Former Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive, who oversaw the emergence of the SEC as the most powerful conference in the college sports landscape, has died. Slive was 77 years old. Slive guided the SEC from July, 2002, to July, 2015. The New York-born lawyer battled prostrate cancer over the last few years.
It is with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of our friend and former Commissioner Mike Slive.
— Southeastern Conference (@SEC) May 16, 2018
Mike Slive Dies At Age 77
But Slive was an unlikely commissioner. A native of New York, Slive was trained as a lawyer after studying at Dartmouth, Virginia, and Georgetown. Certainly not the pedigree many would associate with the leader of southern football. After a judgeship and a stint as a partner in a law firm, Slive entered the athletic administration field as assistant athletic director at his alma mater, Dartmouth. After a short stint at Athletic Director at Cornell, he went back into law where he specialized in representing school in athletic matters.
In this role, he dealt extensively with the NCAA in regulatory and legal matters. It’s here where he learned the levers of power and the institutional bureaucracy of the NCAA. It’s also here where he learned the art of bringing together many different power brokers with competing agendas. This is the singular trait that allowed him to lead the SEC to newfound success.
Slive’s Success in the SEC
After Slive served as the first commissioner of the Great Midwest Conference and Conference USA, he became the SEC Commissioner in July, 2002. Over Slive’s 13 years as SEC Commissioner, the conference earned 81 national championships in 19 sports.
In addition to his ability to bring the 14 member institutions in line and his ability to work very effectively with the school presidents, athletic directors, and coaches, Slive was also a keen student. While the SEC was rarely the first to do something; the conference was often the first to do it well. Slive watched as the Big 12 was fractured by the lack of equal revenue sharing and the independence of the Longhorn Network. He ensured that the SEC Network wouldn’t make those same mistakes. He deftly maneuvered in the conference realignment dance and managed to pry Texas A&M away from the Big 12 and, in spite of fan disdain, brought in academic stalwart Missouri as well.
And while other conferences have more championships and as much history, no conference has managed to market itself and carve out a place in the college sports landscape–especially in football–like the SEC did under the direction of Slive.
A humble man, and an unlikely leader of a southern sports conference, Slive balanced athletic achievement with academic advancement and institutional responsibility.
In a time when quality leadership is desperately needed, the passing of Mike Slive reminds us of what that quality leadership should look like.