A quick rundown on how things in the media cycle work:
* Coach says X.
* Media members ask local coaches about X.
* Some local coaches — not all, but some — discuss X.
* Media members now have a column topic for days on end… good ol’ Topic X.
That’s what’s happening now with complaints about the SEC’s basketball schedule. Kevin Stallings got the ball rolling, pointing out that Kentucky is not having to play a Thursday-Saturday turnaround for the second year in a row.
Billy Donovan then said that some teams like Alabama — coached by his old friend Anthony Grant — are at a disadvantage having to play on a Thursday night and then early on a Saturday. (Agreed.)
For his part, Grant simply said, “It is what it is.” But Mississippi State’s Rick Stansbury also says the league needs to make the schedule balanced for everyone. “You all research where Kentucky’s at,” he said. (Auburn and LSU also avoided Thursday-Saturday matchups this year, but no one seems to mention them.)
On the media front, columnist Kevin Scarbinsky of The Birmingham News — one of the SEC’s top scribes, by the way — went so far as to say that the current set up “is patently unfair.”
As for the fans, well, many fans are always up for a good conspiracy theory and if it’s possible in any way — right or wrong — to say that their team is getting screwed, they’ll say it.
So the SEC office is under fire. A better schedule, equal to all must be created!
A good goal, no doubt. But an impossible one to reach. There are 12 teams — soon to be 14 — having to play 16 games — soon to be 18 — over the course of nine weeks. That’s tricky enough. But ESPN is also paying the league $155 million a year to get top-flight games and top-flight games usually involve Kentucky.
So just as there are more Alabama, Florida and LSU football games at 3:30 on Saturdays (which leaves the Kentuckys, Mississippis and Vanderbilts to play at 11am in syndication, at 9pm on ESPNU, or on Thursdays), in basketball there will be more Tuesday and Saturday night games featuring UK.
I’m not saying it’s right. Don’t put words in my mouth. I’m just not a fan of whining over things that will never be viewed as being fair to all. In a nine-week schedule, for example, it would be awfully difficult to line up all 14 teams for Thursday-Saturday games. Someone will always complain.
A “fair” schedule is a myth. Fairer? Okay, go for it. Here’s hoping that the league can come up with a plan that makes all coaches happy (good luck) and ESPN happy as well.
But if that’s going to happen, it won’t occur during the current basketball season. Mike Slive isn’t going to start shuffling game dates on January 25th. To bark, bitch and moan now is to waste energy and to shine a bad light on the league itself.
A better option? Slive might want to contact the league’s presidents and have them encourage their coaches to pipe down on the “what about Kentucky?” talk until the SEC convenes its spring meetings in Destin. The coaches will be there. The ADs will be there. The commissioner and the schedule-makers will be there. Save the airing of grievances for Destin (or Festivus).
At that point, everyone’s voice can be heard and the media — folks like me — won’t be around to rant and rave that School X is getting jobbed… which only leads some fans to believe the whole league is somehow against their favorite school. (And trust me, dealing with all 12 schools, I know that fans of all 12 truly believe Slive and the SEC have it in for them and them alone.)
In 2009, Slive had to start tossing out fines to coaches who fired barbs at one another or at the conference’s officials. (That’s standard operating procedure in most conferences and pro leagues.) Perhaps it’s time he put forth the same kind of edict regarding schedule moans.
If the commissioner doesn’t do that, then we’re probably going to continue to hear this topic right on up through March. When there’s absolutely nothing that can be done about it before the SEC Meetings anyway.
Fix it, find a solution, please all. But until the league’s in a position to do so, its coaches should start adhering to the same words so many of them have for their players: “No excuses.”