Q&A with SEC commissioner Mike Slive: ‘Very supportive’ of Atlanta as playoff site

The SEC is “looking forward” to playing its football championship game in Atlanta even beyond the end of the current contract in 2017. And the league is “very supportive” of the city’s bid to host semifinal and final games in college football’s new national playoff as well.

Those were among the points made by SEC commissioner Mike Slive in a wide-ranging interview this week with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Slive also discussed the SEC’s streak of six consecutive football national championships, which he called an exception to the adage that records are made to be broken, and the continuing trend of colleges switching conferences.

Q: Amid all the changes in college football, the SEC Championship game has remained in the same place for 19 years. What has made Atlanta home for it?

SEC commissioner Mike Slive (AP photo)

SEC commissioner Mike Slive (AP photo)

A: First and foremost, the Georgia Dome has been terrific for us. The facility has been good and the Dome staff is really superb. And having the proximity of the World Congress Center so that we can have our FanFare running in conjunction with the game, that has become very popular. It’s that, plus the fact Atlanta is an easy city to get to. With the development of Centennial Park and all the surrounding events and places that people can go, it has worked out extremely well for us. And we are looking forward to continuing on, even beyond our current contract.

Q: Have you had talks about extending the contract?

A: Once plans are finalized for the new stadium, we’ll sit down and resume conversations about an extension.

Q: What do you think of the plan to replace the Dome with a retractable-roof stadium?

A: First of all, we’ve not been unhappy at all with the current Dome. But we like the fact that the new stadium is projected to be in essentially the same footprint with the World Congress Center. It reaffirms the fact that Atlanta is committed to staying at the forefront and therefore even makes the game more attractive for us there.

Q: With the winner of Saturday’s game headed to the BCS title game, the SEC will get a shot at a seventh consecutive national championship. How do you explain this unprecedented streak?

A: It takes great players and great coaches against the backdrop of institutions that are committed to athletic success at the national championship level, fans that are our loyal and passionate and the fact that success in intercollegiate athletics is a hallmark of the Southeast. So if you’re a young student-athlete looking to compete for a national championship in football or any other sport, we have the history to indicate this is the place to come. And obviously the weather is an advantage for us. And good facilities. Last year, we won nine national championships and had seven runners-up. People focus on football and basketball, but five of our nine national championships were won by women’s teams.

Q: Despite all of that, does it amaze you a league could win six in a row in football?

A: Let me put it this way: I know records are made to be broken — but not this one.

Q: For about a week (before losses by Kansas State and Oregon), it looked like the SEC might not get a shot at the national championship this season. Were you worried?

A: I wouldn’t call it worried. But I will tell you this: I was thinking about what I might do differently on Jan. 7 (date of the BCS title game) than I’ve done for the last six years.

Q: What are the top items on your to-do list for the next year?

A: Completing our discussions about the future of our television packages is at the top of my pile. You know we are in negotiations; we’re very close to getting where we want to be. Hopefully, that will be done soon. Also, there’s completing the transition of Texas A&M and Missouri into the league. And we’ve got to finish (the changes to) the BCS and the football postseason. Most of the heavy lifting is done but there is still a lot of work to do with regard to how the (selection) committee is put together (for the four-team playoff that begins with the 2014 season). … And how we maintain our success in the future is really the over-arching subject I spend a lot of my time thinking about.

Q: In 2008, you had support from only one other conference commissioner for a four-team football playoff. This year, it passed. What changed?

A: It actually began in 2004, the year Auburn was undefeated and didn’t get in (the BCS title game). That’s when we first started saying two is not enough. Then, four years later in 2008, it came up again with (ACC commissioner) John Swofford and me. And now, four years later in 2012, we’ve agreed to have a playoff of four teams. I can’t put my finger on exactly what changed the minds of others. A lot of people attribute it at least in part to the fact (the SEC) had two teams in the championship game last year, but I’m not sure if that’s right. … By going to a four-team playoff like we have, we’ve been able to not only preserve the regular season but actually improve the regular season and still give the fans what they have wanted for a long time.

Q: Three of the six bowls that will rotate as sites of playoff semifinal games are set (Rose, Sugar and Orange), with the other three yet to be selected. Where does that process stand?

A: That is another area that still has to be done — site selection for the semifinals and the national championship. I will anticipate your next question. …

Q: Which is: What about Atlanta’s role in the playoff?

A: We will be very supportive of Atlanta as both a semifinal site and as a national championship site.

Q: How good are the chances of the Chick-fil-A Bowl being one of the semifinal sites?

A: I think people appreciate Atlanta. I’m sure Atlanta will get due consideration. But I’m not going to predict the outcome.

Q: When will that decision be made?

A: We (conference commissioners) will start to meet after the national championship game and work our way through the winter and spring.

Q: What did you think about the Big Ten adding Maryland and Rutgers last week (followed this week by the ACC replacing Maryland with Louisville)? Surprised?

A: Well, in this day and age, nothing surprises me. Obviously, my focus is on our league and what’s good for us. We have been very pleased with the addition of A&M and Missouri for lots of different reasons — they’re fine academic institutions; they sponsor broad-based programs; they are committed to being the best they can be; their fans have the same kind of passion and interest in their institutions as ours do. So that’s really where our focus is.

Q: Is there still more conference realignment to come?

A: If you had asked me four or five months ago, I would have thought maybe we were entering an era of stability. But since I can’t speak for anybody else except myself, it’s hard to know. There isn’t anything in this area that surprises me anymore.

Q: Is the SEC entrenched for now at 14 members? Or could you go to 16?

A: We were very comfortable at 12. We were very successful at 12. And when (Texas A&M and Missouri) contacted us and our folks analyzed them … we felt they’d be a good addition. And they are. I think we are comfortable now at 14. But given the vagaries of the world we live in, I would never say never.

Q: Does anything about all of this expansion/realignment bother you?

A: To me, it’s really a question of what are the reasons for doing it. Do they make sense? Are they appropriate? Are they grounded in the kind of philosophy that is in fact a foundation of a conference? Some of the expansion I see, including our own, fits that model. Some of the expansion does not.

Q: Will you tell me which ones do not?

A: I’ll give you the shortest answer I can give you. The answer is no. Terrific try, though.

Q: What is your biggest concern about the state of college athletics right now?

A: What we want to do is provide our student-athletes, men and women, an opportunity to compete for the national championship in whatever sport they are in while at the same time keeping perspective that this competition must be … within the context of higher education. Sometimes with all of the excitement and glamour of the competition, there’s a potential of losing sight of the fact that … it has got to be in the context of what the institution is trying to do academically as well. For me, that is always an over-arching concern.

– Tim Tucker, AJC

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