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Why Is The SEC Thriving In Football, Struggling In Basketball? Money

bag of moneyThe Southeastern Conference is known for football.  Seven BCS titles in row.  Five different schools with BCS crowns since the system’s inception in 1998.  Big name coaches, famous stadiums, dominant recruiting.

Mention the words “college football” and the letters S-E-C will pop into most people’s minds.

But utter the words “SEC basketball” and a different three letters come to mind: B-A-D.

Spin it any way you like, Mike Slive’s league is struggling through an abysmal season.  Florida has been dominant.  Kentucky finally appears to be rounding into shape.  Missouri has been a little worse than expected; Ole Miss a little better.  After that, it’s unlikely any of the conference’s 10 remaining teams will receive at-large invitations to the NCAA Tournament.  Saddled with a #8 RPI ranking among conferences, four bids might be generous.

In an age when the NCAA Tournament has been expanding, the number of SEC tourney berths has been declining.  This is more than a down year… it’s a trend:


  Tournament   # of Bids (League Rank)   Tourney Record   Best Finish
  2012   4 (5th among leagues)   10-3   National Champion
  2011   5 (3rd among leagues)   7-5   Final Four
  2010   4 (5th among leagues)   6-4   Two in Elite Eight
  2009   3 (6th among leagues)   1-3   Round of 32
  2008   6 (2nd among leagues)   4-6   Sweet Sixteen
  2007   5 (4th among leagues)   11-4   National Champion
  2006   6 (2nd among leagues)   13-5   National Champion
  2005   5 (3rd among leagues)   5-5   Elite Eight
  2004   6 (tied for 1st among leagues)   7-6   Elite Eight
  2003   6 (tied for 1st among leagues)   6-6   Elite Eight


From afar, the SEC has continued to have success — in most years — in the NCAA Tournament regardless of its dwindling number of bids.  But in many of those seasons, the SEC was dominated by just one or two teams.  That’s a far cry from the top-to-bottom toughness produced by the very same schools on the gridiron.

Using mathematician/hoops guru Ken Pomeroy’s computer rankings as a guide, here’s a look at the SEC teams that finished in his top 20 over the past decade:


2012:  #1 Kentucky, #12 Florida, #16 Vanderbilt

2011:  #6 Kentucky, #16 Florida

2010:  #3 Kentucky

2009:  None

2008:  #14 Tennessee

2007:  #2 Florida, #14 Kentucky

2006:  #1 Florida, #10 LSU, #15 South Carolina, #17 Arkansas, #20 Kentucky

2005:  #6 Florida, #10 Kentucky, #18 Alabama

2004:  #9 Kentucky, #17 Mississippi State

2003:  #2 Kentucky, #12 Mississippi State, #14 Florida, #17 LSU, #18 Georgia


As you can see, the number of top 20-caliber teams from the SEC has fallen drastically.  There were 17 SEC teams in the final top 20 of Pomeroy’s rankings from 2003 to 2007.  From 2008 to 2012, there have been just seven teams in his final top 20 rankings.

Worse, of the 24 top 20 slots filled by SEC squads in the last decade, 14 were filled by two schools: Florida and Kentucky.  Compare that to the SEC’s football success where in the last five years Alabama, Auburn, Florida, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, Arkansas and Texas A&M have all had top 10-type seasons.

(In case you’re wondering Pomeroy’s current hoops rankings have Florida #1 and Kentucky #18.  No other SEC schools rank in his top 20.  Same song, different verse.)

So why do 14 schools that recruit the same areas in both sports have such drastically different results when it comes to football and basketball?


Now, the SEC honchos in Birmingham as well as basketball coaches and athletic directors across the league would tell you that basketball is just as important as football.  They would say that there has been no conscious decision on the part of any league schools to build up football while ignoring basketball.

We say otherwise.  And so do the facts.

Of the 25 highest-paid head coaches in college football, 10 currently conduct their business in the SEC.  That number will likely jump to 11 when Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin receives a raise and extension for his fine work this past year.

Needless to say, few SEC schools make anywhere near that kind of investment in basketball.  In fact, here’s a side-by-side comparison of SEC salaries for head football coaches and head basketball coaches.  (Keep in mind that bonuses can skew the average value of a deal.  These, however, are the most accurate numbers we could find for annual salaries):


  School   Football Coach   Salary in Millions   Basketball Coach   Salary in Millions
  Alabama   N. Saban   $5.5   A. Grant   $1.9
  Arkansas   B. Bielema   $3.2   M. Anderson   $2.2
  Auburn   G. Malzahn   $2.3   T. Barbee   $1.5
  Florida   W. Muschamp   $2.7   B. Donovan   $3.5
  Georgia   M. Richt   $3.0   M. Fox   $1.7
  Kentucky   M. Stoops   $2.0   J. Calipari   $5.2
  LSU   L. Miles   $4.3   J. Jones   $1.1
  Miss. State   D. Mullen   $2.6   R. Ray   $1.0
  Missouri   G. Pinkel   $2.7   F. Haith   $1.6
  Ole Miss   H. Freeze   $2.0   A. Kennedy   $1.4
  S. Carolina   S. Spurrier   $3.6   F. Martin   $1.9
  Tennessee   B. Jones   $3.1   C. Martin   $1.3
  Texas A&M   K. Sumlin   $2.0   B. Kennedy   $1.0
  Vanderbilt   J. Franklin   $3.0   K. Stallings   $1.9


Is it a coincidence that the SEC’s two most consistent winners in basketball also happen have the two highest-paid coaches in the league?  The only two basketball coaches who make more than their football-coaching counterparts?

Television revenue is now the cash cow for America’s athletics departments.  Television revenue is driven by college football, not basketball (just ask the ACC or Big East).  So is it any wonder that SEC schools — oh, so dominant in football already — continue to invest more money into football than into basketball?  There’s simply a greater return on investment when it comes to hiring the biggest-name coach with the winningest track record on the gridiron.

This, of course, says nothing of the facilities race currently being waged across the league.  New multi-million dollar football complexes are all the rage.  Meanwhile, Ole Miss is making plans to finally/hopefully build a replacement for rickety old Tad Smith Coliseum, a building that saw a rain out in basketball just a couple of years ago.

If anyone wonders why the SEC is more dominant than ever in football while its basketball product appears to be in decline, the answer is simple — money.  Those schools (Florida and Kentucky) that make greater investments into hoops have more success.  Those that funnel the vast, vast majority of their cash toward football are much less successful and consistent on the hardwood.

It’s not rocket science, folks.  It’s math and economics.



I see you did not notice the HUGE arena Tennessee has and the nice arena Arkansas has as well. They both are pretty decent most years in basketball and Vanderbilt and LSU are not too shabby as well and so is Alabama. Your logic does not hold water and yes basketball will always be second fiddle in the SEC


There is truth in all of this, but it also neglects the fact that basketball is treated differently by cultures outside of the SEC.  In concert with this, inner cities tend to thrive on basketball and typically do not have room for football fields.  Just as the south is filled with football recruits, other places produce more basketball players.  I tend to think this is at least as much of a factor as structural issues in the SEC.


I don't think UF got good in basketball by investing in the sport. UF stumbled onto a good coach and now that he has succeeded is paying enough to keep him from moving to another job. I doubt Florida paid Donovan much when he was first hired. He was a young guy just starting a coaching career at Marshall and wasn't a big name. Success came before the investment. If Donovan had won national championships at any other SEC school they'd be paying him well too.


It would be great to do better in BB but when it comes down to it who cares? I think it's great if we do well in every sport but it just doesn't matter

that much if we don't. I know all the athletes love there sport and God bless them. But once again it's only football I save up my money for  so I can

travel buy tickets etc etc. I don't know about everyone else but I can only spend so much and things are getting tighter as it is. I can only see so many and go to so many play off games. The Fan (me) just can't afford 2 sports.


I don't buy it.  How about a comparison of SEC coaches' salaries with those of other conferences?    Take Butler (12-4, rpi 14): Brad Stephens made $1.2 million in 2011; Anthony Grant $1.9 mil.  So pay Grant a mill more and he becomes a better coach?  By your own measure this doesn't compute. 


Sagarin's rankings are tilted to the middle of a conference ~ for example, the weights in a 9 school conference are 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1.

The current rankings are:

85.16 Big Ten

83.42 Big East (Vale)

82.36 Big 12

81.69 ACC

80.72 Pac-12

80.67 Mountain West

79.89 SEC

78.85 A-10

76.91 Missouri Valley

75.59 WCC


You could look at that as the MWC nestled up among the Majors ... or you could look at that as the SEC nestled down there among the Mid-Majors.


@MrSEC chicken or the egg?? Are they successful because of the money or do they get the money for being successful?


@MrSEC maybe because Basketball isn't a priority. #twidiot


 @I4Bama There's also Spring Football. When I was watching "The Blind Side", when Big Mike, the hero of the movie is told he'd made the grades to play Spring Football I was like, "huh?" HS Football may be far and away the king of HS sports in NE Ohio, but there just isn't a long enough time between when you can be sure the snow is melted and the end of the school year to fit in a second football season.

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator



As stated there are exceptions to every rule.  Of course, some up-n-comers will become great coaches.


But Florida has paid Donovan a huge amount of money to stay.  He's had offers and turned them down.  And that is exactly the kind of investment I'm talking about.


Thanks for reading the site,


John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator



For folks who don't care, fans sure do light up call-in shows and messageboards to demand scalps when their teams lose.  Even in basketball.  


Football is definitely king, but there are many who would like to see the SEC's basketball product improve.  Speaking to those folks, we simply wanted to point out that schools making larger investments into basketball would help.


To flip things, anyone notice how Vanderbilt football has been doing since AD David Williams and the VU administration began investing more money in their program?


So for those who DO care, we believe the SEC can improve its basketball when it starts throwing more cash at the problem.  That's certainly worked in terms of hiring and keeping the nation's best football coaches.


Thanks for reading,


John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator



You've oversimplified my point.  First, I made it clear that coaching salaries are only part of the equation.  Football facilities across the league are bigger, better, and newer than the basketball facilities, too (aside from those at Kentucky, of course).  It's not just the coaches' salaries, it's the overall investment in the hoops programs.


And no, paying Anthony Grant an extra million won't make him a better coach.  But if SEC schools invested more money in coaching and facilities and the SEC developed a reputation as a more basketball-friendly league as a result, Alabama might have been able to get a better, more proven coach than the up-n-comer from VCU.  (Not that Grant won't prove himself to be an excellent coach long-term).  Spending $4 million a year to hire a football coach, Alabama sure didn't have to hire the equivalent of Grant, did they?  Nope, they bought themselves a man who'd already won big in the SEC and was leaving the NFL.  NFL or VCU?  Yes, money matters.


Aside from hires doomed by timing issues (Arkansas having to hire John L. Smith as an interim, Tennessee having to rush and hire Derek Dooley right before signing day), the SEC's football hires are usually much more impressive than the league's basketball hires.  (Emphasis on usually as there are exceptions to every rule.)  Simply run down the lists of the SEC's coaches and you'll find that most schools have better known football coaches than basketball coaches.


But better basketball coaches would equal better recruiting.  (Notice how the SEC doesn't dominate hoops recruiting as it does football recruiting?)  In turn that will equal better basketball.


Gotta invest in the product.


As for comparing the SEC's numbers to other leagues, if there were a database of all the hoops coaches out there, I'd have done it.  But I can give you this comparison -- 10 SEC football coaches are among the 25 highest-paid coaches in the country.  In basketball, just two SEC coaches rank among the top 10 highest paid.  


But I don't think there's a soul out there who believes the SEC is as big a spender in basketball as it is in football, anyway.


Thanks for reading,







@SSS_RJ That was kinda the point. #twidiot


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