HOOVER, Ala. — SEC commissioner Mike Slive's passion for history was on display Monday during his speech kicking off the league's annual football season preview event.
He quoted Muhammad Ali, former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower and former British prime minister Winston Churchill, but Slive's own words concerning the future of his league and the NCAA may have just as much impact when it comes to the future of college football.
"We are not deaf to the din of discontent across collegiate athletics that has dominated the news," Slive said referring to an offseason that included former athletes facing off with the NCAA during a high-profile trial and conferences clashing with the NCAA over potential rule changes. "... The world of intercollegiate athletics is full of potential. I am certain that our efforts today will ensure its future for tomorrow."
During the SEC's spring meetings in May, Slive threw down the gauntlet by stating if the NCAA didn't make sweeping governance changes allowing the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC to form their own rules and better compensate athletes, leagues like the SEC may look to break away.
Slive reiterated that stance during Monday's speech, stating the NCAA must change.
"As I have said before, if we do not achieve a positive outcome under the existing big tent of Division I, we will need to consider the establishment of a venue with similar conferences and institutions where we can enact the desired changes in the best interests of our student-athletes," he said.
The NCAA Division I Board of Directors are meeting to vote on various rule change proposals in early August, with many of those focused on providing more financial support for athletes. The NCAA is weighing allowing schools to pay athletes stipends to better cover the true cost of attendance and medical care once they leave college. Small conferences with leaner budgets have voted against such moves in the past, but Slive stressed the wealthier leagues had to move forward with the rule changes.
Slive's rhetoric is not new, with the commissioner noting he raised the same issues this time three years ago.
He cited former Florida basketball player Patric Young as one example of an athlete who "has made the most of his collegiate academic and athletic experience."
"Student-athletes like Patric, as well as many other student-athletes like him, inspire us to protect intercollegiate athletics, to keep it healthy, vibrant and an integral part of higher education," Slive said. "... This is why it is critical for the NCAA to change, and to change in accordance with the vision proposed for the 21st century by the five conferences.
"While acknowledging the angst among some conferences and institutions in Division I, I remain optimistic that working together we can create a framework that places the academic and athletic success of the student-athlete front and center."
Slive said despite the litigation the leagues and NCAA face from former athletes, he still sees it as an exciting time for college athletics and the SEC in particular. The conference is coming off a banner year, highlighting the SEC's seven national championships in the sports of golf, gymnastics, swimming, track and field, softball and baseball. Slive noted the league competed in its eighth straight national championship in college football, with last season's game being "just a minute too long."
Then he addressed the conference's next big project: the SEC Network. The new 24-hour television network is a partnership with ESPN and debuts in August, providing fans across the country more access to all things SEC.
In the end, Slive said he believes the league has plenty of reasons to tout its past accomplishments and trumpet its potential for future success.
"As Muhammad Ali said, 'It's not bragging if you can back it up.' "