This past offseason, Mike Slive and the SEC tipped off a new initiative to improve SEC basketball. The league has made associate commissioner Mark Whitworth the overseer of this hoops push (something we suggested the SEC do just days before they did it) and consultant Greg Shaheen has been charged with keeping schools in line when it comes to non-conference scheduling.
This season, the SEC’s non-conference schedules didn’t show much improvement. Hoops czar Whitworth told Mike Strange of The Knoxville News Sentinel that things will change moving forward:
“For this year it was kind of late in the process (to make changes) so we cut some slack. The more significant impact will be for ’14-15…
It’s vital teams go on the road. Tennessee going to Xavier and Wichita (State) was very, very important…
As a general rule schools won’t schedule below the 200 (RPI) level if they can help it.”
More road games — it should be noted Tennessee lost on both of those road trips — and no games versus the RPI dregs. Sounds good. But SEC squads are still going to have to start winning.
Ironically, the SEC’s turn of bad luck in basketball began just as the league began a run of seven consecutive national championships in football (a streak snapped in the final seconds of this year’s BCS title game). Once a five- or six-bid league, the conference has been more often a three- or four-bid league in recent seasons.
We contend that money is truly at the root of the SEC’s hoops woes. As TV money has increased, SEC schools have poured most of that cash right back into the key money-maker. And why not? If football is king and football brings in the most television revenue, the best bet for a school is to upgrade its football program.
Check the lists of the highest-paid coaches in both sports and you’ll find a lot more high-dollar SEC football coaches than you will high-dollar basketball coaches. Also, compare facilities on each campus. How many SEC football cathedrals are matched in style by the basketball arenas that neighbor them? On the whole, much more attention — and money — is dedicated to the gridiron facilities race than to the hoops facilities race.
Launching in August, the SEC Network should create a big, new revenue stream for the Southeastern Conference. If some of that newfound cash isn’t spent hiring the top coaches in the country and upgrading the league’s basketball arenas and building the practice facilities that all coaches whine for then all the scheduling in the world won’t help matters. If SEC schools want to improve their hoops fortunes, it’s time to invest some fortunes in that effort.