January 28th, 2014 01:03 PM║ Posted By: John Pennington ║ Permalink
║ Schools: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
Tags: Alabama, Rivals, Rivals Top, SEC
For a while now we’ve speculated as to why the Southeastern Conference — so dominant in football — has fallen on hard times in basketball. A league that was once a top-three league in conference-wide RPI season after season is now kicking around as the #6, #7 or #8 league each year. It used to be a given that the SEC would put five or six teams into the NCAA Tournament. Now the league hovers around the three-bid mark each year.
We’ve pointed out previously that the SEC’s basketball troubles began right about the time the league’s recent run of unparalleled football success began… which was also about the time that Mike Slive inked two game-changing television contracts with ESPN and SEC. In our view, the money trail was key. SEC schools chose to re-invest the cash they made from TV back into the product that the networks were paying big bucks for — football.
Look around the SEC, the stadiums and facilities for football are flat-out bigger, pricier, and nicer than those for hoops. The SEC’s roster of football coaches is unmatched. The roster of basketball coaches features a couple of “names” and a whole lotta guys hired as up-and-comers.
But in addition to cash, there seems to be another issue at play here. And it too has to do with the fact that the South in general is football territory.
Looking at Rivals.com’s recent recruiting rankings for football and basketball, you’ll find that the SEC produces twice as many top football prospects as it does blue-chip hoopsters. Yes, there are more athletes in the South, but the data suggests most of those athletes choose to pursue football over basketball.
Below are the state-by-state numbers from Rivals’ top 100 football and basketball prospects lists between 2012 and 2014, three classes. Football is listed first, then basketball:
|SEC State (Football)||Rivals Top 100 2014||Rivals Top 100 2013||Rivals Top 100 2012|
|SEC State (Basketball)||Rivals Top 100 2014||Rivals Top 100 2013||Rivals Top 100 2012|
Eye-opening, no? Basically half of America’s most sought-after football players come from states within the SEC footprint. Just a quarter of the nation’s top basketball stars come from Dixie. (Even if there’s a typo in there somewhere, the numbers are pretty dadgum clear.)
Further, take Florida and Texas out of the basketball equation and the other nine SEC states have produced an average of just 13 total top 100 hoops prospects combined per season since 2012. Take out Tennessee — meaning Memphis — and the number drops to 30 overall basketball stars from eight states or just 10 per year.
As SEC football has soared and become a brand second only in strength to the NFL, it seems that high school athletes have made the decision to put football ahead of basketball. In areas like the Midwest and Northeast where basketball rules, the numbers are skewed the other way.
So why is the SEC struggling in basketball? Money, we believe, plays a role. Less overall talent in basketball than in football — as demonstrated above — also factors in in a large way. But the overall issue can be summed pretty easily: From university administrators to high school athletes, the South is football country.
With that in mind, new SEC basketball czar Mark Whitworth will need to work on more than just scheduling to fix what ails the league. He’ll need to work on the overall SEC basketball brand, improving it to the point that some high schoolers will start selecting the hardwood over the gridiron. The SEC Network could aid on that front. So, too, could the growing number of injuries — and media coverage of injuries — suffered on high school, college and pro football fields.
Either way, the SEC needs to start its basketball revolution at the grass roots level.
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