Birmingham—At 1:30 p.m. today Commissioner Mike Slive will kick off the SEC’s 2009 Football Media Days with his annual message on the state of the conference. This will be Slive’s eighth football media days since taking over as commissioner in 2002 and he will say that the state of the conference is very, very good.
He probably won’t say this but I will. The Southeastern Conference has been in existence since 1933 and there were a lot of great moments in the first 75 years. But competitively, academically, and financially the SEC has never been better than it is right now. And here’s the rub if you compete against the SEC: For a lot of different reasons this league is about to get even stronger.
Let us review:
**–In the 2008-2009 academic year the SEC won five national championships. It finished as the national runner-up in five other sports. So in 10 of the 20 sports that the league sponsors, the SEC finished first or second nationally.
**–Under Slive the SEC has won four national championships in football (2003, 2006, 2007, 2008) with a string of three straight. Florida is a unanimous preseason No. 1 and is favored to repeat as national champions. If the Gators win it, that will give the SEC five national championships in Slive’s eight years as commissioner. And that doesn’t count Auburn, which was 13-0 in 2004. Since Slive became commissioner the SEC has won a total of 43 national championships.
**–The upcoming academic year will mark the beginning of two unprecedented 15-year contracts with CBS and ESPN that will pump $2.8 billion (with a “B”) into the 12 member institutions and provide unprecedented television exposure to the non-revenue sports and academics. Part of that exposure, we learned this week, is an SEC Network on ESPN that will reach into Big Ten, Big 12, and Big East country. The national interest in SEC football is that high.
**– While other conferences have had to shorten their football media days or eliminate them completely due to finances, the SEC expects over 900 media members (up from last year’s record of 836) to attend this three-day session.
But Slive, a former judge, told me that he will offer a few words of caution today. Yes, things are going very well for the Southeastern Conference.
“We should always remember that the only league that can impede the SEC’s continued ability to succeed,” said Slive, “is the SEC.”
What Slive means is that with all of this success, both competitively and financially, comes the obligation by the leaders of the SEC to practice even more due diligence. Slive’s goal when he took over was to have no teams on any kind of NCAA probation in five years. That goal wasn’t completely realized but there is no question that things are better on the enforcement front.
But with the competitive bar being raised every year and with multi-million dollar salaries at stake, there will be temptations to cut corners. Slive does not want that to happen on his watch.
“This has been one of the great periods in the history of the league,” Slive said. “I take great satisfaction in the success that we’ve had and the progress we’ve made in some other matters off the field. They go hand in hand.
“If we can keep vigilant and compassionate we can continue to enjoy what I have referred to as the golden age of our conference.”
In other words: If you’re the SEC right now, the only thing that can screw this up is you.
Slive had to have a heart to heart with his football coaches at the SEC Spring meetings in Destin. Actually, it was a lot more forceful than that. He had gotten fed up with the back biting among some of the coaches in the press and basically read them the riot act. The message was received and understood by the coaches. The basketball coaches got the same message and, with the arrival of John Calipari at Kentucky, the price of poker in that sport has also been raised considerably.
The last few years have been quite busy for Slive. First he was the coordinator of the BCS, which is one of the least popular jobs in college athletics. He just finished his chairmanship of the NCAA Men’s Basketball committee which may be the toughest, most time-consuming job in all of college sports.
While all that was going on, the SEC had another record year on the field and negotiated the biggest television contract in the history of college sports that will carry the SEC brand nationwide.
And did I mention that Slive’s daughter Anna, who ran the 2007 Final Four in Atlanta, is getting married in August? Slive said he is going to take a little time off in the coming weeks—if he can.
“I’m still waiting for summer to start,” said Slive. “But I think we’re entitled to 10 minutes of satisfaction and then we have to go back to work.”
Programming note: We’ll be doing our CSS show, “Talkin’ Football” live each day during SEC media days. Tonight’s show will feature Commissioner Slive along with the head coaches at Vanderbilt (Bobby Johnson), Arkansas (Bobby Petrino), Kentucky (Rich Brooks), and Mississippi State (Dan Mullen). Bob Neal, Mark Schlabach, and Sandra Golden will all be there to give you the inside access to SEC Media Days. Please join us. The show is at 6 p.m. with replays at 11 p.m. and 8 a.m. on Thursday.
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