BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Mike Slive, the seventh commissioner of the Southeastern Conference and one of the most respected and accomplished leaders in the history of intercollegiate athletics, died Wednesday in Birmingham, Ala., at the age of 77.
Michael L. Slive is survived by his wife of 49 years, Liz; his daughter Anna; son-in-law Judd Harwood; and granddaughter Abigail who is almost six years old.
A memorial will be held Friday at 11:30 am at Temple Emanu-El, 2100 Highland Avenue South in Birmingham, preceded by a private graveside service.
Slive oversaw a remarkable era of success in the SEC while helping shape the landscape of college sports as a national leader in college sports. Along the way he developed friends inside and outside the business of college athletics that lasted a lifetime.
Slive served as commissioner of the SEC from 2002 until his retirement in 2015. Named to the post on July 2, 2002, the SEC enjoyed unprecedented championship success under Slive’s leadership. He led the adoption of a new and effective league-wide NCAA compliance initiative, engineered landmark television contracts, including the launch of the SEC Network, and guided the conference through expansion, welcoming two new institutions.
The hallmark of this golden age of the SEC remains a remarkable seven consecutive Bowl Championship Series national titles in football. In all, the SEC won 81 national championships in 17 of its 21 sponsored sports during Slive’s tenure as SEC Commissioner. Through on-field success along with innovative initiatives, the brand of the SEC grew to new proportions under his direction.
His impact was felt far beyond the footprint of the SEC. The founding commissioner of two conferences – the Great Midwest Conference and Conference USA — he was also the founder of a law firm which assisted NCAA institutions in compliance matters, a Director of Athletics and a member of numerous leadership committees during the course of his career.
Before he entered the field of athletics he was an attorney and a district court judge in New Hampshire, but it was at an early age that he learned his work ethic as a unionized meat cutter in Utica, N.Y in his father’s butcher shop. He went on to become the first member of his family to graduate from college.
Slive helped craft the new College Football Playoff and was a leader in the historic effort to reorganize the NCAA for the purpose of creating a governance structure that provides maximum opportunities for student-athletes.
Under Mike’s leadership, the league launched the SEC Network in August 2014, a national network bringing more than 1000 events into the homes and to the mobile devices of college sports fans across the country. These agreements made the league the most widely distributed conference on television in the nation and also secured the financial health of the SEC and its member institutions for years to come.
During Slive’s tenure at the SEC, he developed initiatives designed to maintain and improve the SEC’s preeminent position in intercollegiate athletics, both on and off the fields of play. These included the SEC Task Force on Compliance and Enforcement which developed policies and procedures to assist league schools in NCAA and SEC matters; SEC University (SECU), the conference’s academic initiative; and an SEC Sportsmanship initiative consisting of policies and procedures designed to foster sportsmanship and encourage positive fan behavior.
Slive was perhaps most proud of the advancement of diversity across the SEC during his tenure, highlighted by the hiring of Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State, the first African-American football coach in league history. He also directed the development of a Minority Coaches Database to encourage the hiring of minorities in the sport of football.
“Mike Slive literally changed the world through his life,” said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. “He was a friend before we worked together. He was a friend when we were colleagues. He remained a friend in his retirement as I succeeded him as commissioner. Today we all lost a friend. We will miss him for his work and especially for his compassion. Our prayers are with Liz, Anna, Judd and Abigail.”
“We express our deepest sympathies to the Slive family,” said University of Alabama Director of Athletics Greg Byrne. “Commissioner Slive was one of the most impactful leaders to positively shape college athletics, and so many universities, athletic departments and student-athletes have benefitted from his leadership and vision. He will be deeply missed, and his legacy will be everlasting.”
“Commissioner Slive was truly one of the great leaders college athletics has ever seen and an even better person,” said Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban. “He was a wonderful friend to me and someone who I respected tremendously. Mike changed the landscape of the Southeastern Conference and helped build our league into what you see today. He was instrumental in growing college football and in the creation of the College Football Playoff. The professionalism he displayed throughout his career was second to none. He was an advocate for all of our Universities and placed the utmost importance on the well-being of student-athletes. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family in this difficult time.”
Slive served as coordinator of the Bowl Championship Series (2006-08) and served as chair of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee (2008-09). In 2002-03, Slive served on the Commission of Athletics Opportunity, established by the United States Secretary of Education to review the workings of Title IX.
Slive served as chair of the first NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee and was chair of the National Letter of Intent Steering Committee. He served as president of the Collegiate Commissioners Association (CCA) from 2001-03, was also on the NCAA Management Council from 1997-2004 and is the former chair of the Board of Directors of NCAA Football USA.
Slive previously was the first commissioner of Conference USA from 1995-2002 and was the first commissioner of the Great Midwest Conference upon its founding in 1991.
As a prostate cancer survivor, Slive founded the Mike Slive Foundation for Prostate Cancer Research upon his retirement. The Mike Slive Foundation’s mission is to raise awareness about prostate cancer and generate funding for prostate cancer research to eradicate the disease.
Born July 26, 1940, Slive was a native of Utica, N.Y., and graduated from Dartmouth College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1962. He earned a Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia Law School in 1965 and an LLM from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1966.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Mike Slive Foundation at MikeSliveFoundation.org.