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Volume 21 No. 1


Editor’s note: This story is revised from the print edition.

The Ivy League is looking for media and marketing partners to help the conference take advantage of its strong brand and elite collection of schools.

While the Ivy League is better known for its academics than athletics, executive director Robin Harris said the conference offers the kind of extensive college programming that many networks have been seeking. The Ivy League sponsors 33 conference championships and its eight schools average more than 35 sports, making the conference the broadest and most well-rounded in the country.

Ivy League schools like Yale and Harvard are brand names more in academics than athletics.
The league issued a request for proposal last week that made all of its live content rights available. The RFP also sought bids for the league’s marketing rights, which includes the corporate sponsorship program.

Within the RFP are all Ivy League rights for linear TV and digital.

Harris has overseen the writing of the RFP, along with Scottie Rodgers, who runs the Ivy League’s communications and external operations. The conference, based in Princeton, N.J., also worked with consultant Patrick McNerney, a former IMG executive, on the RFP.

“We’re looking at this as a wonderful way to survey the landscape and maybe attract some new ideas, while trying to extend our brand and reach,” Harris said. “It’s something we’ve been talking about internally with our institutions for the last couple of years and we have a good sense of what our goals are. Our schools have truly come together through this process and they’re all fully committed to growing this.”

The Ivy League, which was founded in 1954, has methodically been working toward a more commercial approach in recent years. The conference hired NeuLion in 2013 to create the Ivy League Digital Network, and 1,100 live events were broadcast during the 2014-15 academic year. The league has worked primarily with NBC Sports Network since 2008 on its live TV broadcasts. Fox Sports also has had some Ivy League football, as has the American Sports Network.

“We’re going to put ourselves out there and see what kind of appetite there is for all of the programming we have to offer,” Rodgers said.

The conference said one company or multiple companies could bid on the media and marketing rights.

The Ivy League has been working with New York-based Leverage Agency since 2012 on sponsorship sales, and the agency brought on JP Crickets as the official dress and casual shoe of the conference.

All of the current media and marketing partners are welcome to submit bids, the conference said.

Harris expects to be working on the bid process through the fall and hopes to have decisions made by the end of the year.

“We know we need terrific partners and we believe there is a demand,” she said. “This is about taking advantage of our programming and content, and the name association of our schools. We’ve got a high caliber of competition and we want to see what we can do to expand our reach.”

It’s before 9 a.m. on a sultry summer morning in Birmingham, Ala., and Mike Slive is kicked back, a lit cigar between his fingers. He’s sitting on the back porch of his home, taking in the 15-mile view across the hilly suburbs as he contemplates the last 13 years as SEC commissioner.

Man, if this porch could talk. This is where Slive was sitting when Texas A&M’s president called to inquire about membership in the SEC. This is where he and TV consultant Chuck Gerber smoked cigars, sipped merlot and ate barbecue while they plotted the future of an SEC Network. The back porch is where Slive celebrated media deals with ESPN’s John Skipper and envisioned a college football playoff with Bill Hancock.

It’s where Slive looked into the distance and saw the future of intercollegiate athletics, and just recently, it’s where he’s reflected on the past as he enters retirement.

“There is no ‘today’ for a commissioner,” Slive said between puffs on the cigar. “When I wake up in the morning, that

Slive leans against a lacrosse stick on his back patio overlooking the Birmingham suburbs.
Photo by: R.D. Moore
day has already been planned, thought out, staffed, and it’s only about implementation. I don’t need to be involved in that. I need to be thinking about tomorrow, five years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now. The horizon is much longer for a commissioner. That’s one of the reasons I like sitting on the porch with my cigar, thinking about the issues of tomorrow.”


SBJ Podcast:
Writer Michael Smith and Executive Editor Abraham Madkour discuss Mike Slive's impact on college athletics, his management style and what the former SEC commissioner's future holds.

These are good days for Slive, who handed off the SEC commissioner’s title to Greg Sankey last month. He is surrounded by family and his health has improved. Slive’s daughter lives nearby, meaning he and wife Liz are always available to babysit 3-year-old granddaughter Abigail. He also got a good report last month from his prostate cancer doctors, who said they don’t need to see him again until September.

The peace the back porch provides takes on a different meaning now for Slive, 75, as he enters the next phase of his life. He’ll remain an SEC consultant, happy to help the new commissioner see down the road and around the bend of college sports, as Slive did for so many years.

But mostly, Slive’s mind is on taking trips with Liz and converting an upstairs room into a home office with his favorite stand-up desk.

It’s a time in his life that reminds Slive of something his father used to tell him when he was young.

“Life is a 15-round boxing match,” his dad would say. “What matters is the 15th round.”

“He figuratively took us by the hand and led us down a path,” Jay Jacobs, Auburn’s athletic director and chair of the conference ADs, said of Slive. “I’ve been around a lot of great coaches, a lot of great administrators and a lot of great CEOs, and Mike is the best I’ve seen.”

One of the guys

There’s Mike Slive, the visionary commissioner. There’s Mike Slive, the tough negotiator. There’s Mike Slive, the crafty, persistent politician who often is called the most powerful man in college sports.

Then there’s Mike Slive, the guy pouring coffee before dawn at Salem’s Diner in Homewood, a Birmingham suburb.

Mornings start at Salem’s Diner, where owner Wayne Salem (right) has set aside a personal spot for Slive. Wayne’s father played football at Alabama.
Photos by: Michael Smith
This is where “Commish” is just one of the fellas, giving it just as good as he gets.

Hours before he had retired to the back porch with his cigar that summer morning, Slive and a group of friends met at the usual spot for breakfast.

Slive was feeling like his energetic old self, not the guy who gritted his teeth through several months of chemotherapy and radiation to treat prostate cancer, which forced him out of public view late in 2014 and early 2015.

He walked around the cozy diner with a coffee pot in hand, topping off everyone’s cup. He joked with the collection of six or seven regulars who greet him with “Commish” or simply “Mike.”

Slive is a notorious early riser. It wasn’t unusual for him to meet SEC senior staffers at 6 a.m. at a nearby Starbucks.
(Starbucks is for business; Salem’s is for pleasure.)

On this morning, he was out of bed at 4:20 a.m., 30 minutes before his alarm was set to go off. As he walked into Salem’s around 6 wearing a broad grin, Slive pointed up at the TV on the wall, which was showing ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“Hey, is that the SEC Network?” Slive said with a smile, knowing it wasn’t. The channel was changed quickly.

“Where’s Mitch, we’re missing Mitch?” Slive said about one of the regulars who was absent this day. Undeterred by the early morning hour, Slive called Mitch’s cell phone and left a voicemail.

“Hey, Mitch, we took a vote and it was 3-2 that we wish you were here,” Slive said while everyone listened in and laughed.

He loves how he’s treated like any other regular at Salem’s. Well, almost. There is a plaque next to one table that reads, “Mike Slive’s Booth,” with his picture and a newspaper clipping underneath it. A few of the regulars repositioned to another seat when he came in, despite his protests.

“Oh, he’s a legend at Salem’s,” Sankey said. “He’s a big deal.”

This is his kind of hangout. There’s Wayne, the owner whose dad played football at Alabama; Casey, the Samford baseball coach; Richard, the doctor; John, the ex-Marine; Billy, the construction guy from UAB; Mitch, who works at the hospital; David, the attorney; Allen, who runs a magazine for farmers; and Dickey, the former high school football coach.

Slive, the most influential man in college athletics, somehow fits right in.

The Utica, N.Y., native even has grits with his egg whites, toast and slice of tomato.

“I love grits,” the native New Yorker said with a grin.

Here, they don’t ask him about his leadership style or what made him such an effective commissioner, the kind of questions that make him bristle.

No one in Salem’s, thankfully, ever refers to Slive as a consensus-builder.

Ask him about the College Football Playoff, ask him about the NCAA, ask him about the SEC Network — all important items in his legacy — but please don’t ask him about himself.

“I don’t have a style. I don’t think about a style,” Slive said. “You sit, you listen, you think, you deliberate, you say things in the meeting that are constructive and helpful. I don’t have a plan. I don’t have a style. Other people say that. It’s about getting at the issue.”

Full of surprises

The charming and witty Slive at Salem’s doesn’t come off as the same Slive who ruled the SEC, negotiated billion-dollar media contracts, helped reshape the NCAA and imagined the format for a four-team playoff a full decade before it came to pass.

That Slive played it close to the vest publicly, careful not to say too much.

“He’s the most meticulous, thoughtful, calculated and careful person I’ve ever seen,” said Charles Bloom, a South

While he’s now retired, Slive’s moves set the course for college sports for years to come.
Photo by: R.D. Moore
Carolina administrator who formerly ran public relations for Slive and the SEC. “Not once did I ever have to call a reporter to clarify Commissioner’s comments.”

“A recovering lawyer,” he’d call himself, Slive was too well-prepared to ever put his foot in his mouth and he didn’t negotiate in public.

“I can’t ever remember him misspeaking in a public setting. I don’t think he ever did, not once,” said his daughter, Anna Slive Harwood, an executive with the Colonnade Group in Birmingham. “He was always so careful and so aware of who he was speaking to.”

But just like the New Yorker who loves the grits at Salem’s, what you quickly learn about Slive is that he’s full of surprises.

While keeping a profile that was guarded and conservative, Slive befriended Paul Finebaum, the often-controversial radio host who thrived on stirring up SEC fans. Finebaum later was hired by the SEC Network.

From the outside, they couldn’t have seemed more different. What they discovered, through a series of lunch meetings, was that they were remarkably similar, from their religion — “Two Jews in Birmingham,” Finebaum said — to their love of books, especially Daniel Silva spy novels.

At each monthly lunch meeting, usually at Brio Tuscan Grille in Birmingham, they’d give each other the gift of a book.
Often, they’d run into each other at the Books-A-Million next door to Brio before lunch.

“It’s a pretty unlikely relationship,” Finebaum said. “Here we are, two people from different sides of the aisle, one from media, one from the conference. It was somewhat bewildering, but very satisfying. … Very seldom did we talk about business. We didn’t sit around talking about Nick Saban’s next championship. That just wasn’t part of the conversation.”

When Skipper decided to hire Finebaum for the ESPN-owned SEC Network, he sought Slive’s blessing. They stood on the sideline of the BCS championship game between Alabama and Notre Dame when Skipper gently broke the news about offering Finebaum a job, and then braced for pushback from Slive because of Finebaum’s reputation for stirring the pot.

Slive laughed and told Skipper that Finebaum is one of his closest friends.

Slive also fought for greater transparency on both SEC and NCAA fronts. He proposed keeping SEC football locker rooms open to the media, Bloom said, but the coaches shot that down.

When he chaired the NCAA basketball committee a decade ago, Slive argued in favor of a mock selection for the media members, so they could better understand and report on the process.

“The committee had turned down the idea of a mock draft, but Mike led a very thoughtful conversation and got it done,” said former NCAA executive Greg Shaheen. “He said that we should be forthcoming; we have nothing to hide.”

While his many friends like to call Slive a visionary, he was just as much an innovator.

When it comes to most of the biggest events during his tenure, the SEC wasn’t usually the first to break new ground. The conference just did it better than most.

The SEC wasn’t the first to expand in the most recent realignment, but the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri might have been the most impactful expansion by any conference.

The SEC wasn’t the first to start a conference-branded channel, but the SEC Network enjoyed the most successful launch in cable history, debuting in 65 million homes.

“You have to remember that Mike is an attorney,” Gerber said. “He needs evidence. He needs proof. He’s very methodical, and he doesn’t say a word before he thinks about it. That’s how he goes about making every decision.”

First taste of sports

In the 1950s, Utica was a solid, blue-collar town. People built bonfires on football Friday nights and after the game they’d meet at the King Cole ice cream shop for 25-cent milkshakes.

Slive’s introduction to sports came early. The son of a meat-market owner, Slive grew up competing, a trait that many of his associates say never left him. The high school years for Slive were defined by the sports seasons — football in the fall, basketball in the winter, and baseball and track in the spring.

When tall, lanky Bill Cowl moved to Utica in the sixth grade, Slive saw Cowl’s height and immediately thought of the

Slive (left) picked up his first lacrosse stick at Dartmouth, yet lettered three years.
Photo by: Slive Family
school basketball team. Slive greeted him in the hallways at school and the first thing he said was, “Do you play basketball?” The school team was a little shy on height and Slive convinced him to play.

“Mike was a tough competitor,” Cowl said. “He was a good football player, but I always thought his first love was basketball.”

The meat shop run by Slive’s father became a popular hangout in the summer among his friends and high school football teammates. Cowl designed signs in the window. Others pitched in to help cut the meat, including Slive who spent summers helping his father. Slive made extra money by filling in for meat cutters in other shops who were away on summer vacation.

Cowl said Slive, the senior class president, was a consummate leader at quarterback as the signal caller in the T-formation offense at Utica Free Academy. Undersized and not especially blessed with a strong arm, Slive would be called a game manager these days.

Through the ensuing years, which included stops at the Pac-10, Great Midwest, Conference USA and SEC, in addition to his law career, Slive never lost touch with a core group of six former high school teammates. “The Utica Boys,” as Slive calls them, were his guests at the SEC championship game a few years ago and they attended an SEC celebration of Slive’s retirement in Atlanta last month.

In an interview with SportsBusiness Journal that lasted all morning, Slive shared insights about business, family and battling cancer, but only once was he moved to tears and that’s when he talked about “The Utica Boys.”

Playing football with guys like Cowl, Bob Spatuzzi and others “was the most wonderful time,” Slive said through the tears, thinking back 60 years ago.

“Things like that mean the most to him,” Liz said, holding the hand of her husband of 47 years. “He’s got the biggest, warmest heart.”

Despite his limitations as a high school quarterback, Slive managed to catch the eye of a Dartmouth assistant football coach, who offered him a chance to try out for the team. In the days before scholarship and roster limits, schools recruited many more players than they could ever use, so when Slive started fall practice with the Dartmouth football team, “there were 23 quarterbacks and 22 centers and I was the one quarterback without a center,” Slive said. “I knew it was pretty clear my football career was nearing its end.”

Slive then went out for the lacrosse team at Dartmouth. He had never played the sport, yet went on to letter for three years.

“The first game I played in was the first game I ever saw,” he said with a smile.

In the classroom, Slive thrived and he went to Dartmouth to study pre-med with the hope of one day being a doctor. But he met one of the toughest foes he’d ever encounter — chemistry. He changed majors and began studying government, which he didn’t enjoy that much, but it was a suitable ramp toward his law degree and an early career as a defense attorney in New Hampshire. But he never stopped thinking about sports.

“I saw an ad for a job at the Pac-10 in the Chronicle of Higher Ed,” Slive said of the job that launched a nearly 40-year career in athletics. “I never could get sports out of my system. Until I got the job at the Pac-10, I was just restless.”

Game changer

Slive’s legacy at the SEC will forever be tied to four game-changing events in the last 13 years.

■ He set the tone for diversity among the head football coaches. The SEC had never had an African-American head football coach before Slive, and the conference has had five in the last dozen years, starting with Sylvester Croom’s hiring at Mississippi State in 2003.

■ Slive challenged schools to clean up their act and get off NCAA probation. When Slive was hired in 2002, nine of the

12 schools were embroiled in infractions cases. The SEC’s new commissioner infamously pledged to have all of the league’s schools off probation within five years.

■ The SEC and ESPN launched the SEC Network on Slive’s watch, debuting last August in 65 million homes. ESPN called it the most successful cable channel launch ever.

■ And for 10 years he drove the conversation for the College Football Playoff. Slive first sketched out the idea for a plus-one model after Auburn went undefeated in 2004 and was left out of the BCS championship game. Even though the SEC thrived in the BCS era, winning seven straight titles, Slive never stopped beating the drum for a playoff.

What makes Slive proudest is that those shifts in intercollegiate athletics will leave long-lasting impressions. They weren’t just one-offs that made a temporary impact. They changed a conference, and college football.

Charting conference revenue growth

Year ACC Big Ten Big 12 Pac-12 SEC
2013 $313.3 $338.9 $227.7 $374.0 $325.9
2012 $232.4 $318.4 $217.1 $334.0 $314.5
2011 $223.6 $304.3 $159.5 $175.9 $273.1
2010 $167.2 $265.1 $159.7 $111.8 $261.0
2009 $158.2 $232.4 $148.9 $101.9 $244.4
2008 $172.7 $222.0 $144.0 $96.8 $148.0
2007 $162.8 $217.7 $129.9 $96.1 $161.6
2006 $159.8 $177.4 $119.3 $88.8 $149.2
2005 $148.9 $126.9 $113.4 $76.6 $138.7
2004 $128.9 $125.5 $114.1 $74.0 $135.5
2003 $110.6 $124.7 $110.4 $75.1 $130.3
2002 $109.1 $117.0 $98.2 $76.8 $122.5

Note: Total revenue in millions.
Source: Form 990, Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service

“The legacy is one of the more remarkable ones in sports,” said Sean McManus, chairman of CBS Sports. “The enormous increase in revenue, the addition of two schools [Texas A&M and Missouri], the most successful cable launch in history. Also, what can’t be forgotten is Mike’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Mike had a commitment not just in words, but in action.”

Slive, in an uncharacteristic moment of conference bravado recently, called these years “The Golden Age of the Southeastern Conference.” And who can argue? His leadership on issues like NCAA governance, which led to autonomy for the power five conferences, and the SEC’s competitive success, vaulted Slive into a position where his voice typically could be heard over the others.

“There is a certain leverage that comes with that much competitive success,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said.
Despite so many variables, from the changing landscape in college athletics to antirust lawsuits and his own health concerns, Slive still managed to choreograph his exit from the SEC on his terms.

He calls the timing just right — his contract ends on Friday. He had been talking to the conference presidents discreetly for the last few years about retirement anyway. When his prostate cancer returned last year, metastasizing around his spine and requiring surgery 11 months ago, Slive turned much of his focus to his treatment, knowing that the conference operations were in good hands with Sankey.

As Slive relaxed on his back porch and reflected on his treatment, a mischievous grin crept across his face as he thought about the challenge he issued his cancer doctors.
“Look, my granddaughter is 2,” Slive told the doctors last year. “She’s going to have her bat mitzvah in 11 years. I’ve already written my remarks. I know what I’m going to say. If I don’t get there, it’s your ass.”

The Slive File

■ Born: July 26, 1940
■ Hometown: Utica, N.Y.
■ Family: Wife, Elizabeth; daughter, Anna

■ Undergraduate: Dartmouth College, B.A., 1962
■ Graduate: University of Virginia, JD, 1965
Georgetown University, LLM, 1966

Legal experience:
■ 1969-77: Partner, Stebbins & Bradley, Hanover, N.H.
■ 1972-77: Judge, Hanover (N.H.) District Court
■ 1977-79: Judicial master and clerk, Grafton County (N.H.) Superior Court
■ 1983-86: Founder, Law Offices of Michael L. Slive, Hanover, N.H.
■ 1986-91: Partner, Coffield Ungaretti & Harris, Chicago

Career in athletics:
■ 1968-69: Assistant athletic director, Dartmouth College
■ 1979-81: Assistant executive director, Pac-10 Conference
■ 1981-83: Athletic director, Cornell University
■ 1990-91: Senior partner, founder, Slive/Glazier Sports Group
■ 1991-95: Commissioner, Great Midwest Conference
■ 1995-2002: Commissioner, Conference USA
■ 2002-15: Commissioner, Southeastern Conference

Boards and committees:
■ 1993-2002: NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee (Chair)
■ 1997-2004: NCAA Management Council; NCAA Management Council Subcommittee to Review Automatic Qualification
■ 1997-2001: Sports Lawyers Association (Board of Directors)
■ 1998-99: NCAA Division I Working Group to Study Basketball Issues
■ 1998-2003: NCAA Football USA (Chair, Board of Directors)
■ 1999-2001: Division I-A Commissioners (Chair)
■ 1999-present: Board of Advisors/Marquette Sports Law Institute
■ 2001-03: Collegiate Commissioners Association (President)
■ 2002-08: National Letter of Intent Steering Committee (Chair)
■ 2002-03: Commission on Athletic Opportunity
■ 2004-09: NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee (Chair, 2008-09)
■ 2006-08: Bowl Championship Series coordinator

Source: SportsBusiness Journal research


“The SEC was looked upon, in a condescending way, as a football factory. It was all about pretty girls, parties and tailgating. Mike’s oversight really helped get more of the message back on education and the student athlete.”
— Robert Khayat, former Ole Miss president

“He was so meticulous about details. Before he’d finalize a report, he’d fact check every word. He’d say, ‘Never have a word if you didn’t know what it means.’ It was a great lesson for me and really set the tone for my career.”
— Kevin Warren, COO, Minnesota Vikings, a former attorney who practiced with Slive

“Mike is thoughtful, but he doesn’t always tell you what he’s thinking. He doesn’t have a compulsion to weigh in on every topic and he doesn’t speak just to hear himself. But when he has a contrary position he’ll weigh in. Mike makes good use of his comments.”
— Bob Bowlsby, Big 12 commissioner

“When I was at CBS, Mike insisted I stay at his house when I visited. Mike would get up early, knock on my door, and say, ‘Let’s go have a cigar before breakfast.’”
— Mike Aresco, commissioner, American Athletic Conference

“They won’t have a financial problem for a very long time.”
— TV consultant Chuck Gerber on the SEC Network

“He wasn’t familiar, so people weren’t real sure about him. But he turned out to be the right person at the right time.”
— Mark Womack, executive associate commissioner and CFO, SEC

“The first time I met Mike was after a Georgia game at Auburn. We finish the game, and there’s supposed to be a bus waiting on us. Well, we go to the first elevator, and it’s out. We go to the second elevator, and the line is like 60 people deep. We had no choice but to take the steps from the top of the stadium. So I’m sweating and cussing and saying a lot of things I’m not proud of when we finally get on the bus. Our producer, Craig Silver, is there, and he says, ‘Verne, where you been? Oh, meet Commissioner Slive.’ Well, luckily the commissioner and I were able to get past that shaky start.”
— Verne Lundquist, CBS Sports

“Mike always had a perspective that everybody hadn’t uncovered yet. But at the right time, it was shared, and you’d see the light bulbs go off.”
— Eli Capilouto, president, University of Kentucky

“I’ve never seen him shoot off his mouth. I’ve never seen him say, ‘OK, I’ve had it.’ He’ll never burn the bridge.”
— Nick Zeppos, chancellor, Vanderbilt University

“With Mike, I always felt like I knew who he was.”
— John Swofford, ACC commissioner

Mike Slive’s reputation as a tough negotiator is rooted in several episodes dating to his days as an attorney who represented universities in cases against the NCAA, and continuing through his time as commissioner of Conference USA and the SEC.

One of Slive’s tactics, whether he was negotiating a TV deal or meeting with the conference’s athletic directors, was to take a break when things hit a stalemate.

Slive set the tone when the stakes were high.
Photo by: R.D. Moore
That was the case when the SEC and ESPN were in the midst of an exhausting, 14-day negotiation over the terms of the conference’s media contract at law offices in Charlotte. The stakes were high — the deal, when combined with the CBS contract, wound up being worth more than $3 billion over 15 years — and so was the tension. When they reached an impasse one day, Slive nudged Larry Templeton in the ribs and said, “Let’s go for a

SBJ Podcast:
Writer Michael Smith and Executive Editor Abraham Madkour discuss Mike Slive's impact on college athletics, his management style and what the former SEC commissioner's future holds.

walk.” Templeton, the former Mississippi State athletic director who became one of Slive’s closest friends, agreed.

“I’ll never forget this: Our SEC attorney, Robert Fuller, said, ‘Commissioner, we really need to stay here and work through this,’” Templeton said. “And Mike said, ‘I said we’re going to take a break.’ So we leave and go for a walk through the streets of Charlotte. After about 30 minutes, I said, ‘Commissioner, shouldn’t we go back?’ He said, ‘No, let them sit in the room without us. We’ll figure it out in the morning.’”

Sure enough, Templeton said, the next morning Slive went into a private room with ESPN’s John Skipper, and they emerged together with a deal.

“I remember thinking, ‘Well, I guess we’re packing our bags,’” said Vanderbilt AD David Williams, who was on the SEC’s TV committee. “Sometimes you just have to show that you’re capable of getting up and going home.”

A new approach

Those 2008 negotiations were groundbreaking, not only for the value of the deal but also for its length. ESPN had never done a deal as long as 15 years. Neither side wanted to be tied up in a long-term deal like that without some flexibility to react to market conditions. Slive proposed what became known as a “look-in,” a new concept that would allow both sides to take stock of the deal in five-year increments.

“In that negotiation was born the look-in, and it’s now in several of our deals,” said ESPN’s Burke Magnus. “It was

Mike who created this concept of a look-in.

“This has been widely misunderstood; it was not a renegotiation, nor a commitment to do anything. But what it did was — and this is quintessential Slive — it forced the two sides at a minimum to get into a room.”

Magnus also credited Slive with setting the tone for the talks by saying, “We don’t want to be a property, we want to be a partner.”

“It created a level of collaboration with the SEC,” Magnus said. “That was all Slive. To that point, the deals in college would get done, you’d put the contract in the drawer, and you’d go your separate ways. We’d talk if there was an issue, but we weren’t having quarterly meetings. I give Mike the credit for changing that.

“In many ways, it changed our approach to acquisitions in the college space. The personal side can get lost in the day-to-day, but Mike always brings it back.”

Holding firm

Eric Hyman, the AD at Texas A&M, was at TCU some 15 years ago when the Horned Frogs jumped from the WAC to Conference USA. With the move came a significant entry fee to get into the new league, Hyman said.

“I’m relatively conservative financially, as everyone knows, and the fee to get into CUSA was, I thought, substantial,” Hyman said. “I had this idea that we’d negotiate down this exorbitant fee, but in his mind, it was the right fee.”

Hyman thought they would reach a mutually agreeable number, but that wasn’t the case.

“I thought we’d wheel and deal, but I walked out of the meeting with my pockets picked pretty good,” he said, laughing. “I’ve joked with him that he could have come down a penny, just to make me feel like I saved something. It was an eye-opening experience.”

Smartest guy in the room
A phrase we often heard from people describing Slive was “smartest guy in the room.” Here’s a sampling:

“He’s the best thinker in the room and he doesn’t speak until he’s ready to speak.”
— Chuck Gerber, SEC television consultant and former ESPN executive

“There’s never been a question in any negotiation that he’s the smartest guy in the room, and he’s also several steps down the road in the process.”
— Larry Templeton, SEC consultant and former Mississippi State AD

“Mike is usually the smartest guy in the room, but he doesn’t act like it. When he says something, he means it.”
— Sean McManus, CBS Sports chairman

“He’s the smartest guy in the room because of the way he over-prepares, which is what he always does. He has such wisdom because he studies every side of an issue.”
— Jay Jacobs, Auburn AD

“He’s so thoughtful and intelligent, but he’s never the loudest guy in the room. As smart as he is, he doesn’t try to dominate the conversation.”
— John Swofford, ACC commissioner

“Most of the time, Mike is the smartest guy in the room, but he never acts that way, and that’s a great trait. You always feel comfortable with him because of his willingness to listen.”
— David Williams, Vanderbilt AD

“He’s very smart and always incredibly well-prepared, whether he’s going into discussions with ESPN or planning for what might seem to be a relatively minor telephone call.”
— Robert Fuller, attorney, Robinson, Bradshaw and Hinson

“When you look back at Mike’s career, his ability to listen and process a lot of information is one of his greatest strengths. He’s the smartest guy in the room, but he wants to know what you think.”
— Rick Jones, FishBait Marketing

The model for the College Football Playoff, which went into effect last season, is practically the same as what Mike Slive proposed after the 2004 season in what was called the “plus-one.”

Auburn went undefeated that season but was left out of the BCS championship game, which went with Southern California and Oklahoma, two teams that also were unbeaten.

Slive pledged to never have an SEC team go undefeated and be left out of the title game. So a task force was put together, with the Big East’s Nick Carparelli chairing a group that included executives from the Big 12, ACC and SEC.
Former SEC executive Charles Bloom, now a senior associate AD at South Carolina, still has the handwritten notes that he took from the meetings.

“We were charged with coming up with a plus-one template that he could take to other commissioners,” Bloom said.
“We broke down the positives and the negatives, the TV, the travel, the impact on other bowls, how to handle multiple teams from the same conference, whether we’d go to one network or two, like the NFL. It’s all the same issues that we have today. What we have today with the College Football Playoff is pretty close to what we looked at back then.”

Slive pressed on for a playoff when others wanted to punt.

Photo by: Getty Images
One of the big differences a decade ago was the use of the word playoff. While it’s part of the formal name now, it was too politically hot to even say in the mid-2000s.

“Playoff was taboo back then,” Bloom said. “Unfortunately, the plus-one never got as far as a proposal among the commissioners. It died before they could even talk about it.”

In January 2008, ACC Commissioner John Swofford


SBJ Podcast:
Writer Michael Smith and Executive Editor Abraham Madkour discuss Mike Slive's impact on college athletics, his management style and what the former SEC commissioner's future holds.

assumed the role of BCS coordinator, which revolved from one commissioner to another. Swofford said that the plus-one would be thoroughly discussed during his time as coordinator.
Swofford also knew that he had an ally in Slive.

“Early on, Mike and I were the only two,” Swofford said. “So it was fun to strategize with him how we could push along a plus-one. Not that we expected it to take off right away.”

In a 2008 commissioners meeting, Swofford agreed that Slive would first propose a discussion about the plus-one and Swofford would second it.

“We had allotted about 30 minutes on the agenda for a discussion of the plus-one, and we needed about two minutes,” Swofford said with a laugh. “The two of us spoke up and then there was literally no further conversation.”

Over the years, the SEC’s success in the BCS championship — winning seven of eight before the CFP was implemented — gave Slive a stronger platform.

“Mike represented a league that was having tremendous success and there is a certain leverage that comes with that,” Swofford said.

“Mike does what he says he’s going to do,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. “Sometimes it’s taken longer for other people to come around to his way of thinking, like in the case with a playoff. But other times he’s been a consensus builder and gotten things done very effectively.”

As the commissioners came together to form the parameters for a playoff in recent years, “Commissioner Slive was the glue,” said Bill Hancock, the CFP’s executive director.

“Mike brought a collegiality to every discussion,” Hancock said. “He had a position, he represented his conference well, but he also took a global perspective. Mike was not the only one to do that, but it was fairly uncommon. … Mike understood pretty quickly that no one was going to get everything they wanted, but everyone was going to get something.”

The primary sticking point in the creation of the playoff was whether the four teams should be conference champions or whether the CFP should take the four best teams, regardless of conference.

Slive supported the model with the four best teams, which kept the door open for the SEC or any conference to get multiple teams in, but he faced initial opposition from many of the commissioners.

Slive eventually won out by making the case that the playoff would suffer with a 10-2 or 9-3 conference champion as opposed to an 11-1 at-large team.

“Mike’s a great gentleman, but he’s also very competitive,” Hancock said.

Any time Mike Slive had a meeting with the SEC’s athletic directors, he prepared by talking to the chairman of the ADs council, which in the early 2000s was Mississippi State’s Larry Templeton.

Both Slive and Templeton were notorious early risers, so they typically met at 6 a.m. for coffee to go over the agenda for the ADs meeting. When Slive hired Chuck Gerber to be the league’s TV consultant, Gerber began joining them for coffee.

They became known as the original Coffee Boys. The threesome grew by one when the SEC’s chief operator, Greg Sankey, another pre-dawn riser, joined in.

Templeton, Gerber and Sankey were more than Slive’s best friends. They formed his inner circle — his closest and most trusted advisers. The original Coffee Boys shared their thoughts about Slive in their own words.


As our relationship grew professionally over the years, we also developed a very personal relationship, almost to the
Larry Templeton (left) and Chuck Gerber are among Slive’s closest friends and trusted advisers.
Photo by: Slive Family
point where I’m part of his family and he’s part of my family. Now we talk every morning very early.

■ ■ ■

Really early in his career, we were getting ready to enact a recruiting restriction that would only affect SEC coaches and would handicap them, but it was the right thing to do. There was a lot of apprehension in the room among the ADs.

When things would get tense,


SBJ Podcast:
Writer Michael Smith and Executive Editor Abraham Madkour discuss Mike Slive's impact on college athletics, his management style and what the former SEC commissioner's future holds.

he’d say “Let’s take a break.” It would give him a chance to get outside the room and talk to some ADs individually. We’d get back in the room and talk a while and if there wasn’t a consensus, we’d take another break. Before the day was over, it was a unanimous vote. The guys saw what was best for the league.

■ ■ ■

I’ve never left a meeting with him where somebody felt like they had been railroaded or that they felt their voice had not been heard.

■ ■ ■

When I retired, Mike knew that I needed something more than running around the house working on the honey-do list. I stayed on the TV committee, he asked me to come to AD meetings, and we worked on scheduling. Then Texas A&M joined the league and I chaired the transition committee. What I thought was going to be one day a week turned into three or four days a week.

■ ■ ■

Now I’m training him on how to be a consultant.


He’s left a legacy within the conference and he’s left a legacy across intercollegiate athletics. The legacy in the conference is the lack of NCAA violations, diversity of coaches and making academics more important than they were.

The legacy in intercollegiate athletics is certainly the College Football Playoff. And what the future will be for the student athlete.

■ ■ ■

When I got to ESPN, one of the guys said, “There’s a commissioner you really need to go meet with at Conference USA.

He’s really hard to deal with. He’s Mike Slive in Chicago.” I said OK, let’s go. I walked into his office and he had this stand-up desk with an air freshener because back then in 1996 you could smoke a cigar in the office. We hit it off immediately. When his father died a year or two later, I just showed up in Utica for the funeral. We’ve been very close ever since. Then we changed college football together.

■ ■ ■

I’ve dealt with every major conference in the country and there’s always a couple of schools that are the big bear in the room. You’ve got Michigan and Ohio State, you’ve got Texas and Oklahoma, you’ve got USC and UCLA. And there’s three or four that could be that way in the SEC, but none of them ever take that approach. There’s just one voice. I’ve never seen an SEC school vote in its own best interests instead of the league’s best interests. And that’s the way Mike does business. They consider themselves family.


I still remember the first time we met. It was 1992, in the fall, at the Big Ten offices in Chicago. The next time we saw
Greg Sankey
Photo by: Getty Images
each other, he asked me where I’m from. Turned out we’re both from upstate New York, and my first job was at Utica College, which is where Mike was born and raised. So that probably knocked down some walls.

■ ■ ■

When he was at Conference USA, he offered me a job and it took me six months to say no. He was very persistent. But it probably foretold me coming here to the SEC.

■ ■ ■

He doesn’t eat lunch. I eat lunch. He’d say, “Let’s meet at noon.” He just drank coffee through lunch. He’d eat protein bars and drink coffee. I can’t do that. Coffee makes me hungry.


Mike Slive’s daughter keeps a collection in her phone of some of her dad’s favorite sayings.

One of Slive's favorite sayings was handed down by his father.

Photo by: Slive Family

Anna Slive Harwood labels them “Dad-isms,” and a few of them have become guiding principles, she said.

“When I was younger, and this is something I’ll tell [daughter] Abigail, he told me: ‘Who you marry will be the single most important decision you ever make.’ That was very sound advice, and he was 100 percent correct,” she said.

Another Dad-ism in Anna’s


SBJ Podcast:
Writer Michael Smith and Executive Editor Abraham Madkour discuss Mike Slive's impact on college athletics, his management style and what the former SEC commissioner's future holds.

phone is something that Slive’s father actually told him years ago, and he has used it repeatedly in interviews and speeches.

“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity,” Slive likes to say.

Other sayings that Slive is fond of, according to his daughter, each of which came into play during his time at the SEC:
“When you don’t know, you know.”

“Don’t negotiate unless you’re willing to lose.”


Slive’s wife of 47 years, Liz, has enjoyed veto power over each of Mike’s professional moves.

Even though Slive’s jump from Conference USA commissioner to the SEC might seem like a no-brainer, it was a tougher decision than one might think.

Slive and wife, Liz, are shown today and on their wedding day.
Photo by: Slive Family (2)
Once Slive was offered the SEC job, he talked it over with his longtime friend Chuck Gerber, who was an ESPN executive at the time.

“The first thing I said to him was, ‘Do they know you’re Jewish?’ We both laughed,” Gerber said. “Now getting down to it, you and Liz love your lifestyle.”

The Slives had a condo in Chicago overlooking the lake and he could walk to his office. “But if you want to leave a legacy in college sports, you can’t do it from Conference USA,” Gerber said. “You can do it from the SEC.”

The deal between the SEC and Slive was just about complete, but Robert Khayat, then serving as president of Mississippi and chief of the search committee, needed to hear it from Liz’s voice too.

“She got on the phone and I said, ‘Girl, how you doing?’” Khayat said in his thick Southern accent. “I think she got tickled. I needed to talk to her to seal the deal.”


Anyone who’s seen Slive with 3-year-old Abigail knows that “being a grandfather is a role he was born to play,” Anna said of her father.

That was never more evident than when Abigail was born in 2012.

Slive with daugther Anna Slive Harwood and granddaughter Abigail.
Photo by: Slive Family

Abigail was due May 23, the week before the annual SEC spring meetings, but as is so often the case, a first child can have a mind of her own.

“The doctors decided to induce the following week, in the middle of spring meetings,” Anna said.

So Slive left Destin, Fla., the site of the meetings, to fly to Birmingham, where his daughter was supposed to give birth on Wednesday night. Abigail finally arrived on Thursday night, and Slive held his granddaughter that Friday at 1 a.m.

“Then he says, ‘OK, gotta go.’ He calls the pilot and says they need to be ‘wheels up’ in an hour,” Anna said.

Slive returned to Destin in the middle of the night, slept two hours, met with the media, met with the presidents, and was back in Anna’s hospital room holding his granddaughter by that Friday afternoon.

“Who does that?” Anna said with a laugh. “I’ve always said that he has two speeds: high and off,” she said.

— Compiled by Michael Smith


Slive (right) looks over construction at Dartmouth.
Photo by: Slive Family

■ Becomes assistant athletic director at Dartmouth College.

■ Named assistant executive director at the Pac-10 Conference.

Slive at Cornell.
Photo by: Slive Family
■ Becomes AD at Cornell University.

■ Founds and serves as senior partner of Slive/Glazier Sports Group with Mike Glazier.

February 1991
■ Named commissioner of the fledgling Great Midwest Conference. In May, the conference would sign a three-year television marketing agreement with Host Creative.

April 1995
■ Named commissioner of the newly formed Conference USA, made up primarily from a merger of the Metro and Great Midwest conferences.

■ ESPN and Conference USA announce a multiyear agreement granting ESPN, ESPN2 and Creative Sports exclusive rights for national broadcast work, national and regional cable, and syndication of all men’s basketball games beginning this season.

■ Liberty Sports and the conference agree on a five-year television football package.

December 2000
■ ESPN and Conference USA agree to an eight-year deal beginning with the 2001 football season and the 2001-02 basketball season. Included in the deal are football telecasts on Tuesday and/or Wednesday nights and select Thursday and Saturday games.

Slive presents the Conference USA championship trophy to the DePaul women's basketball team in 2002, the same year he would be named SEC commissioner.
Photo by: Conference USA

July 2002
■ The SEC introduces Slive as the league’s seventh commissioner, replacing Roy Kramer, who is retiring after 13 years.

January 2005
■ Slive takes over as BCS coordinator from Big 12 Commissioner Kevin Weiberg.

January 2006
■ The SEC extends its exclusive marketing deal with Host Communications through 2016. Host has had official marketing partner status with the SEC since 1990.

October 2006
■ Slive announces that the SEC and Big East next season will begin a men’s basketball challenge series similar to the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.

The Gators celebrate a championship run.
Photo by: Getty Images
■ During the 2006-07 academic year, the SEC becomes the first conference to win national championships in football and men’s and women’s basketball in the same academic year.

April 2008
■ Slive proposes a “plus one” model playoff format. His plan is rejected by BCS officials but turns out to be similar to the current College Football Playoff.

August 2008
■ The SEC completes a 15-year, $2.25 billion deal through 2023-24 with ABC/ESPN for multiple sports; and a 15-year, $825 million deal through 2023-24 with CBS for football and basketball.

September 2008
■ CBS Sports begins streaming live online simulcasts of its weekly coverage of SEC football on

August 2009
■ SEC teams with XOS Technologies to launch the SEC Digital Network.

December 2009
■ The SEC Championship football game scores its highest rating with an 11.1.

September 2011
■ The SEC announces that Texas A&M will join the conference, effective July 1, 2012. The expansion will be the first for the league since 1992.

November 2011
■ The SEC reveals that the University of Missouri will become its 14th member institution.

May 2013

Slive scored one of his biggest deals by partnering with ESPN on the SEC Network.
Photo by: SEC

■ The SEC and ESPN formally announce their partnership on a new channel.

June 2014
■ At the SEC’s spring meetings, Slive warns that the conference would be prepared to pull out of NCAA Division I and form a new NCAA division if the five power conferences don’t receive autonomy to set their own rules on certain matters. The NCAA grants that autonomy two months later.

August 2014
■ SEC Network debuts in approximately 65 million households nationwide, making it the largest network launch in cable television history.

October 2014
■ Slive announces he will retire at the conclusion of the 2014-15 academic year.

March 2015
■ The SEC names Greg Sankey its eighth commissioner. Sankey is in his 13th year as a member of the conference staff.

Source: SportsBusiness Journal research

When Mike Slive arrived at the SEC in 2002, the conference had never had a minority head football coach. That changed on Dec. 1, 2003, when Mississippi State hired Sylvester Croom.

Larry Templeton, who became one of Slive’s closest friends, was Mississippi State’s athletic director and hired Croom. He said he didn’t fully understand the magnitude of the moment until years later.

“In the hiring process, I was running a lot of things by Mike because we had a potential NCAA violation pending against

In 2003, Mississippi State made Sylvester Croom the first minority head football coach in the SEC.
Photo by: Getty Images
us,” Templeton said. “So, before interviews I would ask him to check out those people [potential candidates]. He knew every step of where we were in the hiring process. But he never said, ‘You need to hire a minority.’”

Templeton decided to offer Croom, then an assistant coach with the Green Bay Packers, the job, and all Slive said was “Let me know how I can help.”

“I had to make a second trip to Green Bay to convince Sylvester to take the job,” Templeton said. “I called the commissioner on the way to Green Bay to tell him he hasn’t taken the job


SBJ Podcast:
Writer Michael Smith and Executive Editor Abraham Madkour discuss Mike Slive's impact on college athletics, his management style and what the former SEC commissioner's future holds.

yet, and I asked him for advice. He just said, ‘Be yourself, be who you are, let him know what we are.’ It’s not like he said, ‘Do whatever it takes.’”

Once Croom was hired, Slive, in his usually understated way, emailed Templeton.

“I’m proud of you and your university,” it read.

“It wasn’t until a couple of years later that he told me how much that hire meant to the conference and what a significant event that was,” Templeton said.

Slive went on to create a database with every minority assistant in Division I and sent it to ADs, Templeton said. He also helped start a minority coaches forum.

In Slive’s 13 years, the SEC has had five minority head football coaches. The SEC and Big Ten each will start the season with two African-American coaches, while the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 will have one apiece.

At the 2003 SEC Media Days, Greg Sankey was a newly hired associate commissioner in the SEC. He stood in the back of the room, leaning against a wall, as Commissioner Mike Slive gave his state of the SEC address.

Slive became known for his relentless preparation before Media Days, often sharing his speech with as many as a dozen others who would provide feedback on tone, messaging and word choice.


SBJ Podcast:
Writer Michael Smith and Executive Editor Abraham Madkour discuss Mike Slive's impact on college athletics, his management style and what the former SEC commissioner's future holds.

But in his 2003 address, there was one item Slive didn’t share beforehand. He went to the stage and pledged that no SEC school would be on NCAA probation within five years. It was a stunning statement, given that nine of the 12 schools at the time were involved in infractions.

Sankey, who was hired to oversee NCAA compliance, was the most surprised.

“I had no idea that was coming,” Sankey said. “He did that without any warning to me. I’m in charge of that area, so it was a jaw-dropping moment for me. But it was important to set a big expectation. People laughed.”

Radio host Paul Finebaum was among those laughing. He retold his memory of the five-year pledge.

“I went on the air the next day and actually mocked him,” Finebaum said. “I said that I didn’t know this man very well, but this is a good way to get run out of here. I told him, ‘Are you serious?’ He said, ‘Yes, very serious.’

“I just thought he was being another administrator talking, but not really meaning it. I quickly realized just how much he did mean it. That was when we began to understand that this man didn’t say things just to say them.”

Five years later, in 2008, only one SEC program — Arkansas track — was on probation. While the SEC didn’t exactly meet the five-year goal, Slive had sent the message that cheating wouldn’t be tolerated. By the end of his run as SEC commissioner, Slive said a new culture of compliance was in place.

“There were two results,” Slive said. “When coaches break rules, they’re no longer at that institution. Secondly, you notice when the infractions committee issues an opinion, the penalties are not much different than what the school has issued themselves. … It’s a very different atmosphere.”