SEC to be 12-team league; no divisions
The SEC will be one 12-team basketball league beginning in the 2011-12 season.
The conference's athletic directors approved a recommendation from SEC coaches Wednesday that they scrap the current, football-based two-division, six-team East-West split at the league's annual spring meetings in Destin, Fla.
"It's done,'' Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley told ESPN.com Wednesday night from Florida. "The presidents don't have to sign off on this. This is an AD decision. We will be one (12-team) league effective next year.''
Kentucky coach John Calipari, who chaired Wednesday's meeting, told ESPN.com that the coaches were hoping the divisional re-alignment would help get "eight teams in the discussion for NCAA bids.''
Foley said the athletic directors also passed the coaches' plan for the four teams with the best overall conference records to recieve byes in the SEC tournament. The current format rewarded the two top teams in each division with a first-round bye in the SEC tournament, even if the second-place team in the SEC West has a worse record than the third-place team in the SEC East.
Five of the six teams in the SEC East (Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Georgia) all received NCAA berths in March while none of the SEC West teams received a bid.
Foley said the league will play a 16-game schedule next season under the old scheduling format for one season with the West teams playing each other twice, the East teams playing each other twice and the East and West teams playing against each other one time (three home and three road).
Florida's Billy Donovan, Georgia's Mark Fox and Ole Miss' Andy Kennedy said there was a lot of discussion about 18-game schedules and Calipari said even a 22-game schedule.
Foley said a task force will be put together to consider the benefits of a 16 or 18-game schedule for 2013. That means after next season, Kentucky could play Alabama twice during the season instead of once or Florida could play Mississippi State two times rather than just once.
Calipari said prior to the coaches' meeting Wednesday that the East benefits from playing each other twice for power-rating points and strength of schedule while the West is at a disadvantage because it only plays the East once. In previous years the West has had strong teams like LSU and Arkansas to go along with Alabama and Mississippi State. But the shift has been even more apparent recently with the East more dominant and consistently ranked in the Top 25.
Kentucky, Florida and Vanderbilt are expected to appear in the preseason top 25, while Alabama is the only SEC West team that has a chance to be ranked preseason.
The SEC model next season will mirror the old Big 12 scheduling format that existed until this coming year. The Big 12 was one 12-team league, but the schools still used the football divisions for scheduling. The Big 12 lost Colorado (Pac-12) and Nebraska (Big Ten) and is now a 10-team league and will have an 18-game round-robin schedule for the upcoming season.
"Our goal is to have eight teams in the discussion for the NCAA tournament and we don't want to hurt the top teams from winning the national title,'' said Calipari in response to tweaking the format for the SEC tournament and protecting the top teams with byes.
Foley said SEC commissioner Mike Slive said going to one 12-team league will enhance the perception of the league. Slive, a former chair of the NCAA tournament's men's basketball committee, understands the image of the league probably more than most.
"The perception of the league has been that if one division was playing well, the other was getting criticized,'' Foley said. "That can't be pointed out anymore. We're hoping this will have traction for us going forward.''
Andy Katz is a senior college basketball writer for ESPN.com.