VOL. 129 | NO. 203 | Friday, October 17, 2014
The Press Box
Slive’s Influence Stretches Beyond SEC
By Don Wade
What would the NFL be today if Pete Rozelle had never been the league’s commissioner? We might still just be watching pro football on Sunday afternoons.
Rozelle’s name belongs in the same conversation with retiring Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive. Because what Rozelle did for the pro game – pushing the idea of Monday football for but one example – Slive has done for the SEC and college football overall.
Namely, he’s taken a good product and helped it become a great product – with incoming revenues and gleaming trophies to prove it.
“Commissioner Slive is a big reason the SEC is the best league in the country,” Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn tweeted on Tuesday, Oct. 14. “I wish him all the best in his recovery and future retirement.”
The “recovery” is a reference to Slive, 74, having a recurrence of prostate cancer. He will begin treatment soon and his retirement will be effective on July 31, 2015. So maybe that means Slive will speak one more time at SEC Football Media Days in Birmingham, share one last “brag bag” before officially easing off the main stage.
Slive’s retirement will come after 13 years as SEC commissioner, a much shorter span than Rozelle’s reign over the NFL from 1960 to 1989. But Slive’s influence was just as substantial. And that’s saying something.
“What Pete Rozelle did with television receipts probably saved football in Green Bay,” legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi once said.
What Rozelle did, as documented in an ESPN Classic SportsCentury Biography, was “help push a bill through Congress that legalized single-network contracts for pro sports leagues.”
By 1962, CBS was paying $9.3 million for two years to televise NFL games. That was tall cash back in the day. For younger readers, I will point out that Mothership ESPN was not even a sparkle in founder Bill Rasmussen’s eye. The all-sports cable network would not launch until 1979.
Fast-forward to 2002 when the SEC’s revenues were up to about $96 million. Now, the figure is bumping $310 million – and that’s before figuring in the new SEC Network, another Slive signature achievement.
Football is a huge part of the financial growth, obviously, but a bottom-line basketball coach such as Kentucky’s John Calipari can appreciate it too. Calipari said Slive “built an unbelievable brand and legacy in the SEC.”
A big part of that legacy, of course, is the winning. During Slive’s time, the league has won 77 national titles in 17 sports and dominated college football with eight national championships and a seven-year run from 2006-2012. The expansion that brought in Missouri and Texas A&M is looking fairly brilliant as well.
Ultimately, Slive’s most enduring legacy is yet to be written. But this we do know: Slive pushed for the College Football Playoff and it was not easy work.
As Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports wrote: “Slive hasn’t just been good for the South. He’s been good for college football fans everywhere by spearheading the advent of a playoff.”
Forde likened Slive’s battles with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany to “Ali-Frazier,” adding, “Like Ali-Frazier, the winner of the first fight wasn’t the winner overall – Slive got his playoff, and this year college football will find a better way to crown a national champion. …”
In time, the four-team playoff will evolve into an eight-team playoff with the champions of the five power conferences getting automatic bids. But other schools in the power leagues will have an opportunity to grab one of the three other spots.
That means more SEC football teams in position to play for a national championship and hoist the new 35-pound trophy that, even generations from now, will have Mike Slive’s fingerprints all over it.
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.