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SEC Headlines 4/3/2014

headlines-thuSEC Football

1. Report: LSU defensive end Jordan Allen planning to transfer.

2. Mark Richt says redshirt freshman outside linebacker outside linebacker Paris Bostick will transfer from the Georgia program.

3. Announcement coming this afternoon that Vanderbilt and Ole Miss will play at LP Field in Nashville this year.

4. Will Ole Miss have the best secondary in the SEC this fall?

5. Alabama running back Altee Tenpenny is due in court April 10th after being charged with possession of a controlled substance over spring break.

6. Kentucky wants to have its starting quarterback in place before the first game this year.

7. Mississippi State tried Brandon Hollloway at wide receiver but he”ll be a running back this fall.

8. Texas A&M sophomore linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni  on his freshman season: “To be honest with you, it was overwhelming at times a year ago, really in every aspect of the game.”

9. Auburn is the midpoint of their spring schedule. Receiver Marcus Davis: “I think we’ve made a lot of progress.”

10. Athlon Sports is inviting Georgia fans to pick a magazine cover.

SEC/NFL

11. ESPN analyst and former NFL player Teddy Bruschi on Jadeveon Clowney: ”Turn in the card now to the commissioner. Just turn it in, because he should be Houston’s No. 1 overall pick.”

12. Steve Spurrier regrets comparing Clowney’s work ethic to that of Marcus Lattimore: “I maybe should not have compared them.”

13. Defensive end Jacques Smith on Tennessee’s pro day.  “This is our last hour of being a Vol.”

SEC Basketball

14. Missouri’s Zach Price – a transfer from Louisville – arrested Thursday morning for assault. Now suspended.

15. As expected, Mizzou guard Jabari Brown enters NBA draft . Has until April 15th to change his mind if he doesn’t like NBA evaluation.

16. Tennessee’s Quinton Chievous is leaving the program. Free to transfer anywhere outside the SEC.

17. Lexington police to Kentucky fans – enough with the fires.

18. Does experience and overcoming adversity give UConn an edge over Florida?

19. Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy on the impact J’Mychal Reese’s dismissal had on the season: “It changed the whole kind of organization of our roster…”

20. Alabama coach Anthony Grant on a formidable out-of-conference schedule his team will face next season: “I’m not afraid to fail.”

21. Mike Anderson says help is coming for Ky Madden and the point guard position at Arkansas.

22. USA Today: “The players in this year’s Final Four attend schools where the gap between their scholarships and the total cost of attendance is about $2,300 to $5,400 a year… Yet the coaches…are collecting an average of $3.1 million from their schools for this season.”

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Fox Goes From Hot Seat To Contract Extension At Georgia; SEC A.D.s Starting To Wise Up

gfx-honest-opinionYesterday the University of Georgia announced that it was extending the contract of head basketball coach Mark Fox.  Back on New Year’s Day, most would’ve predicted Fox would be cleaning out his office this month, not putting down new carpet.

Overall, Fox is 84-76 in five years at Georgia.  He’s reached one NCAA Tournament (in his second year) and his SEC record is just 40-44 overall.  But his team began the 2014 season 6-6 in non-conference play.  The Bulldogs were stuck in the 300s in RPI and strength of schedule.  They’d already lost to Georgia Tech, Davidson, Temple, Nebraska, Colorado and George Washington.  Their only victories were over Wofford, Appalachian State, Chattanooga, Lipscomb, Gardner-Webb and Western Carolina.

For a coach in a make-or-break fifth season, Fox quickly found himself with his back to the wall.  And then came the turnaround that would save Georgia’s season — leading to an NIT bid — and save the coach’s job.

Fox’s team finished 12-6 in the SEC, tied with Kentucky and trailing only Florida.  You might’ve heard that UK and UF will be taking part in this weekend’s Final Four.  The Dawgs managed to add another victory in the SEC Tournament and one more in the NIT to max out at 20-14 on the year.  That was good enough to save Fox and land him a two-year extension that will tie him to Georgia for four more seasons through 2017-18.

Now, that’s hardly a huge reward.  No raise was announced.  And some might say that UGA was stuck between a rock and a hard place.  Athletic director Greg McGarity couldn’t very well fire a coach who finished tied with Kentucky for second place in the league, but he wasn’t ready to give Fox a lifetime contract either.  So he gave him a two-year extension — which will make recruiting a tad easier — and stressed that more improvement is expected.

This from McGarity’s press release:

 

“The improvement our team made throughout the 2013-14 season was very encouraging, and with the loss of only one starter, the expectations for the coming season will be very high.  Mark and I discussed not only this past season, but spent the majority of our time focused on the next four-year period.  We discussed our recruiting plans, scheduling, academic progress and continued development of our program moving forward, and Mark fully recognizes the expectations in these key areas.”

 

In other words, “We want better than 20-14 overall and better than a 6-6 non-conference record.”  And, “NCAAs instead of NITs, please.”

But the reality is this: McGarity has seen enough of Fox to feel that building with him is a safer bet than starting from scratch with some other up-and-comer (which is likely the exact type of coach Georgia would have had to hire).  A similar scenario has played out at Tennessee this week as Vol AD Dave Hart announced that Cuonzo Martin — who turned down the Marquette job early Tuesday morning — will remain at UT with an extension and a raise (though contract details have yet to leak).

Martin has led the Vols to two NITs and the Sweet Sixteen of this year’s NCAA Tournament.  While many fans have demanded that he win at the same clip as Bruce Pearl, the fact is Martin inherited a mess.  He faced NCAA sanctions that impacted recruiting.  He had to clean up what was a poor culture inside the program.  And he had to do it all in Pearl’s shadow with fans clamoring for his return.

Hart, like McGarity, might not have absolute faith in his current head coach, but he has seen enough to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Again, the message seems to be: “Tis better to build with a guy who’s got a winning record at this school than to rush out and start all over with someone who’s got a winning record at some smaller school.”

Fans want championship banners and anything less is viewed as “settling.”  The truth is it takes time to build a program.  Fox will be in Year Six next season and the expectations will be higher.  Martin’s new contract at Tennessee should afford him a Year Five and Year Six, too.

In a league where only three coaches have been in place for more than five seasons — Billy Donovan at Florida, Kevin Stallings at Vanderbilt and Andy Kennedy at Ole Miss — it’s a wise move, in our view, for schools like Georgia and Tennessee to start erring on the side of stability for a change.

(CORRECTION — Andy Kennedy was initially left off the list of coaches with five-plus years of tenure.)

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The SEC In The NBA Draft: Who’s In Good Shape And Who Isn’t

nba_logoAs we finish up the final week of the 2013-14 basketball season, players across the nation are announcing their NBA intentions.  In the last three days LSU’s Johnny O’Bryant and Missouri’s Jordan Clarkson have both revealed that they will be leaving school and turning pro early.

Every player’s case is unique to them — family issues, monetary needs, scholastic troubles — so it’s impossible to say definitively, “Yes, that guy made a mistake.”  For some a six-figure salary in the Netherlands or Turkey might be an A-OK next step.  For others missing out on the guaranteed contract that comes with being a first-round selection will very much disappoint.

Below is the current list of SEC players as ranked by DraftExpress.com, one of the more trusted, quoted mock drafts on the web.  It’s an indicator of who’s in good shape to land one of those guaranteed NBA contracts and who isn’t…

 

4.  Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky, Freshman

12.  Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky, Sophomore

25.  James Young, SG/SF, Kentucky, Freshman

 

That’s it for projected first-round picks, folks.  Three players.  All from Kentucky.  All underclassmen.  Not a single upperclassman from the SEC is expected to be first-round material.

Here’s who’s listed in the second round by DraftExpress…

 

41.  Patric Young, PF/C, Florida, Senior

46.  Jabari Brown, SG, Missouri, Junior

47.  Jordan Clarkson, PG/SG, Missouri, Junior

49.  Johnny O’Bryant, PF/C, LSU, Junior

50.  Jarnell Stokes, PF, Tennessee, Junior

60.  Jordan McRae, SG, Tennessee, Senior

 

From purely a basketball perspective, Brown, Clarkson, O’Bryant and Stokes should return to school.  Clarkson and O’Bryant have already announced their plans to leave.  But as noted earlier, we don’t know the personal issues facing any of these players.  We don’t know how scouts will view them if they go through workouts for the pros.  And we don’t know if what’s dropped these players deep into the second round this year could be patched up over the course of another collegiate season.

A few other quickie thoughts:

 

*  From the looks of this list, Florida has dominated this season more through the craftiness of veteran players than through sheer NBA talent.  Kudos again to that team and to Billy Donovan.

*  Only three Kentucky kids projected to be drafted?  Why, production at John Calipari’s player factory has darned near slowed to a drip.  (Sarcasm.)

*  Tennessee has two upperclassmen projected to go in the final 11 picks of the draft.  No wonder the Vols made it to the Sweet Sixteen.

*  Missouri, on the other hand, failed to reach the NCAA Tournament with its own pair of slightly higher-rated stars.  Don’t think Tiger fans won’t let Frank Haith hear about that one.

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Clarkson – SEC’s #7 Scorer This Season – Leaves Missouri For The Pros

Jordan+Clarkson+2013+Continental+Tire+Las+VFczzADmhfulJordan Clarkson averaged 17.5 points per game for Missouri last season.  The guard who’d transferred in from Tulsa wound up #7 on the SEC scoring list this season.  But he won’t be back for his senior year.

Clarkson’s father, Mike, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch yesterday that his son will turn pro and is planning to sign with an agent, which would make a return to Mizzou an impossibility.  The elder Clarkson is battling cancer and it’s believed his diagnosis led to an uneven performance from his son as the Tigers finished up their season.

The younger Clarkson said:

 

“It’s hard to find the right words to say because this coaching staff, my teammates, this school and these fans have been so incredible to me during my two years here at Mizzou.  Obviously this was not an easy decision for me and my family, but it felt like the right time to take this step in my career, especially with graduation this spring.”

 

Missouri might also lose the SEC’s top scorer in Jabari Brown.  The junior who averaged 19.9 points per game for the Tigers this season is mulling the possibility of an early exit to the NBA as well.

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SEC Headlines 3/28/2014

Friday HeadlinesSEC Football

1. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen on former Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron: “He’s a guy I have tremendous respect for and think is a fabulous football coach.”

2. Sophomore Quincy Adeboyejo expected to be a starting slot receiver at Ole Miss this fall.

3. At least for one day, Georgia’s spring practice was open to the media.

4. Auburn defensive lineman Tyler Nero hospitalized following incident at practice.

5. Auburn’s director of external operations Phillip Lolley is leaving to join the staff of the Edmonton Eskimos in the CFL.

6. Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson on the debate over the pace of college football: ”I think the slow-down guys are really not worried about injuries, and I think the speed-up guys are really not worried about how many plays they get.”

7. You can add the kicking game to the list of depleted positions this spring at LSU. Tigers anxiously await the arrival of running back Leonard Fournette.

8. Report: Old Dominion turns down $1.3 million to play at Alabama in 2015.

9. Alabama quarterback Blake Sims spent part of his spring break working out with a private quarterback coach.

10. Is South Carolina safety Brison Williams moving to cornerback this fall?

11. Tennessee was last in the SEC in sacks in 2013.  Vols hope outside linebacker/defensive end Curt Maggitt can change those numbers this fall. Butch Jones: “We’ll be much more talented, but very youthful.”

12. Kentucky defensive end Marcus Dupree: “Next year will be our year.”

Unionization of college athletes

13. Poll says 75% of Americans oppose the idea but support for the idea from Georgia athletes.

14. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: “Of course they should be able to organize.”

15. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier: “ I’ve advocated giving college football players and college basketball players a stipend.”

16. Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin: “You pay the tennis player the same as you play the football player. I don’t think that changes.”

SEC/NFL

17. 75 NFL personnel turn out for Johnny Manziel’s pro day. Former President George HW Bush and wife Barbara were in attendance.

18. Where might Auburn’s Dee Ford land?  “I hear a lot of talk about Philadelphia and New Orleans.”

SEC Basketball

19. “Florida coach Billy Donovan is rapidly cementing a reputation as the best coach in the SEC since the late Adolph Rupp.”

20.  ”It is difficult to imagine this Florida team — so close to the Final Four in each of its past four seasons, and more complete than ever before — missing out now.”

21. John Calipari on his relationship with Rick Pitino: ”I would say we’re friends.”

22. “The Vols enter the Midwest Regional semifinal against Michigan acting like a team scorned.”

23. Auburn playing UAB in the future?  ”We would love it.”

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Martin’s Last Stand At Tennessee? Vol Coach Has Plenty Of Reasons To Bolt

cuonzo-martin-hand-up-presserExcuse Cuonzo Martin if he’s not feeling all warm and fuzzy about his current job at Tennessee these days.  Sure, he’s got the Vols in the Sweet 16 against Michigan tonight.  Yes, he’s just one step away from reaching the Elite Eight and equaling the best work by his predecessor, a ghost that’s haunted him from his first day in Knoxville.  But this year has been far from easy for the Vols’ stoic third-year coach.

While his team was picked for third place in the SEC and not ranked in most preseason top 25 lists, many Volunteer fans assigned much greater expectations.  So when Martin’s team struggled with inconsistency for the first two-thirds of the season, things turned ugly.  More than 36,000 people signed an online petition to bring back then-on-the-market Bruce Pearl, the man who had left UT’s program under an NCAA cloud.  It was that very NCAA cloud that chased away more proven candidates and left Martin as the first man to say yes to the Volunteers’ offer.

The petition might not have been the worst of things.

According to VolQuest.com — the Rivals.com site covering Tennessee (paywall) — we learn that “multiple donors indicated to the athletic department that they no long wished to allow their private planes to be used for basketball recruiting purposes.”  That was in February, the site reports.  And it’s not surprising.

This isn’t a new move at Tennessee (or elsewhere, for the matter).  The Vols’ budget jumped during the Derek Dooley tenure for the same reason — the school had to start buying airline tickets for coaches on the recruiting trail rather than just using donated booster planes.

Martin didn’t get very much support from his boss through the season’s struggles, either.  Dave Hart — who inherited Martin — made it clear early on that he wanted to see “tournament success.”  MrSEC.com learned through an NCAA/NIT source last week that if the Volunteers had failed to reach the NCAA Tournament they would not have accepted a bid to play in the NIT.  Coupled with Hart’s silence, it’s not hard to figure out that Martin was likely standing right on the razor’s edge on Selection Sunday, desperately needing a bid.

But now his team is playing its best basketball of the season.  That’s not unusual.  Martin’s first team won eight of its last nine regular-season games.  Ditto his second squad.  And this year’s team is in the middle of an 8-1 nine-game stretch as well.  His first team — picked near the bottom of the SEC — managed to finish second in the league.  Last year’s club managed to work its way onto the NCAA bubble despite playing all season without preseason All-SEC first-teamer Jeronne Maymon.

In five years as a coach at Tennessee and Missouri State, Martin has won 19 or more games five times.  That’s hardly the work of a “bad” or “terrible” coach as so many folks have written on messageboards and Twitter over the first four months of the season.

Ah, but Martin lacks the personality of Pearl.  Nevermind that everyone else also lacks the personality of Pearl.  Vol fans wanted to see more fire from their coach.  In addition, they also wanted to see an up-tempo squad, like the ones Pearl put on the floor during his first three seasons in Knoxville.

Ironically, Martin’s team may still be alive because it does not play with such a style.  According to Ken Pomeroy’s stat-geek-heaven site KenPom.com, only three of the teams reaching the Sweet 16 this year ranked in the top 100 of his tempo category (possessions per 40 minutes).  Five squads — including Tennessee and SEC rival Florida — ranked outside the top 300.  Fast-pace teams rarely win in national championships (exceptions over 20 years: Rick Pitino’s Louisville, Gary Williams’ Maryland, Rick Pitino’s Kentucky, Nolan Richardon’s Arkansas).

So one of the things most often cited as a negative by the anti-Cuonzo/”Bring Back Bruce” crowd is likely a very big reason Martin’s team is having success now.

Martin has worked himself off the firing line, obviously, and now he’s in line for an extension and a raise.  Many Vol fans — those who supported Martin all along and those who’ve been won over by UT’s hot finish — are now hoping that the petition used against Martin and his recruiting and his program won’t come back to bite the school in the rear.  One pro-Tennessee website even penned an open letter to Martin this week begging for forgiveness. 

Why the sudden fear?  Because Martin might jilt UT if he gets a chance.  Could you blame him?  Now, his name has not been connected to any of the current openings at Wake Forest, Boston College, or Marquette (to name a few).  That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been some unreported back-channel communication between those schools and Martin’s representatives.

If Tennessee loses tonight and sees what has to be deemed a successful season come to close, will it be Martin’s last game with the Volunteers?  Next year figures to be a rebuilding year if the squad loses junior Jarnell Stokes to the NBA or Europe.  Many of the same fans who’ve gone from “hate him” to “love him” over the last three weeks will more than likely slide right back into the “hate him” camp after two or three losses next season.  Martin must know that.  And while he’s not talked about the petition or the lack of booster planes, he’s had to deal with both.  (Think that petition helped his recruiting efforts?)

For now, win or lose tonight, it looks as though Tennessee will be set to cough over some more cash to its coach in order to bring him back.  Whether or not Martin accepts UT’s cash and a contract extension is still very much in question.  Things have changed from February to now.  The Volunteers are no longer in control of the situation.  The ball is now clearly in Martin’s court.  For Tennessee fans hoping to hang onto him, they’d better be hoping he’s a forgiving man.

Update: Marquette Targets Cuonzo Martin

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The End Is Nigh (For College Sports As We Knew Them); What The NLRB’s Ruling Means For The SEC

repent-the-end-is-nigh-ye-must-be-cleansedA representative of the National Labor Relations Board ruled yesterday that Northwestern football players are employees of that university, not student-athletes.  And they are employees who help the school bring in a large amount of money.

From NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis to athletic directors’ offices across the nation, a long series of gulps and forehead slaps likely followed that announcement.

What does this mean to you, the fan?  It means that college football as you’ve always known it is one step closer to becoming a pay-for-play enterprise.  If that sounds good to you, just mull the possibilities (likelihoods?) over for a few minutes.

While yesterday’s ruling by the regional director of the NLRB’s Chicago office only opens the door for players at private schools to unionize, it won’t take long for attorneys to figure out some way to create something akin to a union at public schools.  (The National Labor Relations Board does not have jurisdiction when it comes to state-run institutions.)  And while the NLRB’s Northwestern ruling will be appealed, we’ve already seen that in at least one case — the first test case — at least one decision-maker has sided with the players and their attorney.  It’s likely then that there would be others at the NLRB who would agree with that decision.  Translation: Attorneys now have a battle plan.  And if one person views players as employees, it’s certainly possible that their will be likeminded individuals in the appellate courts or even the Supreme Court when this case winds its way through the justice system.

Attorneys are already feeling emboldened these days.  The Ed O’Bannon case has been cleared to go to trial this summer.  Another gauntlet was thrown down earlier this month when sports labor attorney Jeffrey Kessler announced he would sue the NCAA and the major conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) on antitrust grounds on behalf of another group of athletes.

That’s one case that’s already been given the initial okey-dokey, another that’s going to trial this summer and another that’s coming down the pike if Kessler is to be believed (and he is).

Eventually, college football players will be paid.  The goal of the initial Northwestern move to unionize was to create full-cost-of-tuition scholarships/stipends for players.  And while there are other issues at play — research into concussion- and health-related issues, medical insurance, licensing of players’ likenesses, etc — the bottom line is simple: Players want a piece of the pie.

So let’s say we do end up in a world where college football players are allowed to unionize.  How long will those athletes be satisfied with full-cost-of-tuition scholarships?  Here’s guessing they’ll be just as greedy as the presidents, ADs and conference commissioners have been when it comes to pocketing cash.

How long before college basketball players push for a cut of profits?  The smaller the revenue brought in by a sport the less likely something akin to a union will be OK’d.  Still, if an attorney believes he can help college basketball players grab some loose change here or there, you can bet he’ll have little trouble finding players to represent.

If players are paid and they are unionized, get ready for strikes and threats of strikes when athletes — or attorneys representing athletes — decide they have some new desire that isn’t being met by the NCAA’s system.  Get ready for agent involvement as well.  If players are paid, they will need someone to help them with their cash and their taxes.  That or get ready to lose a star tailback to IRS issues.

Worst-case scenario?  Your favorite college football team could start facing the same problems as your favorite pro football team: stars asking for more money, free agency, hold-outs, etc.

Sound promising?

For now, at least, we’re talking about one private school and one ruling that could be appealed for years, all the way up to the Supreme Court.  But yesterday’s ruling was a helluva start for college athletes and the lawyers and attorneys hoping to represent them.

So what does this mean for your SEC in the short-term?  Commissioner Mike Slive put out a statement yesterday saying, “Notwithstanding today’s decision, the SEC does not believe that full time students participating in intercollegiate athletics are employees of the universities they attend.”  No surprise there.  Representatives of the NCAA and other major conferences have all responded in kind.  Yesterday’s ruling was not a welcomed one as it’s literally the opening of Pandora’s box.

As a private institution, Vanderbilt will likely be the first SEC school to face a union challenge, a la Northwestern.  Will Commodore football players vote to follow in their Northwestern counterparts’ footsteps?  Hard to imagine why they wouldn’t.

Elsewhere, state labor laws will apply.  State schools are not covered by the NLRB.  Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas are all right-to-work states.  A college football players union would be a no-go in those states.  That does not mean, however, that some attorney won’t be able to coax some players into striking (or threatening to strike) if they see that athletes in other states are making money while they are not.

The power is with the players on this one.  If they don’t play, schools lose money.  Would a university stand it’s ground and lose revenue or would it rush to reach some sort of agreement with its football players?  We’d bet the latter.  (The major conferences have already been pushing the NCAA for the right to provide full-cost-of-tuition scholarships in the hopes of fending off such a battle.  It’s likely they’ll be granted that power by the end of the year.)

There were two states from the SEC footprint that were not mentioned in the list above; Kentucky and Missouri are not right-to-work states.  They could be the first SEC schools — aside from private Vanderbilt — face a union or union-like challenge.

But this is actually a moot point.  If one SEC school provides X for its football players — due to a court ruling, a union, or just an internal decision — the rest of the league’s schools will have to follow suit.  No SEC school will want to be a non-paying school recruiting against one or more paying schools.  So if the Northwestern decision holds up in the long run, you can expect every school — right-to-work states or not, unions or not — to match what the Northwestern administration is eventually forced to pay.

Again, this could all play out over years.  It will be appealed repeatedly.  But the die has been cast.  And the end is nigh for college sports as we know them.

UPDATE — Former Missouri receiver TJ Moe seems to view the prospect of college football unions much as we do.

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Wonder Why SEC Basketball Ain’t All That? Blame Football

gfx-honest-opinionThe Southeastern Conference used to be solid basketball league.  From 1997 through 2008 the league consistently earned a large number of NCAA Tournament bids.  Each year of that streak the conference received either five or six bids.  Only the ACC and Big East did better on a regular basis.

But something changed in the late-2000s.  Suddenly the league started dropping in the conference RPI ratings.  This past season computer formulas ranked the SEC as just the seventh-best league in America.  NCAA Tournament bids began to drop as well — three in 2009, four in 2010, five in 2011, four in 2012, three in 2013 and again this year.

Those who don’t want to admit a problem need look only as far as the league office where Mark Whitworth was placed in the freshly created role of associate commissioner for basketball last July.  (That move came just two weeks after we suggested the SEC hire a “hoops czar,” by the way.)  Athletic directors and presidents across the conference recognized that they needed a person to aid in basketball scheduling and marketing.  At the time, Mike Slive said Whitworth would “effectively manage our efforts to promote and enhance SEC basketball.”

So what was it that happened in the late-2000s that led to a downturn in SEC hoops and the need for a new basketball “fixer?”

We believe five things are at play.  And all five can in some way be tied back to the sport that SEC schools do best — football.

The SEC has always been a dominant football conference.  But not until an unprecedented run of national championships in the mid- to late-2000s did the crown of “King Football” go unchallenged to the SEC each year.  Florida won the BCS title game in January of 2007.  LSU followed in 2008, then it was Florida again in January 2009.  Three titles in a row.  An enormous wave of media attention on SEC football.

At the very same time that the SEC was kicking off its seven-year run of championships, there was an explosion in television coverage for the sport.  Which conference cut the best deals in terms of exposure?  Take a guess.  Mike Slive’s twin contracts with CBS and ESPN ensured that darn near every SEC football game would be seen by a national audience.  The Big Ten was making money with its own network, but the Southeastern Conference was passing right by Jim Delany’s league in terms of national exposure.  And when did those new contracts pushing SEC football into every American living room kick in to place?  In 2009.

That’s the background.  Since those two things (championship run, increased television exposure) took place, five other changes have come to pass as a result…

 

1.  Salaries for SEC football coaches have boomed.  Alabama’s 2007 hire of Nick Saban for eight years and $32 million raised the bar inside the league and across the nation.  Other SEC schools have since followed suit — Florida, LSU, etc.  Seven years after Saban’s hire there isn’t a single football coach in the SEC making less than $2.2 million per season.  Eleven of the 14 coaches in the league make $2.9 million or more.  South Carolina — long a doormat in the college football world — now boasts a national championship-winning coach who makes $3.5 million per season.  No league pays more money for football coaches than the SEC.  In contrast, the SEC most certainly does not lead the nation when it comes to basketball salaries.  The by-product, of course, is that SEC football jobs are “destination” jobs.  The same can’t be said for basketball.  How many top name basketball coaches have been hired into the SEC as proven stars?  John Calipari.  Mike Anderson.  Anthony Grant if you consider “hot” up-and-comers.  Now turn it around.  How many SEC football coaches are coveted by other leagues?  Saban, Miles, Mark Richt, Steve Spurrier, Kevin Sumlin, etc, etc.  How many hoops coaches are coveted?  Calipari, Billy Donovan, and who?  The bottom line is this: The SEC has a better group of expensive, proven football coaches than it does expensive, proven basketball coaches.  Better coaches make for a better product.

2.  SEC schools spend more money on football facilities.  Texas A&M is increasing the size of Kyle Field to make it the largest venue in the conference.  Tennessee recently opened a new $45 million football training facility that is state of the art.  Alabama has expanded Bryant-Denny Stadium and boasts a world-class football facility of its own.  Name any other SEC school and you’re likely to find that either its stadium is being upgraded or a new training facility is being built — Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, and so on.  Now compare those football digs to the league’s basketball venues.  Auburn just opened a new arena… that seats all of 9,000 fans.  Ole Miss is finally replacing decrepit Tad Smith Coliseum with a new arena… that will seat 9,500 fans.  There are exceptions to the rule, of course.  Tennessee built its own basketball practice facility and upgraded Thompson-Boling Arena in recent years.  Kentucky has been making plans to renovate Rupp Arena.  Arkansas has made improvements to Bud-Walton Arena.  Mizzou Arena went up in 2004, but that was before the Tigers joined the SEC.  Outside of that handful of schools — schools that traditionally have supported hoops better than any others in the SEC — where do basketball venues outshine football venues in the SEC?  Not at LSU.  Or Florida.  Or Alabama.  Or Auburn, Georgia, and so on.  Better facilities equal better recruiting.

3.  The SEC has a reputation for being a football conference.  Put yourself in the size 18 Nikes of a top basketball prospect.  You can sign to play ball for one of America’s highest-paid coaches in a conference that puts basketball first and earns seven or eight NCAA tournament bids per season or you can sign with an SEC team and probably play for an up-and-coming coach in a so-so arena in front of a fanbase that’s more interested in football recruiting than basketball results.  Perhaps that’s an exaggeration.  Perhaps.  But at most SEC schools we do believe it’s a reality that there are as many eyes on spring football as there are on college hoops.  This issue also feeds itself, unfortunately.  The more people refer to the SEC as a “football conference” the more people believe it to be a football conference.  And don’t think recruits aren’t told that when they’re considering SEC scholarship offers.  ”You don’t want to go there, that’s a football school.”

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Coaches Can’t Cut Their Teeth At Auburn Anymore

gfx-they-said-it4Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs is riding high these days.  He hired Gene Chizik who in turn brought in Cam Newton who in turn led Auburn to a BCS championship.  After firing Chizik he hired his former offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn, who immediately led AU back to the BCS title game last season.  And after firing Tony Barbee two weeks ago, he immediately coughed up a hefty sum for new basketball coach Bruce Pearl.

From a fan’s point of view that’s exactly what an athletic director should do — bring in coaches who win and be willing to pay for them.

This week, Jacobs made it clear he’s done trying to find bargains:

 

“The university is committed to winning and the administrators have given me the latitude to go out and do what we need to from a financial resource.  This is no longer a place you come in and cut your teeth.  You come in with proven track records, particularly in our major sports, and proven success…

People know we’re committed to winning championships because of what’s happened to football the last few years and these guys sit and talk to me about, ‘Are you as committed to do this in basketball as you are in football?’  Absolutely, yeah, and I’ve demonstrated it.  And we’re going to continue to demonstrate it because we’re going to win championships.  That’s what I’m committed to.”

 

Sounds good, but there are two things to keep in mind.  First, Jacobs has just backed himself into a corner if he has to hire another football or basketball coach down the road.  There will be no up-and-comers, only guys with “proven track records” and “proven success.”

Second, there’s another AD in the SEC who’s made splashy hires that were initially met with thunderous applause from his school’s fanbase — Jeff Long of Arkansas.  But Bobby Petrino blew himself up and took the UA football program with him.  Bret Bielema has gone from a “wow” hire to an “ow” hire in just over a year.  And his big-money swoop for Missouri’s Mike Anderson has resulted in one NIT berth in three years.

The lesson?  Just because you hire someone with a proven track record, it doesn’t guarantee success.  But for Jacobs, fresh off an SEC title in football and the splashy hire of a new hoops coach, it’s easy to understand his big smile and big talk.

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SEC Commitment Comparator – 3/25/14

blue_poker_chipsIt’s roughly 10 months until National Signing Day; do you know how your favorite football program stacks up?

Below is our much too early commitment comparator for the class of 2015.  Only, it really isn’t much too early.  As the recruiting process speeds up and prospects commit earlier and earlier, those schools that get out to an early jump on the competition typically gain momentum throughout the process.  Using social media, committed players often work as recruiting agents for their schools of choice, luring in friends and contacts from camps and all-star teams.

As always, we’ve used the star ratings provided by Rivals.com to put together our own quickie update.  For now, we’ll look only at quantity (total points) and quality (average points per commit).  For each star Rivals has assigned, we’ve awarded a point.  Where Rivals hasn’t provided a star grade (because they haven’t viewed tape of a prospect yet), we have awarded a lone point anyway because we’re softies.

So where does your team rank in comparison with its SEC foes?  Here’s your answer…

 

  School   Commits   5-stars   4-stars   3-stars   2-stars   1- & 0-stars   Total Points   Avg. Pts/Commit
  Texas A&M   9   0   8   1   0   0   35   3.88
  Alabama   8   0   7   1   0   0   31   3.88
  LSU   9   2   1   5   1   0   31   3.44
  Tennessee   9   0   4   4   1   0   30   3.33
  Miss. State   9   0   2   5   0   2   25   2.77
  S. Carolina   7   1   3   2   0   1   24   3.42
  Arkansas   7   0   4   2   0   1   23   3.28
  Georgia   5   0   4   0   0   1   17   3.40
  Ole Miss   4   0   1   3   0   0   13   3.25
  Auburn   5   0   1   2   0   2   12   2.40
  Florida   5   0   0   3   0   2   11   2.20
  Kentucky   2   0   0   2   0   0   6   3.00
  Vanderbilt   2   0   1   0   0   1   5   2.50
  Missouri   2   0   0   1   0   1   4   2.00

 

As a reminder, Alabama and Tennessee finished among the top four in the SEC in total points last signing day.  Alabama, LSU, Tennessee and Texas A&M also finished among the top five in the league in average points per commit.  The takeaway?  The top schools in the 2013/14 recruiting field are off to hot starts for 2014/15 as well.

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