Slive gets SEC with troubles, successes

So, is Mike Slive coming into the Southeastern Conference as an administrator, an arbiter or a defender?

In succeeding Roy Kramer, the SEC commissioner for 12 years, Slive possibly will need all three skills in directing a conference that is both successful and troubled. Skeptics would say there is a direct corollary between that success on the field and those troubles off the field.

First, a little background for any late-comers: In 1933 the SEC began play with 13 schools having football teams. Since then, Georgia Tech, Tulane and Sewanee dropped from the conference and, years later, in 1992, Arkansas and South Carolina joined the fold.

Football in this part of the country, however, dates much further back than 1933. For instance, Auburn and Georgia have met each other 106 times, Mississippi and Mississippi State 99 times, Kentucky and Tennessee 98 times, and Tennessee and Vanderbilt 96 times.

Slive comes to Birmingham after seven years as commissioner of Conference USA, a respectable league but not nearly the caliber of the SEC. He also is an attorney who has defended various universities, not too successfully, against NCAA accusations.

So, he has experience as an administrator and as a defender of schools.

In his new job, however, if Slive has any abilities as an arbiter, that might be his best contribution.

That’s because in recent years the competition among SEC schools has degenerated into off-field bitterness, cat-calling and back-biting among several of them, especially in the ever-escalating recruiting battles.

Witness Tennessee and Alabama, and Florida and Tennessee, among such vendettas. Vanderbilt is rarely if ever mentioned in such contexts but then the Commodores don’t win very often, either.

When I first began covering SEC sports back in the dark ages, in 1966, the league office was a hole-in-the-wall with a commissioner, an information specialist and perhaps a secretary.

The information specialist, the late Elmore &uot;Scoop&uot; Hudgins, would type out his news releases the first part of the week and hand-deliver them to my Associated Press office and to the daily newspapers in Birmingham, and mail them to other news outlets around the Southeast.

Now it is all sophisticated with a large staff, electronic communications and perhaps more attention paid to television than to newspapers. It’s merely a fact of life.

No matter how up-to-date things are, however, human nature and restaurant gravy are the same everywhere, meaning that some folks always are seeking an unfair advantage.

So, Slive will need all his skills as an administrator, defender and arbiter to calm some of the internecine squabbling and to lead SEC schools to clear their reputations with the NCAA.

Nine major infractions have come down from the NCAA on SEC schools in little more than a decade, and that’s just in football, which could give the impression of a rogue conference.

It is no consolation that several other schools have run afoul of the NCAA.

The SEC claims to be the best conference, and it needs to prove that in ways other than blocking and tackling.

(Hoyt Harwell is a retired Associated Press Correspondent who covered major sports in Alabama for 26 years. Harwell lives in Hoover. (e-mail: hharwell@bellsouth.net