SEC commissioner Mike Slive took some time recently to discuss a wide range of topics with ESPN.com.
Consider it his “State of the SEC” address:
What’s it say about the league’s balance that four different teams have contributed to the five straight football national championships won by the SEC?
Mike Slive: I think that’s what sets us apart from other conferences that have had success with national championships. In most of those conferences, it’s been limited to one or two teams. That does differentiate this record from some of the other records that have preceded us in other conferences.
To have five straight national championships, what kind of financial benefit has there been for the conference?
MS: There really isn’t a tangible reward financially, because with the BCS, you get a certain amount, and it doesn’t change. And when you think about our contracts that are now in place for another 13 years, they’re already there. So the reward is really one of pride, one of the satisfaction of a job well done. Really, the rewards are more the intangible rewards rather than the tangible rewards.
Do you think college football is set in the way it determines a national champion, and do you see any tweaks in the near future where there’s a move to a plus-one format or any changes to the current BCS system on the horizon?
MS: We’re one year into the current format. We will be scheduled to have discussions about the future probably in the beginning of the third year in the cycle. There hasn’t been any tweaking for several years now. I’m sure there will be some discussion, but I don’t have a sense based on the people who are in the decision-making positions that any substantial change is coming. One of the things we learn in this business is not to predict because things can change. But I don’t have a sense that there will be any substantial change.
Is there any way to reduce the time between the final regular-season and conference championship games and the BCS National Championship Game and not have a break of more than a month similar to what we had this year?
MS: In terms of much of December, you have final exams, so there is a natural break at the end of the fall semester. But one topic of discussion I am interested in is shortening the time period in which the BCS games are played. There has been a sense of Jan. 1 being a day in which college football is celebrated. We’ve affected that date some, but I expect over the next several years we will have some very significant conversations about the spread between the beginning of the BCS bowls and the end.
On the heels of national signing day, one of the hot topics right now is oversigning, and those in the Big Ten are screaming that the SEC has a huge advantage because many of the SEC teams oversign so many players. Where do you stand on the matter?
MS: It was two years ago that we took the initiative and put in an SEC rule that 28 was the most you could sign [in one class] and understanding that the rest of the country might not do that. The rest of the country followed suit and copied the SEC rule nationally and made it 28. Now, we’ve had a couple of years with the 28, and there are issues that relate to signing day. We’ve actually had an athletic director committee that’s been looking at all this for several months before all of the articles. We expect a recommendation from the committee that will come to our athletic directors this spring, and I fully expect legislation to be considered in Destin [at the SEC meetings] that will address some of the issues that have been raised.
Do you think we’ll essentially see the end to oversigning in the SEC with some of this new legislation, and will there be some real teeth in this new legislation?
MS: It’s a much more complex question than meets the eye. That’s not to say it isn’t one that needs to be addressed and resolved. Just like we did with the 28 limit, I’m pretty confident that we will take some initiative in Destin to try and deal with some of the issues that have been discussed. It’s complicated when you talk about the 25 you can get in in August and then counting some back and then counting some forward and then the issue of “grayshirting.” You also have more and more prospects enrolling for the spring instead of waiting for the fall. Our athletic directors are trying to take all of those pieces to the puzzle and see if there’s a way in which to address them that’s really fair to the student-athlete and fair to the institution.
Do you agree with Florida president Bernie Machen that “grayshirting” is a morally reprehensible practice?
MS: I think it’s a practice that on its face is one we’re going to address head-on. There’s a question that relates to notice and making sure that everybody knows exactly what’s going on. I think you will find that our ADs and our league will address the issue of “grayshirting.” Bernie has raised it. It’s definitely something that will be a part of whatever recommendations come from our athletic directors.
Does the NCAA’s investigation of Cam Newton and his father, Cecil, remain open?
MS: You’re going to have to ask them, but nobody has written me a letter that says it’s over.
How did you feel about Cecil being there at the end of BCS National Championship Game after telling Auburn officials he would not attend?
MS: If it was up to me, I would have preferred that he not be in the stadium.
What are your thoughts on the ongoing NCAA investigations at South Carolina and Tennessee?
MS: I can’t comment too much on them, but the South Carolina matter was an administrative error and not one that rises to a level that we would be overly concerned about. The Tennessee matter, in terms of Coach [Bruce] Pearl, we dealt with it in a way in which I think is consistent with how the conference wants these matters dealt with. In Destin, the conference passed legislation strengthening the role of the commissioner to deal with issues of this nature.
How much more will we see you exercise your heightened powers when it comes to suspending coaches?
MS: That’s hypothetical in nature, and I hesitate to talk about hypotheticals. But we will monitor conduct very closely, for sure. The goal here is not to punish, but to change behavior where behavior needs to be changed.
What’s your take on some of the criticism the SEC has received this year for some of these off-the-field matters?
MS: The ones who want to be critical of the SEC found things they can talk about this year. When you’re successful and having the kind of success we’ve had and the kind of distribution we have around the country, when things happen that aren’t in our best interest, we all hear about it.
Where do you think we are with expansion as it relates to the SEC? Will we see that heat back up again?
MS: It’s hard to answer that. I can’t tell you what other conferences or commissioners are thinking. We can take what they say. But whether it’s the final whistle in the game or just a timeout, I don’t know. I think all of us tried to balance all the issues, and we have an obligation to do things to strengthen our respective conferences. Maybe the best metaphor of all would be to say what was clearly a front-burner issue on high is now a back-burner issue on low for most of the conferences.
Is it important for the SEC to broaden its horizons, or are you guys OK with the current landscape?
MS: We have been comfortable. We’ve won five straight national championships in football, two in recent years in men’s basketball and women’s basketball, two consecutive in baseball and recently had five in a row in gymnastics, and we win swimming and track on occasion. Our television contracts are in place and we’ve made progress in so many areas. It’s easy for us to say that we’re comfortable. The trick is looking ahead and trying to think about what the world’s going to look like in the future. So I would never say never. But as we speak today, I don’t think it’s a front-burner issue.
So are you going to tell us how close you were to getting Texas A&M and Oklahoma?
MS: No [laughing].
Did you ever think it was going to happen?
MS: As I said, I was going to be thoughtful and strategic, and I was both [laughing harder].