HOOVER, Ala. - Keyboards clicking. Screens glowing. Cameras popping.
Amid it all, Mike Slive was smiling.
Of course he is. He's the leader of the most powerful conference in college sports. He and the power brokers of the big five leagues are about to rewrite the rules.
Slive's desire is one of multiyear scholarships and avenues to compensate student-athletes. His is an expressed desire for change before getting an express-mail decree from a judge in California or a senator in Washington that demand overhaul because of lawsuits or lawyer vote-mongering.
The Southeastern Conference commissioner and his cohorts have longed for different rules. Makes sense, especially from the big boys' point of view -- "We all may play the same games but at a drastically different level."
College sports at the highest level has become a 10-figure business, and the SEC is the central point of the cash register that is State U. sports.
And Slive was as subtle as a chainsaw in his announcements, both from the dais of the biggest conference media convention in the land and in the halls of the Wynfrey Hotel.
In the next month, Slive's SEC will pull back the curtain on what will be the most powerful conference TV network in the land. With that power and opportunity, Slive knows he and the power brokers have the NCAA at a crossroads as the vote looms Aug. 7 about how much autonomy the NCAA will allow the big conferences, which can force and finance realm-altering changes.
"If we do not achieve a positive outcome under the existing tent of Division I, we will need to consider the establishment of a venue with similar conferences and institutions where we can enact the desired changes in the best interest of our student-athletes," Slive said in a 20-minute talk that reference Churchill and Mandela and even Eisenhower and was more of a pre-emptive strike than a call for more tolerance and patience.
So Slive wants a new venue -- a new stadium or arena, perhaps? Nope. Not even close. Slive was the first of the big five commissioners to speak, and his message was crafted but nonetheless direct, especially after he expanded that view offstage.
"I choose the word 'venue' very carefully," Slive said of the diction that likely will be echoed from his colleagues from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 when their conventions meet. "I think this will happen, and when it does the first item on the agenda will be the full cost of attendance."
Ahhh, the full cost of attending -- as in, you know, books and food and rent and tutition. Wait, that full cost is covered in full.
Nope this is about paying players, and whatever slogan or catch phrase Slive and Co. use is meaningless. This is about the divide growing and the big getting bigger.
And that's fine. It's part of business in that the ones that make money can decide how to divide.
But at least one of the 42 college players representing their SEC football teams at media days still believes that a scholarship that could be valued close to $50,000 per year does account for payment.
"I think we already get paid. I'm a realist and I've seen the $40,000 it takes to keep us enrolled in school," Auburn senior defensive lineman Gabe Wright said.
"I really can't comment on it directly because I only have one more year left, so I wouldn't get paid either way. But there is an ego and pride thing to being a college football player, and that can be tough. I wanted to get my mom a No. 90 jersey with 'Wright' on the back, and they say that's against the rules."
The rules always have been long on complex sticklers and short on common sense. Wright was appreciative of his education -- one the Columbus, Ga., native admitted he never would have received without football -- but was puzzled by the stringent code protecting some hollow, antiquated view of amateurism.
The big conferences want the ability to rule themselves.
How could it hardly be worse than the current model the NCAA has muffled into a 500-page rule tome that focuses as much on quantity and timing of text messages as issues of real merit?
Forget Slive's posturing -- although if the NCAA forces the big five's hand, here's believing the big five would outlast the rest of college sports -- and focus on the message and the simple fact that the NCAA has failed.
Contact Jay Greeson at firstname.lastname@example.org.