DESTIN, FLA. — Over-signing in football has dominated the conversation at the SEC Spring Meetings this year, but the real sweeping changes came in basketball.
Conference athletic directors on Wednesday accepted the men’s basketball coaches’ recommendation that divisional play be eliminated and SEC tournament be seeded 1 through 12 with the top four teams getting first-round byes.
The league’s 12 presidents, who will not arrive until Thursday, still need to vote on the recommendation on Friday before it’s official.
“If [the presidents] approve it, we want to go 1 through 12,” said Georgia coach Mark Fox, who voted for the change. “We have to come up with tiebreakers and everything else, but the seeing will be based on conference record. It wasn’t unanimous but I think everybody is confident that this was the best thing for the league.”
The fact that they eliminated divisions this year is somewhat of a surprise because SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said earlier this week wasn’t likely to happen this year. However, since the 2011-12 basketball schedules are already set, they will still play a divisional schedule this season. That is, the traditional Eastern teams will play home-and-away while playing the Western teams one time either home or away.
The bigger discussion among the SEC basketball coaches was over the number of conference games after this season. There are proposals to keep it at 16 games, play 18 or play a full double-round-robin, home-and-away schedule of 22 games. The general consensus seems to be 18 games.
“Should we play 18 games and if we did, how should we go about it and what would be the rotation,” Fox said. “There was a lot of discussion on that. We talked about all of them. We decided to recommend putting together a subcommittee to really study it, to see the impact of going to 18 games or more. In any case, it won’t happen this year. It’d have to be next season if we did it, but we have to get a lot of information before we did.”
So what model does Fox favor?
“I haven’t decided,” he said. “I think it all comes down to how are you going to utilize your schedule if you go 18 games. The real key for us is to raise non-conference RPIs. That’s probably what kept Alabama out of the tournament last year. How are we going to get more teams in the tournament? That’s what it comes down to.”
In the meantime, there was no clear consensus on what might happen with regard to over-signing and the “roster management” legislation that is being considered. A hard cap to 25 signees per year has been proposed as well as leaving it at the current number of 28. There is also are proposals that would close loopholes such as midyear enrollees that helped Arkansas and South Carolina to sign 30 and 32 players, respectively, this past February.
Georgia coach Mark Richt was very cryptic about what the discussions were like in the coaches’ meeting with ADs on Wednesday.
“I’m not making any comments as far as any vote or anything,” he said shortly before leaving to return to Athens. “I’ll just say that we have a very good discussion. We were very clear as to what we would like to see and what would give them some mechanisms to make sure that everything is done in a proper way. Now it’s just going to be a matter of how the ADs take that. Of course, the Commissioner is in there, too, so they’ll communicate to the presidents how they feel about it and we’ll see where it goes.”
Georgia AD Greg McGarity said there were still multiple proposals on the table and it’s hard to say which one will end up in the presidents’ conference room on Friday.
“There are so many different ideas and options out there, we don’t know what the presidents are going to take,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll have conversations with our presidents tomorrow on certain things. But you couldn’t levae that meeting and say this is the way the straw votes went. There was no real gauge where things are.”
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said the coaches voted 12-0 to keep the signing day limit at 28.
“The coaches are in favor of the 28,” he said. “The presidents I don’t think are, but that’s OK. I don’t know. They’ll make the final call.
Alabama coach Nick Saban clearly wants it to stay at 28. But he remarks as he left Wednesday’s afternoon session early indicate he believes change may be coming. He lashed angrily to media who followed him to the elevators.
“What’s the problem with 28?,” he asked rhetorically. “Y’all are creating a bad problem for everybody. You’re going to mess up the kids getting opportunities by doing what you’re doing. You think you’re going to help them but you’re really hurting them. There was one case where somebody didn’t get the right opportunity. But you need to take the other 100 cases where somebody got an opportunity because of it.”