ATLANTA (AP) — Greg Sankey is limping around on a knee that is feeling the effects of 41 marathons, most of which he has run during the last 12 years when he has been working as the Southeastern Conference commissioner’s right-hand man.A few years back Sankey decided to run a marathon a month for a year. He ended up doing it for 15 straight months, and one month he ran two.The 50-year-old upstate New Yorker-turned-honorary-Southerner has never shied away from taking on challenges. And he may have a big one coming up next year.As the SEC’s executive associate commissioner and chief operating officer since March 2012, he’s been handling day-to-day operations while Commissioner Mike Slive worked on major projects such as the SEC Network and the College Football Playoff.The 74-year-old Slive announced Tuesday he will retire in July 2015. Sankey could very well be his replacement.”Bottom line, I think he has the potential to be one of the truly great leaders in intercollegiate athletics,” Conference USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky said.The foundation of college sports is being threatened in the courts, and their structure is being revamped. Sankey embraces the task of plotting a course for their future.”Part of my effort to educate myself is trying to learn history. Where we’ve been and why,” he said in a lengthy interview with the AP at the start of the football season. “One of the things you learn is it has always been a bit of a struggle, the tension between the existence of college athletics on campus.”From a core standpoint it exists on our campuses because it’s centered on education. Sometimes there’s stress in there. There are problematic stories. There are volumes of great stories.”Sankey grew up in Auburn, New York, and went to college to be an engineer. That lasted about two years. He said he still remembers the spot in the garage of his childhood home where he told his father, a pipefitter, that he wanted to teach and coach basketball.”So I became a phys. ed. major,” he said. “It’s like the most extreme transition you can make educationally.”Intellectual curiosity and willingness to make do have guided Sankey’s career. His first leap of faith was moving to Natchitoches, Louisiana, almost three decades ago, so he could take a job as an intern in the athletic department at Northwestern State, making “$500 dollars a month, stuffing envelopes.”He eventually moved to the league office at the Southland Conference, working in compliance. At 31, he became commissioner.”My Dad, I took him to the Final Four when I was Southland commissioner. He said, ‘I think you made the right decision,’” Sankey said.When Slive became SEC commissioner in 2002, he walked into a conference that was an NCAA compliance wreck. Nine of the 12 programs were either under investigation or on probation. Soon after he started, a 10th was being investigated.Fixing the problem was Slive’s top priority, and he hired Sankey to help him.”We both saw and understood the issues and what it would take to make the cultural change that we have been successful making,” Slive said.The SEC currently has three programs on NCAA probation, but Sankey proudly notes the problems have been more isolated incidents and that schools are better equipped to root out problems.”We have 12 compliance staff on some of our campuses now versus one or two paying attention. Our coaches know these are not just compliance issues,” he said. “These are matters that relate to institutional integrity from the public.”Sankey’s strength is breaking down complex issues and making them more accessible, Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin said.”Anytime we’re in a meeting and the agenda comes up with NCAA issues whether it’s legislation or autonomy discussions, it’s the Greg Sankey show,” Stricklin said. “He’s the guy that walks us through things that a lot of times can be a lot of minutiae.”Sankey has played a pivotal role behind the scenes in NCAA reform that has led to the SEC, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 being given legislative autonomy.”He’s been tracking it. Developing it. Writing the white paper, presenting the white papers. Taking feedback. Making modifications. His value to the ongoing reform effort, it just can’t be overstated,” Banowsky said.Having seen life from both sides of Division I, SEC and FCS, Sankey has been a bridge-builder during reform.”He has the ability to listen and understand the important interests of others, and he has the ability to see what’s important to his constituency and move that agenda forward and then understand where there might be conflict and try to identify ways to solve the conflict,” Banowsky said.Sankey said it’s hard to predict the future of college athletics because so much could be determined by outside pressures, specifically court cases that could require more revenues being directed toward football and men’s basketball players. He hopes autonomy creates a more nimble NCAA and a healthier version of college sports.”I think the NCAA should exist, will exist and it has to foster those opportunities in this education environment,” he said.Figuring out where college sports are headed is Sankey’s job.He seems to be in it for the long run.___Folllow Ralph D. Russo at http://www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP
Luddy would tell us how he had heard that Zico could kick the ball from one spot on the centre circle and it travelled all the way round and came back to him! He would tell us how Socrates could control the ball on his chest so well that sometimes it stuck there! The more bizarre the stories, the more we used to gather around him, spellbound by his almost daily repertoire of Brazilian stories. The day when Italy beat Brazil 3-2, I was worried that Luddy would commit suicide. Maradona ended the tournament in disgrace, but I had seen enough of his mercurial talent to know he would create waves. I couldn’t wait for the ’86 tournament, where Diego dazzled. He became my first non-cricket hero. Luddy now started to hate Diego only because he had surpassed the Brazilians, and he couldn’t convince anyone anymore about those wacky Brazilian tales. To this day, he won’t admit it, though. By 1990, I was a student at Church Teachers’ College. I remember hurrying out of exams to watch games. Sometimes I would take two hours to do a three-hour paper just so I could catch the kick-off. My classmates thought I was crazy. I probably was, or I was unknowingly preparing for my later profession. I argued long and hard with my college friends about that Argentina vs Brazil game where Claudio Cannigia scored after getting that pass (right-footed, by the way) from Maradona. Brazil, they said, played much better. I did not agree. I took on the whole college. My argument was simple: you cannot play better than a team and lose. We still have that argument almost 30 years later! The World Cup was more fascinating for us then because we didn’t see the footballers on TV as readily as we do now. The amount of club football being shown now has taken away from the World Cup experience for me. There is no more mystery about what a player can do. It was the World Cup we used to settle arguments about who the best players were. Nowadays, we hear that Champions League performances must carry greater weight than World Cup performances. We have become almost too familiar with the players. I will watch of course. Do not get me wrong. But now, I will watch the way you watch your favourite actor in his new movie. You do it out of the need to be entertained, not with the kind of breathless anticipation that I used to feel back in the day. Maybe I have simply grown up! – Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host. LUDDY’S STORIES Maybe the promotional campaigns have not been good enough in both the local and overseas media. Maybe I was too caught up with the NBA playoffs and my mind has not yet made the mental switch over to football. Maybe I have watched (and been part of) too many World Cup discussions, and now I simply want the action to get underway. Maybe I am simply getting old. For some reason, the World Cup bug hasn’t quite bitten yet. I am waiting for that adrenaline rush to take over when I think about the tournament in Russia. It is not happening, and I am not sure why. Maybe I should not be questioning this. Maybe as time passes we all get less excited about certain events. Do we feel the same buzz about Christmas or birthdays at 40 as we did at 20? Should we? Maybe not. Maybe as we get older some of us adopt an “I have seen it all before” position on most things and, therefore, find it hard to feel the same level of excitement. Maybe it is unreasonable to expect that I will feel the same way about World Cups now as I did way back in the 1980s. In the build-up to the 1982 tournament, I was a mere lad, but for some reason, I remember reading with interest anything that involved Diego Maradona. He fascinated me. Not many people talk about it, but Maradona was then quite a handsome dude with an aura about him. Like the Michael Jackson of the early 1980s, Maradona grabbed my interest not just with his talent, but also his captivating image. Everybody around me was saying Brazil. Everywhere you turned, people were saying that the team with Zico and Socrates and Eder and Falcao were simply too good to lose. Maybe all that talk about Brazil made me want them to lose. In looking back now, I may have been fixated on Maradona only because I saw him as the one who would beat Brazil and shut up my neighbours. There was a fellow in my first-form class at Mannings High who used to tell us all kinds of fanciful stories about that 1982 Brazil team. God alone knows where he got his stories from. Ludlow Spence, you need to tell us where you got that over active imagination.