Mike Slive, the seventh commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, died Wednesday in Birmingham, Ala. He was 77.
Slive replaced Roy Kramer in July 2002 and took an already successful league to new heights, adding Missouri and Texas A&M in 2012 to create a 14-member conference and launching the lucrative SEC Network in 2014. He arrived having founded the Great Midwest Conference and Conference USA, and his first task as SEC chief was cleaning up a league riddled by rules violations.
During the 2002 football season, Alabama won 10 games under coach Dennis Franchione and Kentucky won seven under Guy Morriss, but neither program was eligible for a bowl game due to NCAA sanctions that were the result of troubles under previous coaching regimes.
"We had a lot of issues in the league at that time," current Alabama and former LSU coach Nick Saban said at the SEC's spring meetings in 2015. "There were a lot of people on probation, and there were a lot of people out there sort of talking about things that created a negative image for our league. He did a marvelous job of cleaning that up, as well as elevating the image with marketing and TV."
Slive retired at the 2015 spring meetings, though he had announced his intentions the previous fall, when he began treatment for a recurrence of prostate cancer.
The SEC won 81 national championships in 17 of its 21 sponsored sports during Slive's tenure, which included an unprecedented run of seven consecutive titles in football from 2006 to 2012. Alabama accounted for three of those championships, with Florida providing two and Auburn and LSU one each.
Several days before Slive was hired, the league announced it was distributing $96 million to its institutions. That amount increased each year under Slive's guidance and jumped from $309.6 million in 2014 to $455.8 million in 2015, when revenue started gushing from the SEC Network.
"When we first came, we were mired in a lot of infractions cases," Slive said in 2014 as a guest of "Press Row" on Chattanooga's ESPN 105.1 FM. "We could never be who we wanted to be unless that was taken care of, and I think we've done a nice job of changing that culture. Those were the first questions I was getting asked, and now people don't even think of asking me about it. It was a mess, but it's all done, and that's a huge change.
"The other area was that we had never had a minority head football coach. It was a big story when Sylvester Croom was hired (in December 2003) at Mississippi State, and now we've had five (with Croom, Kevin Sumlin, Joker Phillips, James Franklin and Derek Mason), and it's a nonissue. Once we took care of those two things, I think it's no coincidence that we've seen a meteoric rise in this league."
A memorial for Slive, who leaves behind a wife (Liz), daughter (Anna), son-in-law (Judd Harwood) and granddaughter (Abigail), will be held Friday morning in Birmingham.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.