With the announcement of another tweak to how the SEC basketball schedules would play out for the rest of time (or until another change comes) the conference we call home seems to be constantly trying to fix a problem of its own creation.
First, a little history. When Mizzou and A&M called the Big 12 home, (before the departures of Colorado and Nebraska), the conference maintained its North and South divisions and scheduling was a piece of cake. You'd play a home and home with your division mates and then either a home or away game with a team from the other division dependent upon where you played that team the year before.
Following the defections of Colorado and Nebraska, the Big 12 decided to go full round robin, maintaining the 18 game schedule and granting a home and home series with every team. The Big 12 has touted this as a strength and if your team is playing well, it truly is as the Big 12 has had a strong conference RPI, bolstering everyone's chances at a shot at a tourney invite.
But what does this have to do with our current Conference situation?
Back before the 2011-2012 season, the SEC decided to abolish the divisions that currently exist for football and would become, "one 12 team league" for basketball purposes. The hope was that this would get 8 teams into the NCAA tournament conversation, according to John Calipari. That really didn't happen as in 2012 only four teams made the tourney (Kentucky, Florida, Vandy and Bama) in 2013 only three teams did (Florida, Mizzou and Ole Miss), in 2014, again only three made the big dance (Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee). Finally, we had a nice uptick in 2015 with five teams getting in (Kentucky, Arkansas, LSU, Georgia and Ole Miss), though it could have been six if A&M hadn't, well you know...Auburn, SEC tournament, all the unpleasantness.
The major benefit seen to abolishing the divisions was that the way the SEC tournament was previously seeded, with the top team teams in the division getting a bye (regardless of overall record) and then seeding accordingly for the remaining 8. When this decision was made, there was also talk of an 18 and 22 game conference schedule as well, so the SEC was still open to tinkering, trying to get this just right.
Then in 2012, the SEC welcomed A&M and Mizzou to the conference and things got wonky yet again. Scheduling had to be rejiggered for 14 teams, the decision at the time was to maintain the one division (1-14) set up with one permanent rival, four home and away games and then 8 one offs, either home or away dependent upon where the wind was blowing that afternoon.
Finally, yesterday, the SEC announced that all teams would have three permanent rivals (6 games), 2 rotating home and away games against the same team (4 games) and then 8 one offs, as before either home or away dependent upon where the wind was blowing that afternoon.
|Team||Permanent Opponent #1||Permanent Opponent #2||Permanent Opponent #3|
|Mississippi State||Ole Miss||Alabama||South Carolina|
|Mizzou||Arkansas||Ole Miss||Texas A&M|
|Ole Miss||Mississippi State||Mizzou||Auburn|
|South Carolina||Georgia||Tennessee||Mississippi State|
But is this the best answer for a conference that is trying to solidify itself as a basketball conference? Does this help create rivalries with its two new members or to bolster the SEC's chances to have as many teams dancing in March as it possibly can? My friends I say no. The current set up seems disjointed and unnecessarily complicated. There are a few easy fixes in my mind that could lead to consistent scheduling, harmony and create some needed tension between fanbases, just to give everything a little kick in the pants.
The options as I see them are:
- Play everyone...twice! The round robin to end all round robins. Each SEC team would play a home and away series with everyone in conference, giving every team 26 conference games.
Pro: play everyone home and away and we see who truly are the best teams in the conference that year.
Con: The drop from 14 non-conference games down to 6, leaving you little space to get some cupcakes in November, along with your out of conference rivalry games, your neutral site games and your trips to such exotic places as Maui, Cancun, and Anchorage!
- Go back to the Divisional Alignment. Play every team in your division, home and away and then tack on a home or away game with the other division, leading to a total of 19 conference games.
Pro: Real rivalries get created with the guaranteed home and away games with your division brothers, and you still get a home or away game with the teams in the other division. Everyone still plays everyone, and everyone still gets a chance at Kentucky, because let's be honest, every AD wants a Kentucky game.
Con: The imbalanced schedule of 19 games, ensuring someone is going to have one more home or away game, and there is a chance you won't see your main rival on your home floor unless you live in the same division. So from a Mizzou perspective, we wouldn't see Arkansas more than once and it could possibly be away, not really a great way to build that Battle Line Rivalry as sponsored by whoever.
- Stick with the new plan, where you have three permanent rivals and 2 rotating home and away games, and 8 one offs.
Pro: It's better than what existed before yesterday, you get some new people to really focus your sports rage and it's already set up.
Con: Outside of the 6 games with your permanent rivals scheduling will continue to be done on a yearly basis and will be as transparent as how FIFA assigns the World Cup or how the NBA draft lottery is decided.
Of these three options, I'm for option 2, going back to divisions. While we lose the extra Arkansas game (a shame because, Battle Line!!!!) it does allow for us to get some good yearly rivalries with the same 6 teams we play in football yearly and ensures we get to know (and sports hate) each other better. We'd be finding new reasons to hate Georgia and South Carolina in no time; same with Vandy (that court!) and well everyone wants to beat Kentucky and Florida. I don't think I need to mention Tennessee, they already rile up the blood it seems of the Mizzou faithful.
But that's really just one guy's opinion. And because one opinion just isn't enough, I asked my fellow SEC SB Nation Basketball cohorts their opinion as well, not only on the idea of going back to divisions, but their opinion of their newly assigned permanent rivals.
To the Roundtable!!!
Question 1: Should the SEC go back to Divisions and the subsequent scheduling model I preferred in Option 2?
At least part of the reason they changed it was because the league was really unbalanced for a few years with the East dominating the West, and that threw off the SEC Tournament bracket with a crappy 2nd place West team getting a bye to Friday each year. Plus, other conferences had eliminated divisions for basketball so there was precedent.
From an Arkansas standpoint, I like playing Mizzou twice in basketball each year and that wouldn't happen under the old setup. I'm interested to see what the pairings are when they change it to three permanent double opponents instead of one. Rumors are LSU will be one of them for Arkansas and that would be good for our fans.
I guess it boils down to there are some schools that are more fun to play, and I'm generally for whatever system allows those games to happen more frequently. It was fun having the home-and-home against Kentucky in 2014, and that would never happen in the old system.
Well they can't do the divisional setup now because math and stuff.
With 14 teams you would either have to play a 19-game schedule (meaning some teams have more home than road games) or 18 with one of your divisional rivals on the schedule only once, or 20 games with one home-and-home with a team from the other division.
I know it gets confusing but I prefer the current setup. No offense to the other East division schools (other than the one wearing orange, you know who you are) but I don't really consider you rivals any more than I do the Mississippi and Alabama schools.
Of course if I'm being totally honest I'd prefer ten teams and play everybody home and home, but I don't get a say on that.
Thomas nails it. Scheduling makes it near impossible. And i prefer the idea of a couple permanent with the rest rotating and wish we could adopt the same scheme for football to allow for more frequent games against conference goes without sacrificing traditional rivalries.
In the words of the great poet, Queen Latifah, DOWN WITH DIVISIONS! U-N-I-T-Y!
Yeah I'd pretty much echo most of what's already been said, but I will add one thing: If we did go back to having divisions, the SECT should be done like it is in baseball. In other words, no E1-E7 and W1-W7. As Doc mentioned, that was the main reason for disbanding divisions originally.
Question 2: What do you think of your new Three Permanent Rivals?
Very happy to have Tennessee back. Vanderbilt is fine as well, they are probably as good as anyone else in the third position, and better than most. Maybe Arkansas might be better, but if we look to history, Vandy probably deserves it more.
Yeah, that's pretty much spot on. Not many easy games there, but those are the matchups that get the bump up to national television when they happen.
We care about playing Florida every year?
Georgia can't ask for any better than that. Our two oldest conference rivals, and two with an equally horrible hoops history.
I've never really considered Ole Miss a rival in any sport. Beating Alabama matters in every sport from football to equestrian (I can't tell you if the Tide has equestrian but if they do, beating them matters). Beating Georgia matters (for recruiting reasons mostly) but (except in football) losing to them won't ruin an otherwise good weekend. I can only think of two Ole Miss losses in any sport that really ate at me. If I had to choose, I'd take our land grant brethren at State over Ole Miss.
Auburn's main conference rivals outside of Bama and Georgia are Florida and Tennessee. Fortunately, they are often very good at basketball while Ole Miss usually isn't so maybe I shouldn't complain.
Tennessee fans are thrilled to get Kentucky back as an annual rivalry and will happily take a non-existent rivalry with South Carolina as the trade-off.
Arkansas fans are cool with adding LSU. Since our fan base really does care about basketball we were also hoping to get Kentucky, but I figured we'd get A&M if we didn't get the Cats because the powers that be like to drum up the "hey, they used to be in the Southwest Conference!" bit whenever possible. So it's not ideal but we're cool with it.
LSU and Arkansas make sense, so no complaints there. The pairing with Mizzou seems forced... but I suppose we should continue to expect that as the two newbies.
Alabama fans are obviously thrilled with Auburn and State. But no Tennessee? What is up with that? Tennessee is playing USC instead? Come on now
There you have it, the thoughts of our SEC brothers. It's clear to me, that most are not in favor of going back to divisions, but neither is anyone too thrilled with one of their permanent rivals. Two of the three everyone is interested in playing, but that third team, well that seems forced for most. And I would agree. From a Mizzou perspective, bring on Arkansas, and I can get behind playing Ole Miss twice a year, what with our welcome from them in year one (Big 12 rejects...clap clap, clap, clap, clap) and the Alex Oriakhi dust up, but A&M seems like the SEC just said, "You guys showed up together, might as well hang out together."
What do you think of all this? Excited, have a plan of your own? At the end of the day, the SEC is getting better in the basketball world, new coaches in new places, highly ranked recruiting classes (and not just in Kentucky!) and new buildings are popping up (hopefully the lights stay on in Ole Miss).
The future of SEC Basketball is bright, here's to hoping these new rivalries can engage the fan bases between football and spring football.