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.”