COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey recalled when he knew for certain his life had dramatically changed: A woman charged him at the league’s football media days asking for an autograph on an 8×10 glossy of himself.
”It doesn’t stop,” said Sankey, less than four months into his new job. ”I knew that, but I didn’t know that.”
Sankey’s two predecessors, Roy Kramer and Mike Slive, grinned knowingly Friday. All three were on hand for a panel discussion to celebrate the 25th anniversary of South Carolina accepting membership into the conference.
The three, along with University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides, shared stories of past successes, the Gamecocks growth in the SEC and where the 14-team conference is headed with Sankey in charge.
Kramer is credited with bringing the conference championship into big time college football as commissioner from 1990 until 2002. Slive’s legacy will be establishing the SEC Network, which he proudly told the audience had jumped to 70 million households in the past year, an increase of five million from its 2014 launch in climate where other cable networks are shedding subscribers.
Under Slive’s leadership, the SEC cleaned up much of its rogue reputation as a rules-breaking league whose schools were continually on probation. He also navigated conference schools through the choppy waters of autonomy, cost of attendance stipends and other NCAA governance issues.
Sankey understands he has perhaps even bigger and stickier issues ahead. There are several lawsuits that could affect the school-student athlete relationship permanently and the league must be ready for anything.
”While we’re not perfect in college athletics, we don things exceedingly well,” he said.
Sankey will look for the SEC to do more in areas of athlete health and wellness, continuing oversight to injured or affected players beyond their college days.
”We can improve what we do in all those domains,” Sankey said.
Kramer recalled when the call went out that the SEC was looking to expand. After adding Arkansas a few weeks earlier and several site visits to South Carolina, the school’s board of trustees voted on Sept. 25, 1990, to accept the SEC’s invitation as the 12th member.
When then interim university president Arthur Smith called Kramer with the news, he urged the commissioner to announce things as quickly as possible because Smith feared the trustees would spill the beans to the media. So Kramer flew in from Alabama headquarters and the announcement came at the stadium that evening.
”It was one of the most memorable nights,” Kramer said.
Pastides said the SEC brought the Gamecocks a credibility and allure that increased applications, enrollment and the university’s financial bottom line. ”That can’t be overstated,” he said.
Slive oversaw a time of tremendous athletic success. The SEC won seven consecutive football national championships from 2006 through 2012. South Carolina was a baseball power, going to the College World Series six times and winning national titles in 2010 and 2011 during Slive’s tenure.
”We’ve lived through a golden age,” Slive said.
The issues ahead might not be as clear-cut as those recently completed like building the SEC Network or achieving cost-of-attendance stipends, Sankey said. He plans to keep on identifying areas of need and making sure the SEC remains at the forefront of giving college athletes a first-rate experience.
”We’ve drilled a lot of the easy oil,” Sankey said. ”Now, we have to manage the resources.”