Donovan questions SEC fairness
Published: Monday, January 23, 2012 at 1:19 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 23, 2012 at 1:19 p.m.
Florida men's basketball coach Billy Donovan understands the challenge of Thursday-Saturday turnarounds in the Southeastern Conference.
Another Thursday-Saturday test comes this week for the No. 14 Gators, who moved up in this week's Associated Press poll. Florida next plays Thursday night at Ole Miss, then returns home to face No. 18 Mississippi State on Saturday night at the O'Connell Center.
But while Donovan has led the Gators to a 9-1 record in combined Thursday-Saturday games over the last two seasons, he's concerned about whether some teams are getting a fair shake in league scheduling.
“If you're trying to get more teams into the NCAA tournament, don't put the teams inside your league into a competitive disadvantage,” Donovan said. “That's my only problem with it, where teams are at a competitive disadvantage.”
Donovan spent nine minutes on the subject of SEC scheduling during his Monday news conference, bringing up Alabama last week as an example. The Crimson Tide, coached by former Donovan assistant and close friend Anthony Grant, faced Vanderbilt at home in a 7 p.m. game Thursday night, then faced Kentucky at Rupp Arena at noon Saturday. Alabama lost both games.
“There's got to be some level of balance there,” Donovan said. “The league needs to look at those situations where maybe there's a clear, distinct advantage. I think an advantage sometimes is if a team's playing a late-night game on Thursday night, there should be some rule put in that you're not going to play Saturday until after 4 or 5 o'clock. I'm using Alabama because it just happened.”
Donovan is not the only coach who has sounded off about the fairness of the league schedule. Last week, Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings questioned why Kentucky had no Thursday-Saturday turnarounds this season. The Wildcats play one Thursday night game against Georgia (March 1), but follow that up with a Sunday game at Florida.
“Kentucky's program is extremely valuable and important to our league and their success is important to our league,” Donovan said. “There's no question about that. And I'm sure ESPN wants to (have them on the air), but ESPN also has a Thursday night game, too.”
Next week, UF's games will come even quicker. Florida will play its fourth Thursday-Saturday-Tuesday combination since 2010 when it hosts South Carolina (Feb. 2) on Thursday night and Vanderbilt (Feb. 4) on Saturday afternoon. The following Tuesday (Feb. 7) the Gators will face Kentucky at Rupp Arena.
Florida has played the most Thursday-Saturday-Tuesday combinations (four) since the league signed its new TV deal. Vanderbilt has done it three times and Kentucky has done it just once.
“Either everybody has to go Thursday-Saturday-Tuesday or it's got to be a rotating thing every other year, but everybody should be under those same elements,” Donovan said. “There should not be a huge discrepancy in those kinds of games in my opinion.”
SEC spokesperson Craig Pinkerton said the league is aware of some of the inequities in its basketball schedule. Pinkerton said the league has some guidelines in place to prevent some competitive disadvantages. Teams can only play a maximum number of four Thursday night games per season, and at least one of the two Thursday-Saturday games has to be at home.
Pinkerton also said the league has added a rule in which teams can only play one Thursday-Saturday-Tuesday turnaround per season.
“While we make our best efforts to balance out the Thursday-Saturday tandems amongst all of the teams, we can't always make it perfectly balanced,” Pinkerton said in an email.
Pinkerton also pointed out the league went from playing two Thursday night games on ESPN networks in 2010 to two Tuesday night games this season to cut down on the number of Thursday-Saturday turnarounds.
“These parameters are in place to ensure that the schedule is as equitable as possible and enables the SEC to fulfill its contractual obligations with television,” Pinkerton said.
Of the BCS conferences, the SEC has the second-fewest number of two-day turnarounds (13). The Pac 12 has 83 instances of Thursday-Saturday games, with travel partners which forces teams to play back-to-back road games. The Big East has 36 two-day turnarounds, followed by the Big 12 (24) and ACC (17).
Florida (15-4, 3-1 SEC) has weathered quick turnarounds well. The Gators were 6-0 in Thursday-Saturday turnarounds in 2010 and 3-1 in Thursday-Saturday games last season. Florida's lone loss came on a Saturday at Kentucky (76-68) following a Thursday night home win against Georgia (71-62).
“You try to focus on what's in front of you and what's in front of us right now is three days to get prepared to play Ole Miss and that's going to take all of our attention,” Donovan said. “I always think it's difficult with the team to start incorporating things inside of practice of a team you're playing the following game, so we've really stayed away from doing that.”
Florida sophomore center Patric Young said it will be a challenge to face both Mississippi teams in a short span.
“We're just going to listen to Coach D and it's really going to take the team to be focused,” Young said. “It really will help if we get this win on Thursday so we can have a good mindset going into the next game.”
Florida sophomore guard Scottie Wilbekin said he doesn't mind the short turnarounds because he prefers playing games to practices. But Wilbekin, the son of a former high school coach, said he knows the importance of having the extra time to prepare.
“When we have multiple days off before a game when we have three or four practices, we're more prepared and we're really ready to work,” Wilbekin said. “When there's a quick turnaround, when we only have one practice before the game, we have to be more focused as a team because we might not have the legs.”
FREE THROWS: Young said his ankle tendinitis is continuing to improve, but he still has issues jumping off his right foot or both feet. There has yet to be a decision whether he will return to the starting lineup Thursday at Ole Miss. “Whenever Coach Donovan feels like I'm ready to come back in the starting lineup, I'll be ready,” Young said. “I still played pretty good minutes the other night (24 minutes against LSU) and Will Yeguete, Erik Murphy, they did a great job.”