Former SEC commissioner Mike Slive dies at age 77

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Mike Slive served as SEC commissioner for 13 years before retiring in 2015. (AP Photo/Dave Martin, File)
Mike Slive served as SEC commissioner for 13 years before retiring in 2015. (AP Photo/Dave Martin, File)

Mike Slive, the influential former commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, died Wednesday at the age of 77.

Slive served as the SEC commissioner from 2002 until 2015, when he decided to retire due to health concerns. At the time of his retirement, Slive revealed a recurrence of the prostate cancer diagnosis he originally dealt with in the 1990s. Last year, he launched the Mike Slive Foundation for Prostate Cancer Research.

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“Mike Slive literally changed the world through his life,” said current SEC commissioner Greg Sankey. “He was a friend before we worked together. He was a friend when we were colleagues. He remained a friend in his retirement as I succeeded him as commissioner. Today we all lost a friend. We will miss him for his work and especially for his compassion.”

During Slive’s tenure as commissioner, the SEC achieved unprecedented athletic success, especially on the football field, and transitioned from regional power to national juggernaut. SEC schools won eight BCS national championships, including seven in consecutive years, during that span. In all, the conference won 81 national championships during Slive’s time as commissioner.

Slive also was at the forefront of several SEC initiatives, including the launch of the SEC Network, and led the league during conference realignment, which yielded the additions of Missouri and Texas A&M in 2012.

The SEC said, above all, Slive was most proud of advancing the diversity of the conference:

Slive was perhaps most proud of the advancement of diversity across the SEC during his tenure, highlighted by the hiring of Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State, the first African-American football coach in league history. He also directed the development of a Minority Coaches Database to encourage the hiring of minorities in the sport of football.

Slive was a longtime proponent of the introduction of a college football playoff and held roles as the coordinator of the BCS, chair of the NCAA D-I Men’s Basketball Committee, chair of the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee, chair of the National Letter of Intent Steering Committee and president of the Collegiate Commissioners Association, among others.

“Commissioner Slive was truly one of the great leaders college athletics has ever seen and an even better person,” said Alabama head coach Nick Saban. “He was a wonderful friend to me and someone who I respected tremendously. Mike changed the landscape of the Southeastern Conference and helped build our league into what you see today.

“He was instrumental in growing college football and in the creation of the College Football Playoff. The professionalism he displayed throughout his career was second to none. He was an advocate for all of our universities and placed the utmost importance on the well-being of student-athletes. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family in this difficult time.”

Before arriving in the SEC, Slive was the founding commissioner of the Great Midwest Conference and Conference USA, was an assistant athletic director at Dartmouth, his alma mater, and the athletic director at Cornell.

Slive is survived by his wife of 49 years, Liz; his daughter Anna; son-in-law Judd Harwood; and granddaughter Abigail.

A memorial will be held Friday in Birmingham, Alabama.

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Sam Cooper is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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