SEC Commissioner Mike Slive to retire, draws accolades across South _lowres

SEC Commissioner Mike Slive (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)

Praise for Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive in the wake of Tuesday’s announcement that he plans to retire effective July 31, 2015 was immediate and widespread across South Louisiana and beyond.

“Mike Slive will go down as the best commissioner in history,” LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva said. “I have totally enjoyed working with him and will miss him.”

Slive, who began his tenure as SEC Commissioner in 2002, also announced Tuesday that he is beginning treatment for a recurrence of prostate cancer, a disease he first overcame in the late 1990s.

SEC presidents and chancellors met with Slive and NCAA President and former LSU Chancellor Mark Emmert on Monday in Atlanta at the conference’s annual fall meeting, at which time Slive informed them of his retirement plans.

LSU President F. King Alexander said Slive’s announcement didn’t really come as a surprise.

“He’s talked about it for some time,” Alexander said.

Emmert said he called Slive on Tuesday after learning of his announcement.

“As I said to Mike, he has had an amazing tenure at the SEC,” Emmert said. “Since the time we hired him in 2002 until now, the conference has grown in almost unimaginable ways. Mike has provided great leadership for the conference.”

Slive, 74, was not available for comment Tuesday beyond a written statement from the conference.

“I have been blessed in more ways than I can count and I will have as much passion for this job on my last day as I did on my first,” said Slive, who plans to serve as a consultant to the SEC for four years after he steps down.

“I consider my health situation a temporary detour in a remarkable road that has allowed me to meet amazing people, experience incredible events and celebrate historic victories. I will relish my final year in this position and look forward to being the biggest fan of the SEC for many years to come.”

Arguably the most powerful figure in college athletics, Slive has led the SEC to incredible success.

During his tenure, the conference has won 67 national championships in 15 of its 21 sponsored sports, including an unprecedented seven straight BCS national championships from 2006-12.

Slive also served as BCS coordinator from 2006-08, during which time LSU won its second BCS title in 2007, and was chairman of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee from 2008-09.

Under Slive’s direction, the SEC went from 12 members to 14 in 2012 with the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri, and launched the SEC Network in August.

“Just the work he’s done to finalize the SEC Network is quite extraordinary,” Alexander said. “We have access to the same number of television sets as the Big Ten Network, and they started in 2007.”

There are estimates that the SEC Network could be worth $500 million per year to conference members, or nearly $36 million per school.

“It’s a giant,” said Wright Waters, Football Bowl Association executive director and former Sun Belt commissioner, of the SEC. “Mississippi State and Ole Miss rising to the top is in great deal happening because Mike Slive put so much money in the hands of the schools that it allowed those schools to build facilities and hire coaches and recruit on the same level with everyone else rather than leaving schools just trying to outspend each other.

“He made the entire league stronger.”

Slive also championed the creation for a College Football Playoff, which begins this season, and led the call for more autonomy for major conference schools like those in the SEC, which the NCAA began the process of granting this summer.

“I can’t say enough about the job Mike has done and the respect he has from the other (conference) commissioners,” Alexander said.

During Slive’s tenure, the SEC also hammered out a deal with the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the Big 12 to make the annual game in New Orleans the so-called “Champions Bowl.”

In the years the Sugar isn’t hosting a CFP semifinal game, the bowl will host a meeting of the SEC and Big 12 champions or the highest-ranked available teams from those conferences.

“Mike has been a trusted friend and partner of the Sugar Bowl Committee for a long time,” Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan said in a written statement. “ His leadership and vision have not only benefited the Southeastern Conference but have worked to the betterment of college athletics as a whole, including, of course, the Sugar Bowl.

“Throughout the BCS era, Mike’s countless contributions played a vital role in lifting the Sugar Bowl to the pinnacle of postseason college football, and as we now enter the new age of the College Football Playoff, his efforts are again at the forefront and have the Sugar Bowl and New Orleans poised to reap the benefits of this exciting new system for many years to come.

“For these and many other reasons the Sugar Bowl Committee owes Mike a great debt of gratitude.”

Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson said: “He had big shoes to fill in replacing Roy Kramer, and there were people wondering how a guy so New York would fit in the South. But he proved me wrong. Mike has been a great friend, a great colleague and we have nothing but respect for what he’s done.”

Benson said Slive also developed a good relationship with other conference commissioners.

“He quickly gained the respect of everyone because he brought lot of perspective into the room, having been at Conference USA. And being on ‘the outside,’ he had a level of recognition of what it was like to be in the WAC or Sun Belt or Conference USA,” Benson said. “He did the best he could to look out for the other conferences and what was in the best interests of college football.”

Speculation has already begun as to who can adequately fill Slive’s seat at the SEC’s Birmingham, Alabama, office.

Vanderbilt Chancellor Nick Zeppos, chairman of the SEC’s presidents and chancellors, said a national search will begin this fall.

“We talked (in Atlanta) about going national with the search and getting the best possible candidates,” Alexander said. “I don’t know who will make up the search committee. We’re trying to find the right time and the right folks who can get engaged.”

Some speculation already included SEC COO and former Southland Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey, and long time SEC lieutenant Mark Womack, the league’s CFO.

“There will be no shortage of qualified candidates,” Waters said. “We may see a sitting president. It will be someone the other presidents are incredibly comfortable with.

“There will be people interested in the position who would never had considered it before. It’s a better job than when Mike went there.”

-- Advocate sportswriter Ted Lewis contributed to this report.

-- Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.