Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive will retire next summer after 13 years leading the league to unprecedented success and prosperity.
The 74-year-old Slive said his retirement will take effect July 31, and also announced he plans to begin treatment for a recurrence of prostate cancer.
Slive has become one of the most powerful figures in college sports. Under his leadership, the SEC became the nation's most premier football conference, dug out from under a pile of NCAA compliance issues and won seven consecutive BCS titles. Overall, the SEC won 67 national championships in 15 of its 21 sponsored sports since he took over in 2002.
"I have been blessed in more ways than I can count and I will have as much passion for this job on my last day as I did on my first," Slive said Tuesday in a statement released by the conference. "I consider my health situation a temporary detour in a remarkable road that has allowed me to meet amazing people, experience incredible events and celebrate historic victories. I will relish my final year in this position and look forward to being the biggest fan of the SEC for many years to come."
The statement said Slive's recurrence was diagnosed after back surgery in August. He was first treated for prostate cancer in the 1990s.
He will continue to carry out his responsibilities from the SEC office and his home office in Birmingham, Alabama. His travel and appearances may be limited, the conference said. After his treatment, the conference said he will be a consultant to the league for four years.
Even with the news of Slive's health issues, his retirement at this point comes as no shock. While he had given no timetable for his exit in recent years, he had hinted that getting the SEC Network off the ground could be his last big project. In 2012, he said he'd stay with the conference at least two more years.
He helped the conference land huge television rights deals with CBS and ESPN worth billions and in August the SEC Network was launched with ESPN as a partner. Conference revenues shared among the 14 member schools have grown from about $96 million when he took over to $310 million last year.
"Mike possesses all of the qualities of a great leader — visionary, consensus builder, integrity, intuition and commitment, but more than anything he is a great friend to so many of us in this league," Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said in a statement. "He's led this conference to historical milestones during his tenure and the impact he's had on collegiate athletics management and structure will be felt for many years."
Vanderbilt chancellor Nick Zeppos said the SEC will begin a national search for a successor. Expect the conference leaders to also consider in-house candidates.
Greg Sankey was promoted to executive associate commissioner and chief operating officer at the SEC in March 2012. He's been handling day-to-day operations while Slive was working on major projects such as the network and College Football Playoff. Sankey, the former Southland Conference commissioner, was hired by Slive not long after he became SEC commissioner.
"I've had the opportunity to learn every day from Mike Slive," Sankey said in a recent interview with the AP, before Tuesday's announcement. "That's one of the reasons I took the job."
SEC executive associate commissioner Mark Womack has been with the conference since 1978.
When Slive left Conference USA to take over the SEC in 2002, the conference was in disarray with nine of its 12 members either on probation or being investigated by the NCAA. Now only three of the SEC's 14 schools are on NCAA probation.
"I think one of the things that our leadership helped transition was how you handle those things," Sankey said. "When we have problems now, they are, I think personally, materially different than what we've had."
Slive guided the conference through expansion, bringing on Texas A&M and Missouri three years ago to expand the league's footprint into new markets. And he pushed for a four-team playoff in major college football years before it was finally adopted.
In 2011, Slive was among the first commissioners to call for massive NCAA reform that has led to the five most powerful Division I conferences — the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Atlantic Coast Conference and Pac-12 — being allowed to pass legislation without the approval of other conferences.
Slive called for increasing the value of athletic scholarships to include cost of attendance, guaranteeing a four-year scholarship and for more long-term health care and educational opportunities for athletes.
Now with autonomy for the Big Five in place, those changes are close to becoming a reality.