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Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive understands the role that education plays in terms of intercollegiate athletics.
With the attention that athletics gets in this part of the country, Slive knows that element wouldn't be possible if it weren't for the institutions of higher learning.
That's why Slive was on hand Saturday morning at the Colvard Student Union's Bill Foster Ballroom to speak to members of the SEC Exchange, an annual gathering where student government leaders from the 12 SEC schools share ideas across institutions, discuss issues facing higher education and share successful initiatives.
Slive expressed to the group why athletics and education should go hand in hand.
"In our part of the world, athletics plays a very significant role in student life in the Southeastern Conference and in this region," Slive said. "It serves as a catalyst for bringing students, alumni and friends of our 12 institutions into contact with one another in a way you can exhibit your loyalty and passion for your institutions and continue to take pride in your institutions, not only as an undergraduate, but throughout your lives after you leave campus in a physical way because you will never leave your institution in a spiritual way.
"In the United States of America, there is an experiment that is unknown in any other part of the world and that experiment is putting athletic competition in the context of higher education. No other country does that. Here we have decided that intercollegiate athletic competition is an educational function."
Slive, who was appointed the seventh commissioner of the SEC on July 1, 2002, said it's important for he, his staff, presidents and chancellors to not forget their role in the educational process.
"Our greatest challenge is making sure we can maintain the proper balance between athletic competition and education," Slive said. "When we are involved in all the glamour, all the television, all the news media and everything about athletics, it is sometimes easy to forget why we're here.
"We have devoted our lives and I have devoted my life to intercollegiate athletics because I believe that there is no better (way) for supplementing classroom education than in intercollegiate athletics and it teaches an extraordinary example."
Slive gave the example of a football player in front of 65,000 and 100,000 people in a stadium and an additional 5 to 25 million more people watching on television waiting to field a punt.
"You are standing there all by yourself, you are looking up and this ball is coming with millions of eyes on you," Slive said. "Your heart is beating and you drop it. The lesson is you failed at something in front of millions of people, but in 10 minutes, you've got to go back out and perform again.
"You had the courage to compete and there are consequences for competing. They can be good and not so good. We teach how to fail and survive."
It's important to Slive that the goal of the SEC is to make sure that student-athletes get the most out of the educational experience as possible.
"When they come to compete in the highest levels and they leave that they learn something very special and they can apply those lessons to their lives and they can become contributing members of the society," Slive said.
Joining Slive was two members of his staff, including Charles Bloom, the associate commissioner in charge of media relations.
Hank Bounds, commissioner of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, was also on hand to speak later in the day.
The commissioners were joined by Mississippi State President Mark Keenum, provost and executive vice president Jerry Gilbert, dean emeritus of education and vice president emeritus for student affairs Roy Ruby, assistant vice president emeritus of student affairs Bill Foster and Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman.
Slive thanked the students in attendance to committing time to the cause of education.
"We know you have a very busy academic life and a very busy social life," Slive said. "To take on the responsibility for governing at your respective institutions is something that we admired and something we want to congratulate you for doing.
"This is a conference that you are very much a part of. It doesn't matter if you are a student-athlete or a student. This conference is your conference. I've been the commissioner for nine years and this is the first opportunity, and I hope not the last opportunity, for us to exchange ideas and for us to be intimately involved in what you do."