HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — Former Southeastern Conference Mike Slive was known to invoke the words of historical figures like Winston Churchill when talking about challenges facing the league.
Greg Sankey quoted Bob Dylan.
The new commissioner used his first state-of-the-league address to praise the SEC for leading the way in athletics as well as on social issues, using the lyrics of a Dylan song to make his point.
Standing in front of three huge video screens at SEC Media Days Monday, the 51-year-old Sankey quoted Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin’” to describe the league’s ongoing evolution as one of the college game’s dominant forces.
“Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen and keep your eyes wide open,” said Sankey, quoting one of Dylan’s most famous songs. “The chance won’t come again.”
Sankey touted the rapidly growing SEC Network, which helped the league earn record revenue last year. He also praised leadership at schools in South Carolina and Mississippi, which have issued statements in support of distancing their respective states from Confederate flag imagery.
“The times, they are changing, and the times will continue to change as we move forward,” Sankey said.
Sankey replaces Slive, who resigned June 1 after a 13-year tenure that saw tremendous growth for the league.
In many ways, Sankey’s personality on stage was reminiscent of Slive — personable yet soft-spoken. He inherits a league with ample power in college sports and unprecedented revenue thanks to the launch of the year-old SEC Network.
But the Dylan reference was a subtle hint that the Sankey era could have its own unique style. He was active on Twitter throughout the day — a medium that Slive never used — even as he mingled with media members throughout the afternoon.
“We’re different, but I learned a lot from Mike,” Sankey said. “Obviously, it is a different day. Times are changing, and that seemed an appropriate both song title and lyric.”
The challenges facing Sankey are also daunting as the SEC — along with the other power five conferences — begin an era of compensating players with cost of attendance on top of their athletic scholarships.
Among the issues to be sorted out is how schools calculate their individual cost of attendance. Some are worried that a larger number could turn into a recruiting advantage. Sankey has advocated transparency throughout the process.
“It’s just an effort to make sure people understand the methodology,” Sankey said. “Obviously, we’ve understood cost of attendance awards can vary, and the methods used to calculate and arrive at those amounts can vary.”
The league also agreed on new legislation over the summer that prohibits its schools from enrolling any athletes who have been subject to “serious misconduct” at their previous college institution. The league defined serious misconduct as “sexual assault, domestic violence or other forms of sexual violence.”
“Clearly, coaches have a responsibility for the young people on their rosters,” Sankey said. “That’s clear today, and I think that’s been clear over time.”
Sankey acknowledged that his first address as commissioner was “a bit of a moment for me.” The veteran college administrator is very familiar with the league’s inner workings since being hired in 2002. Over the past three years, he’s been officially in charge of the league’s day-to-day operations.
Despite that power, Sankey was mostly anonymous over the previous decade, often watching from the back of the room at SEC Media Days while Slive publicly discussed the league’s challenges.
Now, Sankey is the man front and center. He’s adamant that even though the SEC had unprecedented success under Slive — including a run of seven straight national football championships from the 2006 to 2012 seasons — even better days are ahead of it.
“We have made great strides forward as a Conference,” Sankey said. “and we cannot accept even one step back.”