HOOVER, Ala. — Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive said a recent report criticizing Penn State's handling of sexual abuse allegations serves as a stark reminder to schools and athletics programs nationwide that they can't let one individual "derail the soul of an institution."
Slive briefly but pointedly referenced last week's report by a special investigator in his opening address at SEC media days Tuesday.
"We must maintain an honest and open dialogue across all levels of university administration," Slive said. "There must be an effective system of checks and balances within the administrative structure to protect all who come in contact with it, especially those who cannot protect themselves.
"No one program, no one person — no matter how popular, no matter how successful — can be allowed to derail the soul of an institution."
He didn't mention Penn State, late coach Joe Paterno or longtime assistant Jerry Sandusky by name but acknowledged the scandal has left university and athletic officials across the nation sensitive to the issue. The report by special investigator Louis Freeh, a former FBI director, found that Paterno and other top Penn State administrators hid Sandusky's abuse of children to avoid negative publicity against the university.
After his speech, Slive elaborated on the intentions behind his remarks but demurred when asked how or whether the NCAA should punish Penn State.
"I was talking about how we all manage intercollegiate athletics as part of the mission of the institution," he said. "In essence, what happened there is something that in a horrific way reminds us that athletics has a proper place in the context of higher education and we need to be ever-vigilant — all of us — to make sure we keep that perspective."
Slive presides over a league that has captured the last six football national titles in a college football-crazed South. He dismissed any notion that the region's culture makes SEC schools any more susceptible to issues with football's role.
"We all need to be vigilant," he said. "We have very active presidents and chancellors in the policies within the conference. The important thing is that our athletic programs are operated within the context of higher education and the context of our schools' missions."
He noted that the presidents themselves meet regularly, allowing them to discuss both athletics and university-wide issues.
Slive also used his address to emphasize the progress in hiring minority coaches since he was hired 10 years ago, when the SEC had never had a black head football coach.
Now, the SEC has three — Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin, Kentucky's Joker Phillips and Vanderbilt's James Franklin. The league has eight black men's basketball coaches and five more leading women's basketball programs.
Slive pointed to Mississippi State's hiring of Sylvester Croom to break that color barrier in 2004 as a highlight of his tenure.
"It was a moment in time that I will always remember as one of the most significant things that has happened in my tenure and that could happen in my tenure," he said.
"I am very grateful that the hiring of minority coaches in the Southeastern Conference is no longer a story," he said. "It is simply part of who we are."