Alternative for SEC tournament


South Carolina guard Eric Smith (5) steals the ball as Mississippi State guard Trivante Bloodman (4) and forward Gavin Ware (20) hit the court during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Southeastern Conference tournament in Nashville, Tenn., Wednesday. (Photo by The Associated Press)

Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 12:05 a.m.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It was just minutes before the start of the SEC Tournament when the commissioner of the most powerful league in America stopped by my seat on press row and extended his hand.

So I asked him my questions.

I'm not a fan of a 14-team SEC basketball tournament. Wednesday night was the first time we've ever had a tipoff this early in the week for the tournament, and the crowd was predictably small.

After dodging a tumbleweed and quieting the crickets (I'm kidding, of course), the commissioner answered my questions. Yes, there was some discussion about not inviting all 14 teams. No, it wasn't serious discussion. No, he can't see a day when some teams are asked to stay home.

And so it began, this historic SEC Tournament, the first to match two SEC teams with 4-14 conference records. Electricity? It couldn't have started a night light.

It wasn't just that it was only 43 degrees and dropping when they tipped off or that it wasn't a whole lot warmer inside the Bridgestone Arena. These were two teams in a down league playing for the right to play one more night.

The fans who did show up were allowed to sit wherever they wanted. (It was also festival seating for the media). Most of the fans were from Kentucky, where they love basketball so much they'd watch two flies playing one-on-one with a bread crumb.

I understand why all 14 teams are here. The coaches want it and the players want it and the league wants it.

“You don't want to ever put the (student-athletes) in a position where they aren't involved,” said LSU coach Johnny Jones. “It's a great experience for these young men.”

So is the NCAA Tournament, but they won't have a problem excluding Jones' team on Sunday.

And I get that — especially in this first year after the league went to 14 teams — the league wouldn't want to exclude some of the teams at the risk of offending the newbies.

I understand all that. I'm just saying I have a plan. Sorry if you feel entitled, but this new bracket is a mess.

Here's what you do:

The bottom four teams will be in the tournament. They just won't be in Nashville, not yet. Instead, they will play the SEC's version of the First Four. They will play on the campuses of the higher-seeded teams.

They will play on Tuesday and have a day to travel, and the two teams who win will be pumped up that they made it. Wednesday will go back to being the press conference day instead of the league cramming them in on a day when basketball was played.

This way, all 14 teams have a chance to earn the automatic qualifier. And those games on campus would actually generate some excitement.

I think.

“I like our format,” said Kevin Stallings. “The teams with the double bye earned that advantage. We play on Thursday. We earned that.”

Those bottom-feeders didn't earn anything. They could have fielded a team from the Math Club and still qualified to play Wednesday night.

I don't mean to be harsh. I'm letting them in the tourney, just not in the city.

But maybe there's a better answer. Just Wednesday, Stallings was asked about a homecourt advantage since the Vandy campus is straight down Broadway a couple of miles away.

“I got a feeling there will be more blue in the stands than black and gold, and there are two teams that wear black and gold,” he said.

Exactly. When it comes to the attendance, it's a Kentucky tournament and we're all just living in it. So maybe the league should just declare that the Wildcats get an unlimited supply of mulligans. But they have to play every day.

That'll fill the place up.

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