Greg Sankey has a big brain and a wonk’s zeal for esoteric and complicated issues. Few people in college athletics are more at home amid the weeds of NCAA bylaws and policy, which is a big reason why he’s been the co-chair of the association’s massive undertaking to remake itself over the past year. When the work gets dense and administrators’ eyes glaze over, Sankey’s light up.

The commissioner of the Southeastern Conference projects an Ivy League intellect and a patrician air. But Sankey’s path to becoming the most powerful figure in college sports winds through neither a privileged upbringing nor an elite education. Quite the opposite, in fact.