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UM’s Kennedy Keeps His Lips Zipped Regarding SEC Schedule

The Ole Miss basketball team hosts Florida tonight in the first of three Thursday-Saturday turnarounds in the next month.  But if you want Andy Kennedy to get onboard the Complain Train, you’re out of luck:

“I don’t put a lot of thoguht in that because I don’t really have anything to do with.  We all realize that we’re in a big business.  SEC men’s basketball is a high-dollar business.  And the reason that it is on a lot of fronts, is because of television revenue.

So television affords you the opportunity to get in those windows and those windows are Thursday and Saturday.  If they choose you to fit those windows, then we’ll do the best we can to do just that.”

Kudos to Kennedy.  Unlike other coaches who’ve chosen to gripe about the league’s schedule right in the middle of the season — when nothing can be done about it — the Rebels’ coach is biting his tongue.

You can be sure that Kennedy isn’t pleased that his team got the worst of the Thursday-Saturday turnarounds.  And if he’s still around for this year’s SEC Meetings in Destin, we hope he voices any complaints he might have before the next batch of schedules is put together.

But for now, Mississippi’s coach is refusing to create negative press for the league office and he’s not teaching his players that it’s not okay to make excuses.  Good for him.

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More Complaints About SEC Hoops Scheduling, But Nothing Can Be Done Now

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.”

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UF’s Donovan Not Happy About Thursday-Saturday Turnarounds

Kevin Stallings, you’ve got company.  Yesterday, Florida’s Billy Donovan voiced his concerns about the quick Thursday-Sunday turnarounds that some league teams are having to deal with this season.  Rather than suggest that his team is at a disadvantage, Donovan used another team as an example of the difficulties of the turnarounds (possibly because he’s 9-1 in such back-to-backs). 

Donovan specifically mentioned Alabama — a team that hosted Vanderbilt at 7pm last Thursday before facing Kentucky at noon on Saturday. 

“If you’re trying to get more teams into the NCAA tournament, don’t put the teams inside your league into a competitive disadvantage.  That’s my only problem with it, where teams are at a competitive disadvantage…

There’s got to be some level of balance there.  The league needs to look at those situations where maybe there’s a clear, distinct advantage.  I think an advantage sometimes is if a team’s playing a late-night game on Thursday night, there should be some rule put in that you’re not going to play Saturday until after 4 or 5 o’clock.  I’m using Alabama because it just happened.”

We’ve got no problem with Donovan’s suggestion that the league try to implement rules regarding start times.  We’d suggest going to a pure 48-hour rule.  If a team plays at 7pm Thursday, it couldn’t tip before 7pm Saturday.

Unfortunately — and we’ve said this before — that’s not what television executives want.  And while TV execs may be paying for Alabama, Florida, LSU, Georgia, Tennessee, Auburn, Arkansas during football season… they’re paying for Kentucky’s brand name during hoops season.  Like it, don’t like it, that’s a fact.  Kentucky versus anyone is likely a better ratings draw national than any other SEC school versus any other SEC school. 

Donovan knows this.  “Kentucky’s program is extremely valuable and important to our league and their success is important to our league.  There’s no question about that.  And I’m sure ESPN wants (them), but ESPN also has a Thursday night game, too.”

Sadly, what coaches and fans seldom realize is just how difficult in-conference scheduling can be.  Until every team plays every other team at home and on the road, you’re always going to have complaints.  And even then some would bark about who’s facing who early in the season, late in the season, in back-to-back games, etc.

SEC spokesperson Craig Pinkerton told The Gainesville Sun that the league has certain parameters it must live within regarding Thursday-Saturday turnarounds.  But, “While we make our best efforts to balance out the Thursday-Saturday tandems amongst all of the team, we can’t always make it perfectly balanced.”

Of the major BCS leagues, only the Big East requires its teams to face fewer two-day turnarounds than the Southeastern Conference.

(For some reason I’d initially headlined this piece “Thursday-Sunday Turnarounds.  Obviously, it’s Saturday as is written throughout the piece.)

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The SEC Responds To Stallings’ Schedule Complaint

Earlier this week, Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings made it clear that he’s not happy that East Division rival Kentucky won’t have to play a Thursday-Sunday turnaround for the second-straight year.  (Like the one Vandy faces against Alabama and MSU tonight and Saturday.)

Yesterday, we gave you our take — that ESPN and CBS will always beg to get Kentucky (especially when at home at Rupp) lined up with their best timeslots.  UK is the SEC’s flagship program and best TV draw.  If that means more Tuesday games and less Thursday games for the Cats then ESPN is likely A-OK with it… even if it means someone else will move into those Thursday slots.

Jeff Lockridge of The Tennessean took Stallings’ complaint to the SEC office and got this reply from Craig Pinkerton, the league’s director of media relations:

“The SEC’s athletics directors have established a set of parameters to follow when building the men’s basketball schedule.  These parameters are in place to ensure that the schedule is as equitable as possible and enables the SEC to fulfill its contractual obligations with television.  We make our best effort to balance out the Thursday-Saturday tandem among all of the teams.  Last year we began moving some Thursday games to Tuesday to alleviate some of the issues with the quick turnaround.  Now we are playing two games Tuesday night with an ESPNU game that leads inot the ESPN Super Tuesday matchup.

We try to get every team at least one game and no more than four games on Thursday night.  The key issues is avoiding teams playing on the road for both parts of a Thursday-Saturday tandem.”

The bottom line?  Scheduling isn’t as easy as some think.  Especially with television thrown into the mix.  If Vandy was happy about its schedule, another school would be upset with its slate.  There’s no way to please everyone.  (Especially fans who will always view their schedule as the toughest and some other school’s as the easiest.)

Finally, we believe Stallings would have made a better point if he’d pointed out that Auburn, LSU and Kentucky all avoided the Thursday-Saturday turnaround.  Instead, he just mentioned UK.

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