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    Mike Slive, 77; pushed Southeastern Conference to collegiate successes

    FILE - In this Oct. 25, 2012, file photo, Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive talks with reporters during the SEC basketball media day in Hoover, Ala. Slive, the former SEC commissioner who guided the league through a period of unprecedented success and prosperity, died Wednesday, May 16, 2018. He was 77. The Southeastern Conference said Slive died in Birmingham, Ala., 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. (AP Photo/Dave Martin, File)
    Under Mr. Slive’s leadership, the Southeastern Conference became a powerhouse in college football.

    NEW YORK — With bold vision, keen intellect, and a gentle manner, Mike Slive guided the Southeastern Conference to unprecedented success and prosperity in 13 years as commissioner. He pushed for a college football playoff years before others embraced it and was a steadying force during a time of enormous growth and volatility throughout college athletics.

    Mr. Slive died Wednesday at the age of 77 in Birmingham, Ala., where he lived with his wife, Liz, three years after retiring to battle prostate cancer. The Southeastern Conference did not provide the cause of death.

    ‘‘It’s shocking,’’ said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, who replaced Mr. Slive. ‘‘So many people cared for Mike, worked with Mike, knew Mike that I think it’s shocking to everyone. And that’s because of the impact he made on individuals and on conferences and on people across this country.’’


    Mr. Slive replaced Roy Kramer as SEC commissioner in 2002, coming from Conference USA to help clean up league 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 with the ESPN and CBS worth billions.

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    ‘‘Commissioner Slive was truly one of the great leaders college athletics has ever seen and an even better person,’’ Alabama coach Nick Saban said. ‘‘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.’’

    The SEC’s success was not limited to football. Overall, the conference won 81 national championships in 17 sports during Mr. Slive’s tenure.

    ‘‘Mike was a giant in our industry and as remarkable as he was professionally, he was an even better person,’’ ACC Commissioner John Swofford said in a statement.

    Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby called Mr. Slive ‘‘a true visionary.’’


    Mr. Slive played a pivotal role in the creation of the College Football Playoff. He first formally proposed the idea of a four-team playoff in 2008, but it was shot down by 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 agreed to construct the current postseason system.

    ‘‘He was a very good communicator, built relationships inside his conference and outside his conference,’’ Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said. “We were competitors, too, but we were always able to talk through it. Disagree and come back to the table. I respected his flexibility and human qualities. But he was a force because of how smart he was.’’

    During tumultuous conference realignment across the nation, the SEC expanded from 12 to 14 schools with the additions of Missouri and Texas A&M in 2012. Mr. Slive was the catalyst behind the creation of the SEC Network, which launched 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.


    ‘‘Not just an innovator, but a creative person who had the insight to kind of peer around the corner a little bit and know what opportunities might come next,’’ Sankey said.

    According to The New York Times, Mr. Slive considered it an important part of his legacy that, in 2003, Mississippi State made Sylvester Croom the first black head football coach in the conference’s history.

    “It was clear it was not only an athletic decision,” Mr. Slive said in 2015. “It impacted the state, the region, and it really helped vault the SEC from a regional to a national conference.”

    Mr. Slive was born in Utica, N.Y., the son of a butcher. He attended Dartmouth College and the University of Virginia Law School.

    He became an attorney and founded a law firm that assisted schools with NCAA issues for before starting a long career in college sports.

    Mr. Slive was the founding commissioner of both the Great Midwest Conference and C-USA.

    After surviving cancer, he founded the Mike Slive Foundation for Prostate Cancer Research.

    In addition to his wife of 49 years, Liz, Mr. Slive leaves a daughter, Anna, and a granddaughter, the conference said.

    Mr. Slive was known for peppering his annual kickoff addresses at media days with allusions: to Mark Twain and “Star Wars,” James Baldwin and Nelson Mandela, according to The New York Times.

    Listing the conference’s achievements in 2014, he added, “As Muhammad Ali said, ‘It’s not bragging if you can back it up.'”