The most powerful job in intercollegiate athletics will open next summer, when Mike Slive ends his reign as Southeastern Conference commissioner. In his 12 years running the league, all Slive has done is create a dominant competitor, endow a financial behemoth and instill a conscience in his member schools.
Not only do they actually read the NCAA manual these days, they also erased the "Whites Only" stain from the football coaches' offices. During Slive's tenure, SEC schools have hired five African-American head coaches.
All of which is to say it will take a unique candidate to replace him. The SEC needs a personality like Slive, someone with the force, the gravitas and the magnetism to convince 14 institutions to fall in step. The SEC needs a captain whose presence will project a vision to the nation, in and out of the NCAA. The SEC needs a leader who can do all of the above and not need to fake an intimacy with the passion and allure of intercollegiate athletics.
Come home, Condi.
Come home, Condoleezza Rice, a Birmingham native who grew up near the current site of the Southeastern Conference office.
I know, this idea isn't exactly original. Last month, in the wake of Roger Goodell's mishandling of the Ray Rice case, an editorial in The Washington Post described an NFL "in dire need" of the former Secretary of State as commissioner.
She once said that her dream job would be running the NFL. But if this year has proven nothing else, it has proven that Goodell's job is not the gravy train he made it appear to be. The job of NFL commissioner is longer on trappings than on actual power.
The job of SEC commissioner is more substantive, and I would say more vital to the future of American sport. The current model of intercollegiate athletics is crumbling before our eyes. Slive helped lead the push for autonomy for the five equity conferences, which may save the NCAA from itself.
We need leaders who believe that the mission of higher education can include big-time athletics without compromising either the law or the core ideals of America's top universities.
Come home, Professor Rice, an academician of the first order, and your scholarship will infuse and inform a league so often accused of allowing the athletic tail to wag the academic dog.
Maybe there is no comparable academic challenge to the international relations students you teach. But Stanford, the university you once served as provost, has been held up as a model of what the NCAA is supposed to be. Imagine what might grow if you planted some seeds from The Farm in SEC soil.
Come home, Madame Secretary, and plug in the neon "American Icon" that framed you during the Bush administration.
The job of SEC commissioner is not just a job. It is a quasi-public trust. Slive may have been an attorney from upstate New York, but he understood that his constituency included the fans of his 14 members. He treated his annual "State of the SEC" speeches at SEC Media Days as if he were speaking not only to the assembled media, but to the tailgaters and the Finebaum callers.
Moreover, as the first woman and the first African-American to serve as CEO of one of the five equity conferences, you would break through one more ceiling. That feeling never gets old, does it?
Come home, Dr. Rice, and make your avocation your vocation.
When the commissioners assembled the College Football Playoff selection committee, they didn't offer you a chair in the room merely because of your intellect and your integrity. They understand you have a southerner's love of college football. As a coach's daughter, you understand the game. As a southerner, you understand the passion that infuses it.
If none of those pleas work, there's always this hole card:
Come home, Condi, and bring your golf bag.
You would work in an office that's 10 minutes from Country Club of Birmingham and 30 minutes from Shoal Creek Golf Club, and you're already a member at both clubs. And if you wake up and head east on I-20, you could wear your green jacket to lunch at Augusta National.
The most powerful job in intercollegiate athletics is coming open next summer, and there will be plenty of people who want the job who are well-qualified. You could start with Slive's top deputy, Greg Sankey, or look at Rice's colleague on the CFP selection committee, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long.
But the best candidate, the one who could lead the SEC through the uncharted waters ahead, is obvious. All she needs to do is come home.