Mike Slive's tenure as SEC Commissioner expires after July 2015, and the search to find the next arguably most powerful person in collegiate athletics has begun.
One of the names that frequently pops up, even if no one says he's the favorite, is Arkansas AD Jeff Long. Several Razorback fans have asked if Long might really leave Arkansas, so here's a rundown of why he might be a legit candidate, and why he might not.
Why Jeff Long Could Be The Next SEC Commissioner
We've said this before, but nobody gained more from Jeff Long's firing of Bobby Petrino than Jeff Long. If he was just another major university AD before April 2012, he certainly hasn't been since. He instantly became one of the most high-profile athletic directors in the nation, rumored to be a candidate for the AD jobs at both Stanford and Texas.
The firing earned Long universal praise across the world of collegiate athletics (although there are still bitter Razorback fans) and his name became synonymous with integrity and doing things "the right way." He was named an Under Armour Athletic Director of the Year in 2013 and in 2012 was a finalist for the SportsBusiness Journal Athletic Director of the Year.
Long has also been building his resume since becoming Arkansas' athletic director by serving on committees outside of Arkansas. He is currently the SEC Representative on the Division IA Athletic Directors Executive Committee, and has previously been on the NCAA Championships Cabinet. If you look at Mike Slive's history, you'll see plenty of these sorts of groups.
Of course, most famously, Long is the first Chairman of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee. In that role, he will effectively be the face of the Playoff, appearing on television each Tuesday beginning next week until the final selections are made in December. If Long's profile isn't high enough right now, it will get substantially larger very soon. Slive was the coordinator of the BCS from 2006-08 and was the Men's Basketball Selection Committee in 2008-09.
Also, athletic directors have made the jump to major conference commissioners before. Current ACC Commissioner John Swofford was the AD at North Carolina, a school within the conference, when he was hired to run the ACC, and Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby was the AD at Stanford when he replaced the incomparable Dan Beebe.
UPDATE: It was announced shortly after this was originally published that none other than Arkansas chancellor David Gearhart will chair the committee to find Slive's replacement.That certainly won't lead to any speculation.
Why Jeff Long Might Not Be The Next SEC Commissioner
First and foremost, in just about every article discussing this issue, current SEC Executive Associate Commissioner and COO Greg Sankey is listed as the big favorite. He's been an SEC administrator with Slive since 2002. Sankey's promotion would mean somewhat of a continuation of the current operating style, similar to what the NBA has enjoyed with Adam Silver replacing David Stern - a move that paid dividends when the league went through the Donald Sterling crisis shortly after he took over.
Secondly, while Long's chairmanship of the Playoff Selection Committee is sure to earn him plenty of eyeballs, it should be noted that this is still the first year of the Committee. How smoothly the Committee operates this fall will surely a topic of conversation. While it seems destined for the Committee's selections to be at least somewhat controversial, there may be a point that the SEC would not want to appoint a Commissioner who would be the face of college football's most hotly contested topic. I would think Long's candidacy for Commissioner would be stronger if he was at or near the end of his first term as Committee Chair instead of at the beginning.
Further, if we're being honest here, it's not like Arkansas' biggest sports are exactly on a hot streak of late. There's no need to reiterate everything that's happened here but we all know what's happened with the football and basketball programs the last few years (although to be fair, many of the other sports like baseball, gymnastics, track, soccer and golf have been consistently successful recently). When Swofford began running the ACC in 1997, their football and basketball programs were at an elite level. And UNC basically runs the ACC anyway similar to Alabama's sway in Birmingham. North Carolina was hardly a conference outpost like Arkansas (I kid, I kid, I kid. Sorta.)
The SEC could also go the untraditional route ok that's about as stupid a line as I've seen written. The SEC has dismissed some traditions in favor of others but this would be a pretty big one. However, some have brought up the possibility of, and ESPN.com has publicly endorsed, Condoleezza Rice taking the position.
So there you have it. Could Jeff Long be a real candidate to replace Mike Slive? It's certainly possible (at least I think it's more likely he does that than take the Michigan job, as has also been rumored). Is it the most likely scenario? It doesn't appear that way. Long is certainly building a resume that could lead to a commissioner's role at some point in the future, but it may not be the SEC - although it could be. It's worth keeping an eye on.