McCormack Executive-in-Residence Charts Progress in College Athletics
April 23, 2014
"When you strip away all the sports glamor, it's about education. That's what drives, me," emphasized Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive in his keynote address on April 16 as the Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management's Executive in Residence. In his talk to the campus community, Slive described his role and philosophy as a change agent at the SEC. He also explored current issues in college athletics and his personal history, including his career path.
During his three-day residency at McCormack, Slive met in a variety of classes and informally with students and faculty. He also participated in the Sport Innovation Oral History Project in cooperation with the University Archives at the UMass Amherst Libraries. The commissioner, noted McCormack chair Lisa Pike Masteralexis in her introduction, has an enduring tie to the department-his daughter, Anna Slive Harwood, is a 2004 master's degree graduate of the program.
Progress at the SEC. Slive recounted how for 12 years as SEC Commissioner, he has worked creatively and systematically to improve gender and ethnic diversity in the conference, including ethnic diversity in its coaching ranks. A long-time legal expert in the field of compliance, he described the SEC's creation of a culture of compliance, nearly eliminating infractions of NCAA rules.
While acknowledging the SEC's national success in football and basketball, Slive underscored his commitment to securing the conference's broad brush of sporting achievements. Since 2000, the SEC has captured 88 championships-46 by men and 42 by women, he remarked. (During his own tenure as commissioner, the conference has won 16 of 21 league-sponsored sports.) When an audience member asked whether any of the women's sports produced revenue, Slive retorted: "No and it doesn't matter. It's the other way around": The conference, he insisted, should be viewed as having a great many sports with a couple of them producing revenues.
What matters most, Slive continued, is the SEC's commitment to its more than 5000 student-athletes. Nine years ago, the commissioner helped create the SEC Academic Consortium, renamed SECU in 2010, to bolster teaching, research and public service among SEC member campuses. SECU has recently spearheaded educational initiatives involving obesity and renewable energy, Slive told his Isenberg audience. The commissioner s also raising the SEC's profile through the SEC Network, a partnership with ESPN that will launch in August. In its first season, the network will air 45 football games, 100 men's basketball games, and 60 women's basketball games. Its coverage will span the SEC's 21 sports.
Issues and Recommendations. During the past five months, Slive noted that he and the SEC have met with representatives from the Big Ten, the ACC, the Pac-12, and the Big 12 to explore key areas of change and create a 21st Century vision that "preserves the college model . . . in the best interests of our student athletes." The gathering's wide-ranging recommendations include coverage for the full costs of college attendance, cost-free support for completion of interrupted academic programs, and improved health and nutrition standards. Other recommendations address rules for agents and advisors of student athletes who aspire to professional careers and campus support for at-risk student athletes. The gathering has also endorsed giving student athletes a "voice and a Vote in NCAA decisions."
Getting Personal. Slive added that the title of his talk, "The Golden Age of the Southeastern Conference: The Intersection of Preparation and Opportunity," was inspired by his father's insight that "luck is where preparation meets opportunity." Throughout his career, Slive has followed that dictum, combining a willingness to take risks, to sacrifice, and to embrace the unknown with a strong work ethic, patience, openness to new ideas and experiences, and a healthy fear of failure. Those are attributes, he emphasized, that students should take to heart in their own careers/journeys in the sports industry.
"Thirty-four years of preparation led me to my opportunity [in 2002] at the SEC," he continued. That preparation, he explained, included experience as a student-athlete at Dartmouth, a J.D. degree from the University of Virginia Law School, and posts and partnerships at a number of law practices, including pioneering firms where he represented collegiate clients in academic-athletic compliance issues and infractions. Slive served as assistant director of athletics at Dartmouth on one side of the country and later as assistant director of the Pac-10 Conference on the other.
In 1991, he became the first commissioner of the new Great Midwest Conference. Four years later, he was the first commissioner of Conference USA, until joining the SEC as its commissioner in 2002. With hindsight, those and other experiences led him to the SEC, said Slive. But, the commissioner confessed, he had no idea at the time where those milestones would lead. What did remain certain throughout was his willingness to embrace risk and change and his "heartfelt belief in the value of athletics in higher education."