SBJ/August 20-26, 2012/In Depth

College football's playmakers

The most influential people in college football

College football is a commissioner- and TV-driven property, and recent years have made that message clear. The headlines have been dominated by massive conference realignment, through-the-roof media rights deals, and the landmark move to a four-team playoff starting with the 2014 season. Conference commissioners and network executives have been at the forefront of all of those developments, which is evidenced in this list of the most influential figures in college football.

No. 1
Mike Slive
SEC commissioner

For four hours on a warm spring day in 2008, Slive stood before a group of BCS officials espousing the benefits of the “plus-one model,” a college football playoff that would put four teams in a championship bracket and let them play their way to No. 1. When the meetings concluded that day in Hollywood, Fla., only the ACC had expressed even a mild interest in the playoff, while the rest shot it down. They didn’t even bother to take a formal vote.

If the ultimate test of influence is getting everyone else to do what you want them to do, Slive is clearly the most influential figure in college football today. A little more than four years after he presented that initial playoff proposal, it came to pass this year. The format, which goes into effect for the 2014 season, looks very much like the model that Slive first presented, with two semifinal games being played in bowl venues, followed by a national championship game a week later.

Photo by: AP Images
College football finally has a playoff, and it largely has Mike Slive to thank for it.

“He deserves all of the credit,” said Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs. “It’s basically [the same proposal] we had four years ago and everybody is just now catching up.”

Slive ended up getting everything he wanted. As other conferences lobbied to include only conference champions in the playoff, Slive, backed by the Big 12, lobbied hard for simply the four best teams. Again, others ultimately agreed with his logic.

In the midst of the playoff talks this spring, Slive worked with the Big 12 to create the Champions Bowl, “a shot across the bow at the Big Ten and the Pac-12,” one industry executive said of the upstart bowl, which will take on the storied Rose Bowl for the best show on New Year’s Day.

“Mike has led the charge to the playoff since 2008,” Florida President Bernie Machen said. “As a result, the financial return is going to be huge. Mike clearly is the lead negotiator for our conference, and really, for all of college sports.”


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