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March 13, 2015

Greg Sankey

Nick Zeppos

HERB VINCENT:  Good morning.  Welcome to the press conference today.  We appreciate you coming here on relatively short notice.
I would like to introduce Chancellor Zeppos.
NICK ZEPPOS:  Thank you for coming.  It's a pleasure to be here.  I think without a doubt the Southeastern Conference has been fortunate to have outstanding leadership.  And I think of Roy Kramer coming and leading and I think of the extraordinary Mike Slive, who has led us.  And Mike, it's great to see you.  We wish the best for you and we know you'll be with us working for college sports and the SEC for a very, very long time.
But we have been fortunate to have great leadership.  When we learned that Mike was going to retire we said, We believe we need an extraordinary leader.  We need to undertake a national search.
And as President of the SEC Presidents and Chancellors group, I did the first thing, which is my privilege, which is I appointed a great search committee, Dave Gearhart from the university of Arkansas chaired that committee.
We did a thorough national search.  In the world of the SEC and college athletics I would say we did an international search, because that's our aspiration and that's our reach.
And after this search, we came down and we selected Greg Sankey and we couldn't be more enthusiastic and proud about our selection.
Many of you know Greg.  I've worked with him for over a decade.  When you think of Greg, you think of integrity.  You think of high intelligence.  You think of a passion for the SEC and the student‑athlete.
We believe that we are positioned for the future to thrive and succeed and meet the many challenges we have because we have Greg leading us.  Greg, let me turn it over to you.  Congratulations.
COMMISSIONER‑SELECT SANKEY:  Good morning.  And I want to thank Chancellor Zeppos for that kind introduction.  There's a lot of thank you's for me this morning.  It's one of those moments that don't come along often in life.  So I'm going to ask your indulgence as I say thank you to a few folks.
I want to first, as was mentioned, thank the Presidents and Chancellors Search Committee, chaired by ChancellorGearhart.  Also thank his wife for her contribution of his time to our effort.
I appreciate the diligence of the process, the opportunity to visit yesterday with all of our presidents and chancellors, and the opportunity to stand before you today, having been named as the next commissioner of the Southeastern Conference.
I just had one of the most enjoyable walks of my life from the hotel to the arena.  I was joined by a number of our presidents and chancellors and athletics directors who are here today.  I want to say thank you for your confidence in me.  Thank you for your trust.  I look forward to our future together.
I also want to say thanks to our athletics directors as a group, our faculty athletics representatives, senior women administrators and the many coaches who through this process have been a source of encouragement for me.
One of the great rewards throughout the process has been to know how many people were cheering for me, literally cheering for me, I think.  The kind words, notes, e‑mails and texts have of encouragement are much appreciated.  I now have over 300 unreturned e‑mails and about 250 unreturned text messages.  I want to commit to getting back to people as quickly as I can, but I might be awhile.
There's some very special people to me sitting to my left in the front row.  My wife Cathy, our two daughters and my parents are all here this morning.
My parents thought they were traveling to Nashville to attend one of the great events, the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament.  I had not let them know that I would be part of an interview process or potentially selected as the commissioner.  They had no idea I would be standing in front of a group in a press conference accepting this opportunity.
My father is one of the hardest working people I know.  He can fix anything.  I can't fix much around the house.  That's why he needs to visit frequently.  My mother is one of the most energetic people I know.  They provided me and my brother with a solid foundation for life, the confidence to take a chance, and the freedom to pursue our dreams.
I think parents can take a lesson from that, to give their children the opportunities in life that we seek to provide through athletics.
Cathy has shared the entire journey with me.  26 years of marriage, we have lived our entire adult life in the States of Louisiana, Texas and Alabama.  Our two daughters were born in Texas and they have lived their entire lives in the SEC's geographic footprint.  At the time they were born, Texas didn't realize it was SEC country, but we have made great progress on that particular task in the last few years.
I think Roy Kramer was on his way here and if he's not here, he'll be here shortly.  It's an honor for him to make the effort to be here.
I also want to thank our staff, many of who are gathered in the back.  They have been colleagues and I look forward to working for them in a different way.
There's a person here who has been mentioned, who is accompanied by his great wife, Mike and Liz Slive.  Mike was a friend and Liz was a friend before Mike became my boss.  In August of 2002, I picked up the phone to ask Mike a question.  At the end that phone call Mike asked me a question, Would you ever think about coming to work for the Southeastern Conference?
Fast forward a few months in November of 2002, I walked into the SEC offices on my first day.  And I've benefited, as all of us have, in this conference from his wisdom, his integrity, his leadership, his work ethic, his vision.  I've had to adjust my morning hours to get up very early for coffee meetings that I never thought would occur at that time of day for me.
Mike's leaving an incredible legacy.  We enjoyed great success and support as a conference.  We made great progress in overcoming many of the compliance challenges that we faced 12 years ago.  The diversity among our coaches has changed for the better.
We have established an initiative called SECU, which is an academic collaboration among our 14 great universities.  We have added two great universities to the conference membership and you may have heard that we have successfully launched a national television network.  Mike Slive's legacy will shape the SEC long into the future.
Yet we're not done.  We're not close to being done.  The SEC is poised to make a difference in the lives of student‑athletes for generations.  And we must ensure the lessons that they learn, both in the classroom and through competition, translate into success in their lives.
Throughout this conference's existence, it has influenced our region.  The influence has grown continuously over the past 80 years through times of challenge and times of great achievement.  The unique passion associated with the SEC, the chants that you hear at the end of bowl games and NCAA basketball tournament victories.  Combined with the success of our athletics teams and the academic achievement occurring all across our university campuses provide the conference with an important leadership platform.
We must use this platform the one that's been established through our athletics endeavors, to effectively convey who we are, not just as teams, as students, and coaches, but as universities, as educators, as leaders, as engines for economic development, contributors to our community, and influencers of our society.
The Southeastern Conference is no longer limited by our nation's borders.  Our rosters are populated with young people from North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia.
The same reality is present across our campuses, which provides us with the opportunity to extend global influence from Athens, Auburn, from Baton Rouge, from Columbia, Missouri, and Columbia, South Carolina, and from College Station.  We impacts the world from Fayetteville, Gainesville, Nashville, Knoxville, and Starkville, and from Lexington, Oxford, and Tuscaloosa.
The position of leadership enjoyed by our great universities shows no signs of slowing.  In fact, our leadership is now more prominent and more important than ever.  And this leadership opportunity will be magnified as we continue through a refined commitment to integrity, to support our athletic programs with great pride.
We'll work to engage and empower our student‑athletes as campus, community, and national leader.  We'll share our academic success, our athletic achievements, our service commitments and our leadership opportunities as we tell our stories.
We're going to insure we continue to work together in the great spirit of family that I have seen personally over the last few days, week, and months.
We're going to continue to strategically prepare for our future, which includes a focus on supporting the collegiate model, which provides a great array of opportunities in sports, many of which our teams win national championships through and our student‑athletes learn great life lessons through their participation.
We're going to provide the financial strength to support both our universities and their athletics programs.  We're going to continue to fulfill the expectation of success on the field.  We're going to fulfill the expectation of excellence through the Southeastern Conference office.
Through leadership that is both thoughtful and strategic, our athletic achievements are going to be student‑athlete focused and academically centered.
As we move forward it's clear that our region benefits greatly from our educational, economic, cultural and competitive opportunities.  And we have not only the opportunity to impact the region, but also our nation.  And as we do that, with our universities educating students from around our country, and from six of the globe's seven continents, we will research solutions to international challenges and thereby influence the world.
As the SEC's commissioner, it is my responsibility to both serve and to lead so that we might magnify our collective influence through the unique combination, the very unique combination of higher education and competitive athletics.  I look forward to the journey because I am absolutely convinced that our best days are ahead.
Thank you.  I am excited.  The smile may not leave my face for weeks or months.
And I saw Roy Kramer slip in.  So I wanted to acknowledge him while he's here, because he's been a friend and an example to me.
They tell me it's time for questions and answers.  I've been at this long enough that I know there will be questions.  We'll see if there are answers.
HERB VINCENT:  Please raise your hand if you have a question.

Q.  Social media, I know you're not all that active on it, but are you going to be more active on it?  And as a high profile commissioner, what are the pitfalls or benefits of doing that?
COMMISSIONER‑SELECT SANKEY:  I became more active at about noon yesterday, it appears.
That was a fun endeavor, represented by my tractor‑tire flipping picture that occurred the same week that I started a Twitter platform to actually follow the news media.  So congratulations for dragging me in.
That's a conversation that Herb and I have had initially.  It can be positive.  I think my admonition last night was let's keep it positive.  It becomes a forum that can devolve quickly, so we'll try to use it, if we do, for positive means.  It's been fun so far.

Q.  The previous two commissioners, when they took over they had certain ideas how to improve the league, whether it was expanding or adding a championship game or chasing TV contracts or cleaning up a league when it had NCAA problems when Mike first came in.  Do you have agenda, the first thing you feel like you have to get to?
COMMISSIONER‑SELECT SANKEY:  I had an opportunity to go back and look at what was said and they certainly had some specific and tangible goals.  Some of what's happened evolves because of the great leadership they provided.  So I would observe the first role is to be an effective leader.
We're in a time where our student‑athlete focus needs not just be the words a commissioner says behind the microphone, but that we continue to live.  There are wonderful things done on our campus, and I indicated we needed to be effective at telling those stories and we will.  Wonderful things every day.
If you were to ask me right now, as I said last night, if in 15 or 20 years, my time is done in this role, and there were decades of student‑athletes who said we were led effectively and our lives enriched because he was the commissioner, that would be a great reward for me personally.

Q.  Two questions, first, whereas lots of the commissioners of some of the other conferences have expressed some openness to freshmen ineligibility in basketball and potentially other sports.  Commissioner Slive has not necessarily agreed with that.  Is that your position as well?
COMMISSIONER‑SELECT SANKEY:  Well, I think it's a broader conversation.  I actually think Commissioner Slive's comments really reference that.  So we do have freshmen ineligibility.  It's really targeted freshmen ineligibility.  So there's a band of individuals who don't meet certain standards and who won't be able to compete starting in 2016.  The observation is let's see what that does.
Now part of that freshmen ineligibility conversation is probably related to other things, but it's acknowledged it's there.  I was a part of crafting through a committee the standards that are in place and I'm comfortable with those currently.
But it will be part of the dialog as we move forward, but I think we need to be careful before we jump down a road too quickly.

Q.  Second, you spoke about extending global influence in the SEC.  SEC I was wondering if anyone's yet translated Roll Tide into Mandarin?
COMMISSIONER‑SELECT SANKEY:  Probably not the expert on that and I think the right way to ask that is if all 14 slogans have been translated into Mandarin.

Q.  You have kind of a 30,000‑foot job.  What are some ways that you plan to appeal directly to, like, the individual student‑athlete as much as you can, and the individual student on the different SEC campuses?
COMMISSIONER‑SELECT SANKEY:  One of the benefits of the search process is a lot of time to think about what's next.  The reality of it's actually 'next' is starting to sink in.  And we have had advisory committees, we have involved our student‑athletes in governance.  I think there are greater opportunities to do that.
We could probably be more targeted with how we involve our student‑athletes in conversations about conference policy issues and national policy issues through advisory committees that maybe focused on highly recruited student‑athletes in particular to seek their input.
I'm absolutely comfortable walking into a room with no conference table and no agenda and saying to our young people, Tell me what you think.  Tell me how we can help.  Tell me what we need to know.
Now I hope the they will ask me the same questions.
I think that mutual learning experience is not simply part of their college education or part of our input, but part of preparing for life.

Q.  Is potential expansion anywhere on your radar and given how many times you and Chancellor Zeppos used the words 'international' and 'global,' how soon before you take the SEC beyond these borders?
COMMISSIONER‑SELECT SANKEY:  Well, in some ways we're beyond the borders when you look at those rosters that I referenced.  One of the great stats that Mike has used is that we would be fourth or fifth in Olympic gold medals.  If you then dig down further and see who wins those medals, it's both UnitedStates representatives, which we cheer for and is great, but then they go back home.
And those are wonderful students.  They have won our McWhorter Award repeatedly, and when you look at their aspirations, it's powerful.
Expansion is not something that's on my top shelf.  Excellence is, though.  And excellence is a good thing.

Q.  How different is this new role compared to your current role?
COMMISSIONER‑SELECT SANKEY:  You got a hold of the interview list that the presidents and Chancellors used for questions.
It's different.  I was, 12 years ago, a conference commissioner in a much different dynamic.  You learn quickly that you move to the end of the hallway and the ability to simply be an advisor is now being a decision‑maker.  I've been and am grateful for Mike to have been shoulder to shoulder with him in many ways.  So that's provided me a unique opportunity to prepare.
It's different.  When I was told, there was probably two or three hours of it settling in, and then the grin and smile has developed over the privilege of serving in this way.  But quickly it will transition into the focus on the leadership opportunity ahead.

Q.  You mentioned Roy Kramer is a friend and, of course, you worked with Mike and also a friend.  What do you take from both of them, the best from them that you have taken to kind of help you in this job?
COMMISSIONER‑SELECT SANKEY:  If Roy was making that speech this morning, he wouldn't have needed notes.  I aspire to not need notes.  I've heard him speak repeatedly and he's incredibly clear and effective and strong.  And that's a strength that is admirable.
Roy was bold.  Mike was bold.  You start to intersect.  If you want to know about speaking habits, Mike taught me, A speech is not a speech until it's spoken.  That was one of his early lessons.  I think I captured that correctly.
I've obviously worked with Mike.  I was a conference commissioner when Roy was the commissioner of the Southeastern Conference.  His ability to do what I just did, which is to think before you speak, is remarkable.  His ability to build relationships and to effectively deploy those relationships in a positive way.  Not simply for the SEC, but for all of intercollegiate athletics.  That's something that's a skill that doesn't just come.  Some are born with it and some learn it over time.
And it's been a joy to watch that in his life and I think I've acquired a little bit more of that than I might have when I walked in the door in 2002.

Q.  What were your initial thoughts of the first football season with the college football playoff?  There was a lot of talk about how many SEC teams would get into the college football playoff.  Do you think four is enough?  Maybe expand to eight or so for now as the commissioner?
COMMISSIONER‑SELECT SANKEY:  I'm the commissioner‑select right now, just so we're clear.  I think four is a good number.  I was a commissioner when 1AA football playoffs had 16.  I don't think people that advocate for that have really thought through the toll that's taken, not simply on the players, but the people participating in the games, but in the overall infrastructure.
I think what happened last year was great.  I think it would have been even greater had an SEC team won that National Championship.  And that will be our focus in the future.

Q.  You and Mike both have a background in compliance.  When infractions are committed on so much of the micro level, how much of an affect can a commissioner have on keeping the schools out of NCAA trouble?
COMMISSIONER‑SELECT SANKEY:  Well, I think there's a proactive piece that is not inherent in that question.  And I think a commissioner and the vision, with the presidents and chancellors and their athletics directors, which was acknowledged years ago, can provide that type of proactive approach.
There's always going to be slips.  I think the expectation is we not have those.  Then from the top down the commissioner and our presidents and chancellors leadership, that when we have those problems, we deal with those issues with the utmost of integrity.  I do think over the last decade that's certainly been the case.

Q.  You grew up outside of the SEC region, spent a lot of time obviously in the footprint since.  I think Mike had a lot of success, because when SEC fans would accuse him of bias, he hadn't gone to an SEC school.  You also have that benefit.  How much does that help you in terms of being able to reach all 14 schools?
COMMISSIONER‑SELECT SANKEY:  Well, we have got folks that work in our office that can do that despite the degree on their wall.  When I first met Steve Spurrier, he and I had 20 minutes together.  And his first question was, Tell me where you went to school.
I won't do my impression of Steve at this moment.
I told him I have an undergraduate from State University at Cortland and a Masters from Syracuse.  And he said, That's good.  I'll let his evaluation rest.

Q.  What are some ways you hope or, under your leadership, the conference will hope to empower student‑athletes after they graduate?
COMMISSIONER‑SELECT SANKEY:  That's a good question.  Not that all of them haven't been good questions.
We have talked as we worked together as five conferences about how do we foster career transition among student‑athletes.  It's a placeholder for the future.  We haven't said, Here's five, six points of that agenda.
There's an acknowledgment that we could be more proactive, more intentional about how we foster transition of young people who are student‑athletes into their careers.  And as I referenced earlier, our goal is that what happens through their experience as a student‑athlete would provide lifelong benefits.
So that's fundamentally going to foster their career transition.  And I think that the acknowledgment of that is one that we'll continue to pursue.

Q.  Understand that in this process of choosing a commissioner that the candidates were basically kept in the dark about this.  We didn't know the time frame, didn't know when they were going to be selected.  What was the past few months like for you, because I understand that, I mean, really everybody was kind of not‑‑ it was a very private process.
COMMISSIONER‑SELECT SANKEY:  It was.  I credit our leadership for that process.  One of the things when you work in the Southeastern Conference is you can learn a lot from our coaches.  And you hear coaches talk about focus and blocking out the distractions.  Every so often late at night the distractions would come, Who is in the pool?  When is this going to happen?  What's it going to mean for me?
I had to become more and more intentional about simply blocking that out because for my purpose, this was about me.  My wife may be the better person to ask that question of.  But, yeah, there were those moments.
Yesterday I woke up and I did not know I would be standing here.  I woke up early.  I was completely alert.  I had a wonderful meeting led by Chancellor Zeppos about, Katherine in our office has told me, it was about 11:40 p.m.  It is a memorable meeting.  I just don't remember the perspectives beyond, Congratulations.

Q.  Mike, what views do you?

Q.  I'm sorry.  Greg.

Q.  That's Mike over there.  Yes, okay.  What views‑‑
COMMISSIONER‑SELECT SANKEY:  I used to not correct people that quickly, but it's a privilege of the position.

Q.  What views do you have on balancing the time athletes spend on their sport trying to improve with time away from their sports and the college experience as a whole?
COMMISSIONER‑SELECT SANKEY:  We talked about that actually yesterday in my visit with the presidents and chancellors.  There's an interesting balance.  That is a focus issue right now.
You've seen that reported nationally.  We have young people who are incredibly motivated.  They're competitive individuals.  That's good.  That's wonderful.  They have aspirations that may be around the field, but those are small in number as far as making that next step into professional sports.
Part of the leadership in which we engage is making sure that they continue to focus on their academic expectations and their achievements.  Again, we're doing that better and better all the time with our young people.  Both our graduation rates and our APR scores have shown that.  So those are good things.
And we reference continuing to provide educational opportunities beyond just the period of eligibility.  Maybe some of those pressures haven't resulted in the achievement of graduation.  We'll see what some of those answers might be I think over the next six months or at least ideas, maybe not answers.
There's a great viewing of SEC storied clips, which I've seen.  I'm interesting, but those are phenomenal.

Q.  How sticky an issue do you think cost of attendance finances are and do you want every SEC school to be issuing the same amount?
COMMISSIONER‑SELECT SANKEY:  Well, we're going to follow the expectations of legal outcomes first.  This conference comes together to work on issues and it will.  It will do it appropriately.  I expect cost of attendance to be the same.  We're supportive of our student‑athletes and this is a new way to do that.

Q.  There's a movement in different corners of the Internet to crowd‑fund student‑athlete pay.  Do you think cost of attendance is kind of the end of this wave of NCAA legislation to fund student‑athletes or give student‑athletes money or do you think things like crowd‑funding will be more prevalent in the future?
COMMISSIONER‑SELECT SANKEY:  I've been clear that cost of attendance is centered on the student‑athlete's education, which is at the center of what we do and is really the appropriate boundary for the provision of the type of financial aid support through athletic scholarships.
HERB VINCENT:  All right.  Thank you.

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