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March 27, 2012

The Answer Man





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In a lunch full of ovations, perhaps the most sincere came when commisioner Mike Slive answered a question about university-run TV networks in his Southeastern Conference.

In front of an estimated 300 Missouri fans at the Westport Flea Market in Kansas City, Slive spoke about Missouri's move to the SEC and then answered questions from those in attendance. Toward the end, UM System curator David Bradley lobbed a softball-sized question to Slive, trying to get a public answer to the SEC's policy on institution-owned televison networks.

Slive's answer was a simple one.

"In terms of our current agreements that our television partners," Slive began, "our institutions cannot go ahead and have their own networks."

Slive spoke for nearly 40 minutes in front of Kansas City Tiger Club members, as well as a smattering of bigwigs. That included Kansas City mayor Sly James, Missouri athletic director Mike Alden, UM System curators, representatives from the Kansas City Sports Commission and Jackson County council members. It was the follow-up to Missouri's SEC-acceptance pep rally in Columbia last November, and it was only fitting that Slive visited Kansas City, which has been a battleground for hurt feelings and dissent since the move was announced.

The white-haired commissioner, wearing a black-and-gold striped tie with an SEC pin and an SEC watch, made sure to pander to the crowd early and often.

"If this is the energy from the University of Missouri that's going to come to every one of our events," Slive began after a standing-ovation following his introduction, "I'm going to have to go home and warn our guys to be careful. The energy in this room is phenomenal."

In a largely prepared opening statement, Slive spoke on end about the history of the University of Missouri, as well as the history of the SEC. He said it was a marriage born out of both necessity and desire which was reciprocated by both parties.

"What made us expand was the quality, the quality of (Texas) A&M and Missouri," Slive said. "When they came to us, we felt like we had an opportunity to bring an institution of this quality to our league, that we were going to do that."

Of course, what many in the attendance looked forward to were specifics. Specifics about the likelihood of Kansas City hosting a conference tournament. Specifics about a revamped television deal that would line Missouri's pockets with more money than expected.

Slive wouldn't talk in those specifics, but he did make a case for positive outcomes in both arenas.

Regarding the television deal, Slive noted that the SEC is in year three of a 15-year deal with CBS and ESPN. However, the contracts stipulate that both parties are allowed to re-evaluate the deal should events arise that would merit consideration. Slive called it a "look-in provision."

"Being an optimist by nature, I am optimistic that we can make Mike Alden very happy," Slive said, drawing applause.

In a sit-down session with reporters afterward, Slive said that both parties -- conference officials and the TV networks -- are "currently at the table" negotiating a new deal. He did not discuss a timeline for a conclusion, however.

The SEC has open dates for the men's basketball tournament in 2017 and 2018, with the 2019 conference tournament taking place in Nashville. Slive said the conference tries to schedule those tournaments five years in advance, and they'll start listening to proposals from different cities. In the past, the tournament has been played in Atlanta, Nashville and New Orleans, among other locations.

"If you're asking me if there's any chance that we could bring a conference championship to Kansas City," Slive began, "the answer is -- Could we? Yes. Will we? I don't know.

"We certainly welcome applications."

Among the other topics Slive discussed were NCAA reforms, many of which were spearheaded by the SEC. Slive specifically mentioned a proposal to better prepare high school athletes for the rigor of college academics.

"We're concerned about the academic preparation of youngsters coming in from some of our schools," Slive said, "so we're now developing a different kind of progress in high school."

Slive likened it to college progress -- how athletes must pass a certain number of classes each semester, and satisfactorily advance to a college degree each year.

"We began to think about what if we introduced that concept at the high school level, so we could awaken the young people before it's too late."

During the question-and-answer session with fans, Slive was immediately asked about recent outspoken comments from various members of the University of Kansas and its athletic department about Missouri's move. Slive balked at the fact that Missouri's decision to defect was based solely on money.

Instead, he said it was about a total picture that the University of Missouri wanted to paint.

"I think I spoke for Missouri as well that this is a league that has great pride and great passion," Slive said. "One of the things I love about being the commisioner of the Southeast Conference is that to those of us who live in our world, it's a very important thing. It's about culture, it's about psychology, it's about history, it's about sociology. It's about family. It's about competition. I think it's fair to say that Mizzou was looking for that kind of a home. We were looking for that.

"Revenue, as you can read in the paper, revenue is going to be there. The really big question, and we've been reading about the Big 12 and hopefully they'll do a great job, hopefully they'll be very successful and generate a lot of money. Ultimately, that's really only a piece of it. It's more about a how you stay together-type thing.

"In our league -- I guess one of the best ways to characterize our league is that in our by-laws, with regard to the comings and goings, is about a sentence. If you want to come, and we vote for you to come, you come. If someone wants to leave, they really just leave."

There's no chance of Missouri leaving now. Perhaps prophetically, a "One-Way" street sign adorned the wall to Slive's right as he spoke.

Missouri is all-aboard the SEC train. Slive believes that destination for Missouri, and for his conference, is a bright one.

"We know that homecoming is a special tradition at Missouri," Slive said, "and so again, to the Missouri Nation, including nearly 300,000 students and alumni, welcome to your new home."

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