SEC close to eliminating divisions in men's hoops


Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan talks with the referee against the BYU Cougars in the second half of their NCAA tournament regional semifinal game at the New Orleans Arena on Thursday, March 24, 2011. The Gators defeated BYU 84-73 in overtime to advance to the elite eight.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 12:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 6:06 p.m.

DESTIN — When the SEC expanded and split into two divisions in 1992, it was football driven. It was all about creating the money-making bonanza that is the conference's championship game.

Basketball sort of just came along for the ride.

Now, almost 20 years later, the SEC appears ready to eliminate the two divisions in basketball. It could happen as soon as this season.

The 12 basketball coaches proposed to the athletic directors Wednesday that the league go to one division, and that the conference tournament be seeded one through 12, with the top four teams receiving byes.




“The one thing we're trying to get away from, and we discussed the whole idea, is that it's almost two different conferences (with two divisions),” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “There is an East and a West. As coaches, we felt like we needed to represent the conference as one.”

Commissioner Mike Slive said there is a good chance the proposal will pass and the changes will be implemented this season, although the 16-game league schedule will remain intact.

The league is expected to probably go to an 18-game SEC schedule in the 2012-13 season.

“The tournament could happen right away,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “We won't have divisions this season. We'd have one, and we'd go one through 12 for the tournament.

“If you have 16 games, you understand it's an unbalanced schedule this year. We all have to agree if someone's schedule is softer and he won more games, then you won't get that bye (in the tournament). That's our feeling at this point.”

On Tuesday, Slive said there were going to be serious discussions about eliminating the divisions this week, but that it likely would not happen until it was further studied by the athletic directors in the fall.

But the league appears ready to push ahead with the proposal presented by the coaches Wednesday.

“In basketball, almost all the conferences don't have divisions, so we ought to be asking ourselves the question, is this what we want? Rather than just going blankly on, should we take a look and see if we like it,” Slive said.

This is the second spring meetings in a row that the basketball coaches are having serious discussions about eliminating the divisions. The coaches voted on it a year ago, and they were split right down the middle — six in favor, six opposed.

“We have to look very hard at going away from divisions,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “Two years in a row, the Western Division champion has been left out of the NCAA Tournament. For the health of our league, I think we have to look at it.

“There is no championship playoff between the division winners like in football. What is that format doing to help us? I'm not saying we have to change it, but we have to evaluate what's the best thing for SEC basketball.

“I support change, but until we hammer it out in that room, I don't know which way I would go. I think there will be a lot of momentum for change. We have to look very hard at going away from divisions.”

The only real purpose the divisions serve in basketball is to establish seeding in the conference tournament. Currently, the top two finishers in each division receive byes.

If the league eliminates the divisions, the league schedule likely would expand from 16 to 18 games, Slive said. How that scheduling would be done is being discussed at the meetings this week, and will continue to be explored over the next several months

“We've talked about this a couple of years,” Donovan said. “I don't know if anybody feels we've got it solved and here's the solution to this.”

Donovan and others do not foresee the league going to a 22-game SEC schedule where all the schools would play each other twice.

“The only way you're going to have a fair situation for everybody is if you went to 22 league games and everyone played each other twice, home and home,” Donovan said. “But I just don't see that happening. I don't see our league going to 22 games.”

As for seeding the SEC Tournament, Donovan may have a recommendation for the commissioner.

“One thing I threw out to our administration about the SEC Tournament is it may not be a bad idea to seed the SEC Tournament through the RPI,” Donovan said. “They're going to seed you that way in the NCAA Tournament.”

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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