SEC's Slive a diplomat for BCS change

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. | Mike Slive is an avid reader who likes a good cigar and Winston Churchill.

The Southeastern Conference commissioner is a strong-willed former lawyer and judge who is not so old-fashioned when it comes to ideas for changing college football's method of settling its national championship.

His proposal for a four-team scramble — Slive avoids the "dreaded P-word," playoff — was rejected by Football Bowl Subdivision conference commissioners in May. That means the BCS format won't get a makeover until at least the 2014 season.

One part of his mission, though, was accomplished.

The idea of putting No. 1 against No. 4 and 2 vs. 3 in the marquee bowl games remains tucked into the public consciousness for the next controversy — though there seemed scant risk of it fading, anyway.

"To the extent that the plus-one is now in the public domain, it will be interesting to see whether people still retain an interest in it," Slive said. "That may or may not be impacted by what happens over the next six or seven months."

It's a proposal he readily admits could benefit the SEC, which has had near-misses like the unbeaten 2004 Auburn team that was the BCS' third wheel.

"Over the past 10 years, we would have had twice as many teams competing for the national championship," Slive said, who thinks it would benefit football overall.

Slive, who just finished a two-year term as BCS coordinator, had been cleared by SEC presidents and athletic directors to propose a format change. Only the Atlantic Coast Conference supported further discussions on the proposal.

Auburn's Tommy Tuberville, who coached that 13-0 team in 2004, feels certain the rejection wasn't because Slive didn't do his homework.

"There's one thing about Mike Slive, I'd put him in front of everybody in terms of being the smart negotiator," Tuberville said. "He's a very smart guy, and there's no rock that he doesn't overturn when it comes to making a decision.

"I promise you when he walked in there he had a plan."

Two key aspects of the proposal, Slive said, were protecting both the regular season and the bowl system without the kind of academic intrusion that a lengthy P-word might cause.

Slive, also chairman of the NCAA men's basketball selection committee, seems the kind of even-tempered diplomat that could end up being a quiet force in fostering future support for change.

The SEC has won the last two football national titles — and two of the last three basketball championships. History is in his favor, too, since the BCS was the brainchild of his predecessor as SEC Commissioner, Roy Kramer.

"I don't think any one person can change the BCS," said Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese. But, he added, if there is a change, "the SEC is going to be at the forefront."

And the SEC's front-man is the 67-year-old Slive, who said he has no intention of retiring when his current seven-year contract expires July 31, 2009.

"When Mike does say something, you know it's been thoroughly analyzed and thought out," said Tranghese, who has known Slive since the late 1970s. "That's why he's so respected across the country."

His colleagues appreciate the way Slive approaches controversial issues, even if they're on different sides.

Tom Hansen, commissioner of the Pac 10, which opposes the plus-one model, said Slive is "very careful" in his approach.

"He is a strong-willed and strong-minded person, but when things do get contentious he doesn't back down," Hansen said. "He's very confident in his position, and he's very thoughtful of the position of others."

Or, as Mississippi Chancellor Robert Khayat said, "He's firm but he's fair and his emotions don't show."

Maybe he learned a little something about politicking from Churchill. Slive reads nonfiction, historical fiction and thrillers and his spacious, book- and memorabilia-lined office includes everything from sports books to a book of Churchill's speeches.

He smiles when mentioning finding (and purchasing) Churchill's six-volume, nearly 5,000-page "The Second World War" at a used bookstore in New Hampshire.

Something else that draws a smile from Slive: The SEC's reputation these days is for winning championships — and perhaps for an air of arrogance and superiority that comes with it.

When Slive took over in 2002, Alabama's once-dominant football program had been slammed with severe sanctions, Kentucky was also on probation and three other football teams were under investigation.

Slive's vow to have the SEC probation-free within five years hasn't quite panned out. But Mississippi State and South Carolina's 5-year probation periods end in June, and only Arkansas' men's track team is currently under sanctions.

The old joke about SEC standing for "Surely Everybody's Cheating" isn't heard so much anymore.

Khayat said Slive's public goal along with his way of conducting business has "enhanced the reputation of the conference."

Lack of diversity also was an embarrassing issue for the SEC. Sylvester Croom became the conference's first black head football coach in 2003, but Slive especially draws satisfaction from teams staying out of the NCAA's doghouse.

"We've made very significant progress in dealing with those issues," Slive said of diversity and cheating. "But at the same time, we've won. The thing that's satisfying is putting to rest the old excuse that if you don't go down the back way you can't win.

"As I look at everything that's happened the last six years, there have been individual great moments. But overall that's the most satisfying thing for me."