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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.

Go deeper

Kendall Baker, author of Sports
Jan 3, 2022 - Sports

Semifinal blowouts reinvigorate CFP expansion debate

Georgia fans celebrating the Bulldogs' dominant win. Photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Alabama and Georgia will meet in next week's CFP national championship — the second such meeting in four years, and the second game between the SEC rivals in five weeks.

CFP semifinals: While three of the seven CFP title games have been classics, the semifinals have been horrible. That trend continued this year, increasing the average margin of victory in CFP semifinals to 21 points.

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker