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Volume 21 No. 26
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Issuing a challenge to schools: Cheating won't be tolerated

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.

{podcast}

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.”