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BRADLEY HANDWERGER

SEC boss: Total strength best for conference’s status

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — If you're an Alabama fan, you need to cheer for Auburn.

Georgia should pull for Tennessee, while Florida and LSU fans should go have a drink together.

At least, that's what would be best for the Southeastern Conference, commissioner Mike Slive said Saturday night as Auburn's game against Arkansas got under way.

As Slive sees it, the entire conference should pull for each other because the national view depends on the strength of the entire league.

When asked whether a traditional power like Alabama doing well helps the league, Slive responded, "From my perspective, the issue is the stronger the league is from top to bottom. It's not any particular school."

Slive's probably right, but last year, as Auburn rolled past its opponents, there wasn't talk of the Tigers thrashing a talented league. Everything spoken was about how the SEC was down.

Now, Alabama continues to improve on an undefeated season, story is that the Crimson Tide is back. Alabama graced the cover of Sports Illustrated last week.

CBS has picked up the past two Tide games and will televise Saturday's contest against Tennessee.

It's hard not to see a program like Alabama or Florida or LSU doing well as being good for the league's status nationally.

Then again, when a program like Vanderbilt begins the season 4-0, the SEC must be doing something right.

"It's been a great story," Slive said. "And I think it's good to see them have a chance to win some football games.

"The perception sometimes of an athletic program is of football. Vanderbilt has been very successful in other sports."

But the 'Dores still have games against Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky and South Carolina left. At this point, Vandy could, well, pull a Vandy.

"We'll how it goes from here," Slive said. "It's a long season."

Then there's Auburn, the other team in the state Slive lives that this year, appears to be flying a little bit under the radar.

As Slive spoke, though, Arkansas was busy making Auburn look lost, intercepting a Brandon Cox pass and scoring on the Tigers.

Still, Slive said he's impressed with the nation's 21st-ranked team. "I think Auburn has a good football team," Slive said. "They have a lot of good football players. We think they were the No. 1 or 2 team last year, but they lost a lot of talent."

For Slive, the overall success of the league has less to do with football than it does with how the individual programs are doing with compliance and academics.

According to Slive, those two areas have shone brightly lately.

"I think we were able at the end of last year to take some satisfaction," he said. "We made enormous progress on the compliance front. I said that we wanted no one on probation by media days 2008. We're on track to do that."

Slive added, "Academically, we've made tremendous progress. A lot of areas that I was concerned about, we've made great progress and we've still remained competitive and strong."

The success, Slive said, goes back to one of the things he wanted to change when he took over for Roy Kramer two years ago. "The most satisfying thing for me is that we continue to be competitive and successful while we make progress in areas," Slive said. "We don't have to do some of the things we had to do before to be where we want to be."

Bradley Handwerger Bradley Handwerger
DAILY Sports Writer

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