Greg Sankey a top candidate to replace Mike Slive as SEC Commissioner _lowres

In this July 20, 2011, file photo, Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive talks with reporters during SEC media days in Hoover, Ala.

AP photo by Dave Martin

Mike Slive, the Southeastern Conference's seventh and arguably most successful commissioner, died in Birmingham, Alabama, on Wednesday, the conference announced.

He was 77.

Slive oversaw an era of success in the SEC while helping shape the landscape of college sports as a national leader in college sports.  

"Mike was a true visionary and someone I have been proud to call a dear friend for many years," LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva said. "His integrity and leadership have left a lasting legacy in the SEC and all of college athletics. We will all miss him terribly."

Slive served as commissioner of the SEC from 2002 until his retirement in 2015. Named to the post on July 2, 2002, the SEC enjoyed unprecedented championship success under Slive’s leadership. He led the adoption of a new and effective league-wide NCAA compliance initiative, engineered landmark television contracts, including the launch of the SEC Network, and guided the conference through expansion, welcoming two new institutions -- Texas A&M and Missouri.

The hallmark of this golden age of the SEC remains a remarkable seven consecutive Bowl Championship Series national titles in football. In all, the SEC won 81 national championships in 17 of its 21 sponsored sports during Slive’s tenure as SEC Commissioner.  

His impact was felt far beyond the footprint of the SEC. The founding commissioner of two conferences -- the Great Midwest Conference and Conference USA -- he was also the founder of a law firm which assisted NCAA institutions in compliance matters, a director of athletics and a member of numerous leadership committees during the course of his career.

"Unbelievably smart," Alleva said about Slive. "He was so good for the SEC. The SEC has always been a premier league but he took it to a whole another level. He brought integrity back to the league. Not sure how many schools were under NCAA probation (when he started), but he didn’t put up with that."

Slive was a stickler about his member schools following NCAA protocol, and he was not afraid to put his proverbial foot down with his coaches and administrators. 

Alleva recalls a meeting in 2011 with Slive and former coach Les Miles regarding an NCAA investigation into the football program that uncovered recruiting violations tied to the recruitment of then-junior college player Akiem Hicks. The investigation resulted in the firing of assistant D.J. McCarthy. 

"He was firm. He was stern and laid down the law," Alleva said. "He said, ‘This stuff is not going to be tolerated.’ He commanded respect."

Slive helped craft the new College Football Playoff and was a leader in the historic effort to reorganize the NCAA for the purpose of creating a governance structure that provides maximum opportunities for student-athletes. 

Under Slive’s leadership, the league launched the SEC Network in August 2014, a national network bringing more than 1,000 events into the homes and to the mobile devices of college sports fans across the country. These agreements made the league the most widely distributed conference on television in the nation and also secured the financial health of the SEC and its member institutions for years to come.

Slive was perhaps most proud of the advancement of diversity across the SEC during his tenure, highlighted by the hiring of Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State, the first black football coach in league history. He also directed the development of a Minority Coaches Database to encourage the hiring of minorities in the sport of football.

Slive served as coordinator of the Bowl Championship Series (2006-08) and served as chair of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee (2008-09). In 2002-03, Slive served on the Commission of Athletics Opportunity, established by the United States Secretary of Education to review the workings of Title IX.

Slive previously was the first commissioner of Conference USA from 1995-2002 and was the first commissioner of the Great Midwest Conference upon its founding in 1991. 

As a prostate cancer survivor, Slive founded the Mike Slive Foundation for Prostate Cancer Research upon his retirement.  

Born July 26, 1940, Slive was a native of Utica, N.Y., and graduated from Dartmouth College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1962. He earned a Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia Law School in 1965 and an LLM from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1966.

Slive is survived by his wife Liz of 49 years, his daughter Anna, son-in-law Judd Harwood and 6-year-old granddaughter Abigail. 

"When we first met, it’s like I had known him for 20 years, so friendly and kind," Alleva said. "He could be very tough when he needed to be."