If it’s not broken, why fix it?
Hence the SEC’s decision to promote Greg Sankey as commissioner, replacing the man he has so capably served during one of the most defining periods in league history.
Mike Slive, in many ways, was the perfect leader for a conference that went from probation-ridden when he arrived in 2002 to an unprecedented run of seven straight football national championships and, most recently, its own television network that will be a huge financial boon for all 14 schools.
Slive was a visionary, as evidenced by his role in the creation of the College Football Playoff, the wave of conference expansion that engulfed college athletics and the massive NCAA reform leading to autonomy for the Power 5 conferences.
Sankey was right there beside Slive every step of the way, so when Slive announced in October he planned to retire this July, the SEC presidents didn’t have to look far for his successor.
In his 13th year as a member of the SEC staff, Sankey knows the league inside out. He’s served as executive associate commissioner and chief operating officer since 2012 and, really, has been groomed for this job for some time now.
Slive was easily one of the most powerful figures in college sports. He's a lot tougher than his white-haired, grandfatherly look would suggest, and there was never any question within the confines of the SEC who was in charge.
Sankey will have his own style, but he’s learned from the best and learned well.
In particular, Sankey has been a huge asset to the SEC in NCAA compliance matters. He’s currently the chairman of the NCAA Committee on Infractions.
While the SEC was busy winning all those national championships in football, it’s worth nothing that the juggernauts in the league weren’t saddled with severe NCAA sanctions.
Sankey and Slive both have compliance backgrounds, and they both cut their teeth as commissioners in smaller conferences before coming to the SEC. Slive headed up Conference USA before taking the SEC’s top job, and Sankey was the Southland Conference’s commissioner before coming to the SEC.
One of Slive’s greatest strengths was balancing all the egos and agendas in the SEC and getting to the heart of what he genuinely felt was best for the league. Sankey was also in the middle of those conversations, many of them contentious, and he already has a healthy relationship with coaches, athletic directors and presidents in the league.
Most importantly, he has their respect and their confidence to lead the SEC forward in what’s sure to be an ever-changing landscape in college athletics.
He has big shoes to fill, for sure. But he also had one heck of a teacher.