SEC picks Greg Sankey as commish

Greg Sankey has been Mike Slive's right-hand man at the Southeastern Conference the past 12 years and now he's been tabbed to replace him in a move widely expected for months.

Sankey will replace Slive as SEC commissioner starting Aug. 1 after more than two years of handling the league's day-to-day operations.

Vanderbilt Chancellor Nick Zeppos, the president of the SEC presidents and chancellors, announced Sankey's appointment on Thursday. Slive, the SEC's commissioner since 2002, said in October he would retire effective July 31 and that he was receiving treatment for a recurrence of prostate cancer.

Sankey is in his 13th year with the SEC and has served as the conference's executive associate commissioner and chief operating officer for the league office since 2012, freeing Slive to concentrate on major projects like the SEC Network and College Football Playoffs. Before joining the SEC staff, Sankey was the Southland Conference commissioner for nearly seven years starting when he was just 31.

Arkansas Chancellor David Gearhart headed the search committee that decided on Slive's replacement. Gearhart said in a release, "Greg possesses all of the traits we were searching for in the next commissioner of the SEC."

"He has shown tremendous leadership in his existing role in the conference office and he exudes a passion for the student-athlete that is critical for the new era of college athletics that we have entered," Gearhart said. "He is the right person to lead the SEC at an important time in our history."

Sankey, who will be introduced at a news conference Friday morning in Nashville, Tennessee, before the SEC men's basketball tournament quarterfinals, has the challenging task of replacing one of the most powerful figures in college sports.

"Greg is knowledgeable and experienced and will be a natural addition around our Commissioner's table," Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford said.

Under Slive's 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 from 2006-12. In a release, Sankey said he was "honored" to follow Slive as the SEC's commissioner.

Praise from around the SEC poured in for Sankey after the announcement.

Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs raved about Sankey's integrity, saying he is "the most intelligent athletic administrator I know" and "the perfect person to lead the Southeastern Conference."

"Greg Sankey has a wealth of experience in college athletics and a better knowledge of the NCAA policies and procedures than anyone in our profession," Jacobs said in a text message to The Associated Press. "He has been a tremendous resource for the SEC member institutions when we have navigated through complex issues on campus and at the conference and national level."

Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan also was enthusiastic about the choice of the SEC's next commissioner.

"I think it was a great hire," Donovan said after his Gators beat Alabama at the SEC tournament.

"I think he's really smart. I think he's bright. I think he gets the big picture. He's been involved in a lot of different committees," Donovan said. "I think he has a really good pulse on the NCAA. I think he has a really good pulse on where college athletics are going. ... I really believe they hired a great guy."

Said Tennessee AD Dave Hart: "Greg will provide the leadership necessary to continue the remarkable level of success the conference has enjoyed during Mike's tenure. Greg is widely respected throughout our league and within NCAA circles."

Sankey, a native of upstate New York who has run more than 40 marathons, has helped the SEC reshape its governance, enforcement and compliance program. He is active within the NCAA committee structure, which includes his current service on the Division I Legislative Council, Committee on Academic Performance and the NCAA Committee on Infractions, for which he currently serves as chairman.

Sankey went to college to study engineering but did an about-face to a major in physical education after a couple of years. He started his career in athletics as an intern at Northwestern State, he said in an interview with AP last fall, making "$500 dollars a month, stuffing envelopes."

LSU football coach Les Miles took to social media to applaud the SEC's choice.

"Congrats to Greg Sankey on being named new commish of SEC," Miles posted on Twitter. "Great hire for our league. Very deserving. Have always enjoyed working with him."