SEC commissioner Mike Slive's future with the SEC remains a bit unclear.
His contract runs through the end of the 2013-14 season, and the 72-year-old has yet to decide if he will stay on with the conference after it expires.
While there's still work to be done and Slive could continue, the future of the conference's leadership remains up in the air.
In the meantime, the question remains: Who's going to take Slive's place when he retires? ESPN.com speculated that executive associate commissioner Greg Sankey is the favorite. But is he the best choice? There are several other candidates who are qualified to navigate the SEC ship through the College Football Playoff waters.
Sankey is the favorite for a reason. He's the SEC's chief operating officer and has played an integral role in the conference's success over the last decade.
He was promoted to his current post in March 2012 to handle the day-to-day operations of the conference and free Slive to focus on issues pertaining to the overall landscape of college football, including the playoffs, full cost of attendance stipends and the SEC Network—"Project X" at the time.
Here's was Slive said of Sankey in a release last year:
Over the past decade Greg has played an important role as a member of the SEC's leadership team and has been a key contributor to our success. He is extremely talented in all facets of athletics administration and will make even greater contributions to the conference in his expanded role as our chief operating officer.
He's the obvious choice. Slive has some big-picture items to take care of before he calls it quits, so why not hand over the reins to the man who has had his hands on the conference?
But there are other candidates within the conference office who could be in line for the throne as well, particularly fellow executive associate commissioner Mark Womack.
According to the SEC, Womack serves as the SEC's liaison to the conference's football coaches and athletic directors, which obviously would qualify him to handle a major portion of Slive's responsibilities. He played a major role in developing the SEC's first post-expansion schedule, which is more of a headache than it sounds.
I know from experience, considering I developed a hypothetical nine-game SEC schedule without having to juggle the desires of 14 athletic directors, all of whom have different goals and existing out-of-conference contracts in place.
There are also qualified candidates outside the SEC.
How about former Ole Miss quarterback Archie Manning?
He obviously has unique knowledge of the league from a player and media perspective through his work with CBS, and he's been a board member at the National Football Foundation since 1993 and has served as chairman since 2008.
Manning obviously has the leadership ability to be successful in the front office, and he has the kind of big-picture outlook on college football that would allow him to slide seamlessly into the role.
What about Chick-fil-A Bowl president and CEO Gary Stokan?
Stokan has served as president of the Atlanta Sports Council and was instrumental in luring the College Football Hall of Fame to downtown Atlanta from South Bend, Ind.
During his time as the Chick-fil-A Bowl president, he has seen the bowl game flourish from a New Year's Eve distraction into one of the premier bowls in the country. Starting after the 2014 season, it will move into a more visible role as one of the six bowl games in the College Football Playoff rotation.
He shares a long-term view of the college football landscape that is similar to Slive's.
"From everything we've been able to ascertain, they want to keep [the playoff] at four teams," Stokan said at the Atlanta College Football Hall of Fame press conference last December. "I think four is plenty, and the way they've structured it is a good setup."
Whoever takes over when Slive steps aside, he or she will be getting the keys to a Ferrari. As long as they don't go Ferris Bueller and drive it out of an elevated garage, the long-term health of the SEC will be fine.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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