HOOVER, Ala. - Normally the start to the Southeastern Conference's football media days is one of the proudest times of the year for league commissioner Mike Slive, but not this year.
Slive announced Wednesday that he would not brag about Florida, LSU, Alabama and Auburn combining to win five consecutive national championships for the SEC. The timing just didn't seem right after LSU was placed on probation Tuesday and with Tennessee awaiting its NCAA fate next month and with Auburn under the microscope as well.
"We don't have the luxury of acting as it's business as usual," Slive said, "and that's been made clear by the headlines emanating from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from the Gulf to the Great Lakes."
While Slive has managed to expand the financial success the league experienced under predecessor Roy Kramer, his hope of running the cleanest of conferences has lost traction. After taking the league reins in June 2002, when football programs at Alabama and Kentucky were ravaged by NCAA sanctions, he formed a task force on compliance and vowed to have no teams in any sport on probation in five years.
The Arkansas track team was alone on probation for the latter half of 2008 and the first half of '09, but Alabama was placed on a three-year probation in June 2009 when impermissible benefits were obtained by 201 student-athletes who misused free textbooks.
"I know what you all thought when I said in five years nobody would be on probation, but in 2008 we were right there," Slive said. "Then we had some setbacks. We're not happy about it, but one of the things that has been learned that I think is different is we are going to have issues. This is a dynamic and not a static endeavor, but how you handle them is important."
Slive cited the recent contrast of cases at Georgia Tech and LSU as an example.
"That's an intangible change," he said. "It's not one you can count like you can count probation, but LSU got a one-year probation, and I haven't seen that for a long, long time."
Admitting a shadow has been cast over student-athletes across the country, Slive has developed a four-point agenda that is intended to stimulate national discussion. He does not consider it a panacea, but he does identify several key issues that need attention.
First, Slive wants to redefine scholarship benefits available to student-athletes. He would like an increased cost of attendance properly administered with each university's financial aid office, and he wants to discuss establishing scholarships as multi-year awards provided the student-athletes behave.
"That's a terrible idea," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "Do you sportswriters have a two-year contract or a three- or four-year deal? If you go bad or don't show up for work, your butt will be out on the street. You earn your way in life."
Secondly, Slive would like to strengthen academic eligibility requirements for incoming freshmen and two-year transfers. He would consider increasing the minimum GPA required for first-year athletic competition from a 2.0 to a 2.5 in the 16 required high-school core courses, even if that means a return of the partial qualifier for prospects who meet the current standards and not those proposed.
Thirdly, he would modernize recruiting rules.
Slive said the current legislative approach criminalizes harmless behavior such as text messages and phone calls. He believes in establishing permissible days for coaches to travel off campus to recruit and have a conversation with a prospect that same day.
Lastly, the commissioner wants to continue to support the NCAA's efforts to improve the enforcement process by greatly streamlining the NCAA manual.
"In the context of addressing problems and solutions and change, it's essential to keep some perspective," Slive said. "The vast majority of our institutions, coaches and student-athletes do the right thing most, if not all, of the time."