Jan 4, 2022 - Sports

The king of college sports

Photo of Greg Sankey.

Photo: Justin Ford/Getty Images

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey is perhaps the most powerful figure in college sports, leading a conference that takes center stage Monday night in Indianapolis.

State of play: Sankey has helped solidify the SEC as the cream of the Power Five crop — a league so lucrative it could soon generate more revenue than the NCAA, itself.

  • In 2020, despite the Big Ten and Pac-12 initially opting to cancel their football seasons, Sankey never wavered on his plans to play. "That's when he went from being a methodical, plodding leader ... to being the man who saved college football," Paul Finebaum told NYT.
  • A few months later, he brokered the SEC's new 10-year, $3 billion deal with ESPN, including a clause that triggered an increase if more teams were added. Sure enough, Oklahoma and Texas are now on their way.
  • He's playing an integral role in CFP expansion, as one of four members of a group that's been meeting since June to come up with new formats.
  • He's also co-chair of the committee tasked with reimagining D-I sports. If the Power Five ever breaks away to form its own super division, Sankey will be the one driving the ship.

The backdrop: A native New Yorker with a degree from SUNY Cortland and a master's from Syracuse, Sankey headed to Texas in 1992 to join the Southland Conference, becoming commissioner in 1996 at age 31.

  • Six years later, then-SEC commissioner Michael Slive hired Sankey as an associate commissioner. In 2015, he replaced the retiring Slive.
  • "I've never heard him raise his voice," CFP executive director Bill Hancock told NYT. "He won't force anything. If he doesn't have to talk, he won't talk."

The big picture: Power Five commissioners will see their influence grow in the coming years as the NCAA cedes much of its power to leagues through a new constitution — none more than Sankey, 57, the second-longest tenured of the bunch.

  • Big 12: Bob Bowlsby (commissioner since 2012)
  • SEC: Sankey (since 2015)
  • Big Ten: Kevin Warren (since 2019)
  • ACC: Jim Phillips (since 2021)
  • Pac-12: George Kliavkoff (since 2021)

Looking ahead: Once Oklahoma and Texas join the fray, Sankey will be at the helm of arguably the third-most powerful sports entity in North America, trailing only the NFL and NBA.

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