane. It occurred to me that a decade from now in the same concourse, mom and dad would be grandpa and grandma, John and Jane would be mom and dad, and there would be a new John and Jane. There's this generational continuity in the Southeast."
Q: You'll win your sixth straight national title, but for the first time in the BCS era, you'll also have to console the loser. Are you ready for that?
Slive: "Our bowl record will be 6-3, but I expect there will be an asterisk against the '3' to acknowledge that we beat ourselves."
Q: You're almost a decade into your tenure at the SEC. What are you most proud of?
Slive: "I think historians looking back on this era will call it one of the golden eras of the SEC – if not the golden era. There's competitive success, but we've also made improvements in other areas.
"Number One, diversity. Three of our 14 head football coaches in the league are minorities, and there used to be none. Two of them played against each other this year [James Franklin of Vanderbilt and Joker Phillips of Kentucky] for the first time ever, and the best story is that it was no story. That's no longer of interest. That means a lot.
"Number Two, we've made significant progress in the area of compliance. Sometimes progress is two steps forward, one step back. We've stubbed our toe a couple times. But we've changed the culture.
"And, of course, we've enhanced the financial security of our people over time."
Q: In what ways has the culture been changed in regard to rules compliance?
Slive: "From an institutional perspective, there's absolute unanimity among our presidents and athletic directors regarding compliance. We've educated our fans and the public that missteps cause enormous problems. …
"The reaction to people who violate our rules has been significant. When something comes up, the issue is how do we deal with this quickly and honestly and fairly rather than trying to be cute about it."
Q: Part of the SEC's fan passion means that your league leads the nation in fan bases attempting to find violations by rival schools. How do you deal with that?
Slive: "One of our goals is to have our fans understand that what's good for one is good for all, and what's bad for one is what's bad for all. If there are things going on that are wrong, we want to know about it. But rumor and innuendo and bias and purposeful efforts to harm another school are hurtful."
Q: You're now 71. You've talked some about retirement but haven't ever had a fixed target. How much longer to do you want to do this?
Slive: "I'm going to stay for at least a couple more years. I think at that time, we'll see. I've enjoyed it immensely."
Q: When you took the job, did you think you'd enjoy it this much?
Slive: "I never thought about that. I've always enjoyed my work, loved working in intercollegiate athletics. It's been enjoyable because we've had lots of success, but the cooperation and willingness of presidents, athletic directors and others to keep the league uppermost in their minds is rewarding.
"For instance, the [football] schedule for 2012. That wasn't easy. Everyone had to give something that it didn't want to give in order to make something happen in the best interests of the league."
Q: So what's on your to-do list for the next couple of years?
Slive: "You mean my 'A' pile? First, we need to integrate Texas A&M and Missouri into the league in all facets. That's not easy. That takes time. The other is to review our current TV relationships in light of the addition of A&M and Missouri.
"And I'm also going to be a grandfather. That's definitely in the 'A' pile."
Q: Now that you've come through the latest round of expansion, what are your feelings on how it went?
Slive: "We weren't looking to expand. For reasons that are obvious, we were pretty comfortable. These schools came to us. But given their academic status, athletic tradition, commitment to broad-based programs and fan bases, that made them good additions.
"I try to think of expansion in the long term, not the short term. It's a 10-year, 20-year horizon. We're trying to ensure the most success over time."
Q: In general, this latest round of expansion was not college athletics' finest hour. Do you have any thoughts on how it happened and where we stand because of it?
Slive: "There's always been realignment. Sometimes we lose sight of that, by taking a photograph rather than a moving picture. We forget that it's been an ongoing phenomenon over many years. There was no particular issue that drove it. It's hard to be critical of a league that tries to improve itself, but you hope the motives are consistent with what's good for intercollegiate athletics."
Q: You took a stand in July on a number of issues in college sports, particularly making a push for renewable scholarships and curbing oversigning. How has that been received by your member schools?
Slive: "I think very well. That doesn't mean everyone agreed with every one of those ideas; there were several other issues we addressed as well. I think the league was pleased we were willing to take a leadership role in what we think was best for intercollegiate athletics for the long term."
Q: But some of your proposals ran counter to the way people in your league have done things over the years. My sense is that this was an example of you having the juice to make your member schools eat their vegetables, so to speak. Slive: [Smiling] "Well, they've asked me to stay."
Q: Good point. What about the reaction nationally to these reforms? Any disappointment that some of them have met resistance?
Slive: "I was pleased to see, as a result of the NCAA presidential retreat in August and the other working groups, that several of the agenda items we put forth were adapted in some form. What disappointed me was in the effort to implement them so quickly, the procedures seem to have adversely affected the substance of the reform.
"I think they rushed it too much. These are major reforms that are complicated. As with all things athletic, the implementation is more complicated than it might appear, especially for the ADs and compliance people who have to make it work every day. We may have been able to avoid some of the complications that are now surfacing."
Q: So what would have been a better way of implementing these reforms?
Slive: "Simply to have said, 'We're going to do this, and we're going to do it on such-and-such a date. Be ready to implement on such-and-such a date.' "
Q: Last week you predicted to CBS Sports that there will be changes to the BCS format and that you expected a "robust discussion" of a plus-one playoff format. Can you amplify on those comments?
Slive: "That statement speaks for itself."
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- Mike Slive
- intercollegiate athletics
- BCS national championship game
- college football