Mike Slive, the former Southeastern Conference commissioner who guided the league to unprecedented success and prosperity, died Wednesday. He was 77.
The Southeastern Conference said Slive died in Birmingham, Alabama, where he lived with his wife of 49 years, Liz. The conference didn’t provide the cause of death.
Slive retired in 2015 after 13 years as commissioner. He was battling prostate cancer at the time he stepped down.
Slive replaced Roy Kramer as SEC commissioner in 2002, coming from Conference USA to help clean up an SEC that was beset by NCAA compliance issues. Soon after the SEC became the most powerful conference in college football, winning seven straight national championships and landing television contracts worth billions.
“He was a friend before he was the boss, he was a friend while he was the boss, he was a friend after,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, who replaced Slive, told the SEC Network.
The SEC’s success was not limited to football under Slive. Overall, the conference won 81 national championships in 17 sports during his tenure.
Slive played a pivotal role in the creation of the College Football Playoff. He first proposed the idea of a four-team playoff for college football in 2008, but it was shot down most of the other conference commissioners. Finally, after two SEC teams, LSU and Alabama, played in the BCS national championship game after the 2011 season, the rest of college football’s power brokers came around and constructed the current postseason system.
The SEC expanded from 12 to 14 schools with the additions of Missouri and Texas A&M in 2012 under Slive and he was the driving force behind the launch of the SEC Network in 2014. He also played a major part in ushering in a new governance model for the NCAA in which the SEC and the other four most powerful and wealthy conferences were given autonomy to create and pass legislation.
Slive was born in Utica, New York, the son of a butcher. He became an attorney and founded a law firm that assisted schools with NCAA issues for before starting a long career in college sports. He was the founding commissioner of both the Great Midwest Conference and C-USA.
“Mike Slive is one of the best people I have ever met,” said Charles Bloom, a former associate commissioner at the SEC who is now an administrator at South Carolina. “His impact on me was tremendous. He was a father-type figure, someone I could talk to about life issues and then we would work together on SEC office matters. He was a great leader, mentor and friend.”
Slive is survived by Liz, his wife; daughter Anna; son-in-law Judd Harwood; and granddaughter Abigail.