The Southeastern Conference has established itself as the dominant football conference in the country.
Men’s basketball, though, has been more hit and miss. Though the league boasts three national champions since 2006 (Florida twice, Kentucky) it’s viewed as top-heavy. There’s Florida and Kentucky, and then there’s everyone else.
In an effort to get more teams into the NCAA Tournament, SEC commissioner Mike Slive has required all non-conference schedules get reviewed by the league office before being approved. The thinking? Weak non-conference schedules have led to SEC teams failing to reach the 68-team NCAA Tournament field. Last season, only three of 14 league teams earned NCAA Tournament bids — Florida, Ole Miss and Missouri. None of the conference’s four bubble teams (Kentucky, Alabama, Tennessee and Arkansas) made it.
But not all league coaches are happy about the mandate.
“Not a huge fan, to be honest with you,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said during Monday’s SEC men’s basketball summer coaches teleconference. “I understand the reasoning why but scheduling is a little bit more difficult than the people that don’t do it think it is. So to add more layers of approval and things like that is not necessarily what I would desire, but again, I understand the commissioner’s reason as to why he wants to do it, so we’ll do it the way he wants to.”
It’s led to several SEC teams beefing up their non-conference schedules this upcoming season. Ole Miss has added a home-and-home series with Oregon. Auburn will face Boston College, Illinois (in Atlanta) and Iowa State in the SEC-Big 12 challenge. Florida has continued its recent trend of tough non-conference schedules with dates against Kansas (SEC-Big 12 challenge), at Wisconsin, at UConn and vs. Memphis at the Jimmy V Classic in New York City.
“It’s a good idea, just from a standpoint of we have to do a better job as a league getting multiple teams in the NCAA Tournament,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. “I think for us it starts with scheduling, doing the best job possible to strengthen our RPIs and our strength of schedule as a league to get multiple teams in the NCAA Tournament.”
Given the SEC’s financial strength and the growing interest in basketball among member schools’ fan bases, none of the coaches should fear playing a tough non-conference slate. It’s the ticket to becoming as dominating in basketball as in football.