Power Ranking the Most Influential Conference Commissioners
All of the power in college sports is placed in the hands of a select few, the commissioners. From the power conferences like the SEC and the Big Ten to the smaller conferences like the Sun Belt and MAC, it is the conference commissioners who are in charge of running the sport of college football. The decisions of these men are used to carry out the voices of their various conference members. When these guys speak out, we are listening.
But who do we listen to the most? Perhaps more importantly, which of these men has the loudest and most influential voice?
Is it the Big Ten's Jim Delany or the SEC's Mike Slive? Or maybe it is the Pac-12's Larry Scott or the ACC's John Swofford? Or maybe the debate really is just between Slive and Delany.
We ranked the conference commissioners from the bottom of the totem pole to the top. Feel free to voice your thoughts in the comments below at any point.
10. Karl Benson, Sun Belt
Karl Benson was the commissioner of the WAC until the conference passed its breaking point as a formidable football conference. Under Benson's watch, the WAC lost Boise State to the Mountain West Conference, and the Broncos were followed by Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii. To be fair, much of the writing on the wall could not be erased by Benson in the WAC.
Benson became the commissioner of the Sun Belt in February 2012. Since then, the conference has lost Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Middle Tennessee, North Texas and Western Kentucky (in 2014) to Conference USA. Benson has overseen the Sun Belt add some programs to fill those vacancies, but the conference will lack much appeal once the transitions are made.
Is Benson to blame, or is it just the luck of the draw in the conferences Benson has been a part of?
9. Jon Steinbrecher, MAC
There is much to respect about the MAC. The conference just sits there and offers college football junkies a chance to watch some football during the week. In a time when conferences are shuffling members, the MAC has been relatively quiet. The conference added Massachusetts last year and lost Temple, but overall it has been pretty steady.
For that, commissioner Jon Steinbrecher should be commended. The MAC even sent a team to the BCS pool for the first time in conference history last season, but would the conference have benefited from getting more involved with realignment?
Perhaps Steinbrecher assured the current conference lineup that minor additions like UMass would be enough to satisfy the conference moving forward. Fortunately for the MAC, the conference appears to be stable.
8. Mike Aresco, the American
Most of the damage to the Big East was done before Mike Aresco was named commissioner of the conference in August 2012. Even after Aresco took over, there were more dominoes in the Big East ready to fall.
In November, Rutgers announced they would leave to join the Big Ten, and soon after that Louisville announced they would be leaving to join the ACC in 2014. Following that, Boise State and San Diego State each dropped out of their commitment and decided to stick with the Mountain West Conference.
Around the same time, the basketball schools referred to as the Catholic 7 were arranging to leave the conference as well. Much of this had been in motion before Aresco took over the role of commissioner, and it would have been difficult to fill the new openings with appealing candidates.
Aresco led the Big East to extend invites to Tulane and East Carolina to go with previously arranged additions of Houston, SMU, Tulsa, Central Florida and Memphis.
Now with a conference lineup supposedly ready to get started with the newly named American Athletic Conference, Aresco will have a chance to show what he can do managing a stabilized conference. For now, we will give him a slight benefit of the doubt, now that all of the inherited troubles form the Big East are hopefully behind him.
7. Britton Banowsky, Conference USA
Britton Banowsky has been in charge of Conference USA since 2002 and has overseen a number of realignment changes during that time. During Banowksy's reign in the conference, Conference USA will have lost Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette, Saint Louis, South Florida, Charlotte, Memphis, Tulane, Houston, East Carolina, Army, TCU, Central Florida, SMU and Tulsa by the time the 2015 season rolls around. That is a lot of lost talent by the conference.
Still, Conference USA has shown an interesting approach to continue moving forward by investing in the long-term future of its membership. The additions of Florida Atlantic and Florida International will keep the conference in the state of Florida, and programs such as Western Kentucky, Louisiana Tech, North Texas and UTSA—in addition to FCS transition programs at Old Dominion and the newly formed program at Charlotte—give the conference potential growth to build off of moving forward.
It could take some time, but it is a strategy that could pay off in the long term.
6. Craig Thompson, Mountain West Conference
Craig Thompson is at the top of the conference with the most BCS-busting potential on a regular basis. Thompson's most recent claim to fame was being able to help keep Boise State and San Diego State in the conference instead of having them leave for the Big East.
For the Mountain West Conference, this was a significant victory and will help keep the conference in the running for one of the College Football Playoff's big-money spots under the new postseason format starting in the 2014 season.
Thompson has been at the helm since 1999 and has seen the conference take advantage of the collapse of the WAC in football (he practically crafted it with the Mountain West expansion). He has seen multiple BCS-busters, and the basketball brand has been on a decent upswing in recent years.
The conference did lose TCU to the Big 12 (via the Big East), BYU (independent) and Utah (Pac 12), which hurt the football product, but the conference looks to keep a solid footing on the role as top non-AQ conference moving forward.
5. Bob Bowlsby, Big 12
Bob Bowlsby was hired to be the Big 12 commissioner in 2012. Since he has been brought in to the conference in this capacity, the Big 12 has been pretty steady. Bowlsby oversaw the transition of the league with Texas A&M and Missouri leaving for the SEC and West Virginia (Big East) and TCU (Mountain West) coming in.
Bowlsby also helped the Big 12 negotiate a new media rights deal with broadcast partners ESPN and FOX Sports which will run through 2025 and pay the conference $2.5 billion. The added financial security through the media rights deal actually makes it somewhat beneficial for the Big 12 to stick with 10 conference members as opposed to adding two more teams to bring a Big 12 championship game back into the mix.
There have been some who have criticized Bowlsby for standing pat at 10 members, though, with some suggesting Texas AD DeLoss Dodds has more power than Bowlsby.
4. John Swofford, ACC
John Swofford may not come off as one of the top commissioners in the game, but since taking over the role of commissioner of the ACC in 1997, he has been the man behind a number of positives for the conference.
With Swofford at the helm, the ACC has added Virginia Tech, Miami, Boston College, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville while losing just Maryland. We should also make note of the addition of Notre Dame that comes with a football partnership of sorts and the new deal with the Orange Bowl locked in for the new playoff era.
After the ACC secured a new and improved media rights deal, the conference appears to have put a lid on further expansion all around. Through it all, Swofford has seen the ACC double incoming revenue.
Swofford is also dabbling in new ideas for the future of the conference, including a potential plan to bring ACC football to European soil at some point. On the other hand, the ACC does continue to fight the ridicule of attendance issues at various spots in the conference, and the conference is trying to break out of the shadow cast by the SEC.
3. Larry Scott, Pac-12
Larry Scott was named commissioner of the Pac-10 in 2009, and he soon led the charge into a new era in conference history. The conference managed to expand to 12 members with the regionally sensible additions of Colorado and Utah, but it fell short of any potential expansion to 16 members when it could not secure Texas and other members of the Big 12. Perhaps that was for the good of the conference, though.
In a short period of time, the Pac-12 has implemented a new conference championship game played on campus of the highest-ranked team and launched a network to bring the conference action in football and other sports to as many fans within the conference's outline as possible.
The conference maintains a working relationship with the Rose Bowl and the Big Ten, but Scott and the Pac-12 did back out of a schedule agreement with the Big Ten due to concerns related to strength of schedule in the new College Football Playoff era and beyond. Scott does get points for thinking outside the box with the schedule agreement, but should also be defended for protecting the best interests of his conference from top to bottom.
We all would have loved seeing USC vs. Ohio State, Oregon vs. Michigan and UCLA vs. Penn State on an annual basis, but Scott is bright enough to realize his conference may be able to benefit in other areas without the schedule agreement with the Big Ten. Scott continues to be an innovator, though, and will surely have some thoughts on how to improve the Pac-12 in other ways moving forward.
2. Jim Delany, Big Ten
Jim Delany's profile may not be as strong as it once was, but it's still pretty darn impressive. The man is currently the longest-tenured commissioner among the FBS conferences, having held down the Big Ten role since 1989.
Since being named commissioner of the Big Ten, Delany has overseen the additions of Penn State, Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers. He has been in charge of the formation of the Big Ten Network and has seen the Big Ten expand media rights and set up the conference for years of financial success. Delany is now in charge of the second most powerful conference when it comes to power, and whenever he speaks on any college sports topic, people will listen.
That said, Delany has come up small in some respects. He gave up on the idea of having College Football Playoff games played on home fields of participating teams in favor of having those games played on neutral fields—despite knowing that could lead to more advantages to competitors from other conferences. But in the whole process, Delany was able to protect a relationship for the Big Ten and Rose Bowl, and that still carries some weight as far as the Big Ten is concerned.
1. Mike Slive, SEC
Right now it is difficult to suggest SEC commissioner Mike Slive does not belong on top of the power rankings when discussing conference commissioners. In addition to seeing seven consecutive BCS champions crowned carrying the SEC banner, Slive has now overseen the additions of Texas A&M and Missouri as well as the formation of the new SEC Network.
Now Slive is leading the charge in the college football playoff discussions, successfully lobbying for neutral-site games closer to home and now openly discussing the finer details of scholarship values and more. With the SEC rising to the top of the college football world, Slive has seen his influence continue to rise as well. Slive was one of the first to propose a four-team playoff model, and now it is becoming a reality.
Slive has helped secure the future of the SEC through broadcast media rights deals with ESPN and CBS, which includes the formation of the SEC Network. Slive is also working to set the SEC up for the postseason future by negotiating a blockbuster deal (in principle) with the Big 12 to send the best available teams to the Sugar Bowl when possible.
Expanding into the state of Texas will change the way the SEC operates for years to come as well, both in recruiting and television. Forget the wild success Texas A&M had on the field last year, because the addition of the Aggies will be far more beneficial for years to come when thinking about the nation's top conference expanding into the nation's second-largest state for talent and television sets.
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