SEC basketball ready to scrap divisional format

Men’s basketball in the Southeastern Conference is about to be
united.

The league is expected to eliminate divisions Friday, a move
that would make seeding the postseason tournament more fair but
also could create some scheduling issues.

The SEC’s 12 basketball coaches proposed to athletic directors
this week that the league scrap the divisional format and that the
tournament be seeded 1 through 12. The top four teams would receive
byes in the opening round.

Commissioner Mike Slive expects the proposal to pass when
athletic directors and school presidents vote Friday, and the
changes would be implemented for the 2011-12 season.

The 16-game conference schedule would remain intact for one
year, then the league would expand its number of league games the
following season.

”We want to do a thorough due diligence moving forward on what
is in the best interest of the league,” Mississippi coach Andy
Kennedy said. ”Everything is on the table.”

The SEC is the only conference in the big six – which includes
the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big East, the Big Ten, the Big
12 and the Pac 10 – that has divisions. They were set up in 1992
when the league expanded and created a lucrative title game in
football.

But the only purpose they served in basketball was to seed the
tournament.

”The one thing we’re trying to get away from is that it’s
almost two different conferences,” 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.”

This is the second consecutive year that the league’s basketball
coaches discussed doing away with divisions. They voted on it a
year ago and were split down the middle – six for, six against.

”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.”

If the league eliminates divisions, the conference schedule
probably would expand from 16 to 18 games. But it remains to be
seen how the unbalanced schedule would work.

Would each school be assigned rivals to play home-and-home
series annually? How often would teams rotate on and off each
other’s schedule? And wouldn’t everyone want Kentucky, by far the
league’s top attendance and television draw?

Slive expects to create a committee to figure out the details
over the next few 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.”

One thing the coaches did agree on was that they don’t want a
22-game conference schedule in which 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.”

Although the conference might create extra revenue by replacing
two non-conference games with league games, the real goal of the
move is to strengthen the overall league.

The SEC hasn’t had more than five teams in the NCAA tournament
since it landed six berths in 2008. Even then, that’s shy of the
eight teams Kentucky coach John Calipari would like to see in the
mix for the NCAA field annually.

”We will do whatever we have to do that makes this league
better,” Calipari said. ”We just have to get eight teams in the
discussion. And if all eight are in, we’ll be jumping for
joy.”