DESTIN, Fla. -- There will be one basketball division in the Southeastern Conference along with some unhappy football coaches.
School presidents and chancellors voted Friday to eliminate divisions in men's basketball and to reduce the annual signing classes in football to 28 players. SEC football coaches voted unanimously to keep the number at 28.
It's sweeping reform in the conference with the last five national titles that the academic leaders hope will be eventually adopted across college football.
"I don't think that any conference in the country is looking at the whole picture in the way that we are," University of Florida President Bernie Machen said. "Obviously, this is not a quick fix. This is not a one-size-fits-all model here. But I think it gives us assurances that we're treating our student-athletes as close to the way we would treat our students in the other part of the university as we try to take care of them and bring them into our institution.
"So I'm very pleased that the league is where it is today, and I'm proud of the step we've taken really in a leadership role nationally to deal with this bigger concept of roster management."
All the league's football coaches opposed the proposal to cut scholarships from 28 to 25. The 28 total had been in effect for only two years -- through just one signing class.
"We had enough experience with it," Slive said. "When we began to look at roster management and talking about what we felt was fairest to the prospects, this makes the most sense. There was a lot of discussion, a lot of debate. In the final analysis, this is a unanimous approach to roster management."
The league, which will hand out an SEC-record $18.3 million in shared revenue to each of its 12 schools, also voted to eliminate divisions in men's basketball. The teams will now be seeded 1 through 12 in the postseason tournament, with the top four teams receiving first-round byes. The SEC will keep a 16-game league slate for 2011-12, but will increase the number of conference games the following season.
The SEC also extended the current rule permitting Mississippi State to have cowbells in its home stadium. But league commissioner Mike Slive said the SEC increased fines for using them at inappropriate times to $50,000. Mississippi State was fined $30,000 for violations last year, $5,000 for the first violation and $25,000 for the second.
"It was clear the fans violated our rule in at least the first two games, but there was very significant impact and improvement in the last two," Slive said. "So under our fine structure, we will fine them $30,000 for last year's violations."
Basketball divisions and cowbells were part of SEC talks during their annual meeting in Destin. But roster management dominated the week.
Slive said presidents and chancellors passed five proposals related to roster management. He said all five will be taken to the NCAA in hopes the rest of college football will follow the lead of the league that has won five consecutive national titles.
"We have an expectation that the NCAA should and will adopt the same proposal that's in the best interest of prospects," Slive said. "It is not only in their best interest here but in the best interest in the nation. We understand that the spotlight for the moment is here, but that doesn't change the fact that what's good for prospective student-athletes here is good for prospective-student athletes elsewhere."
The five proposals passed are:
• Reducing the scholarship ceiling from 28 to 25 prospects. Additionally, the league has done away with back-counting, meaning a junior college player who signs in December would count toward the number in the February signing class.
• Eliminating the graduate-student exemption to the rule the league has had in place for years whereby a student-athlete must have two years of eligibility remaining to transfer to an SEC school. The previous rule allowed former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli to attend Mississippi last season.
• An SEC school cannot sign a prospect to an SEC financial-aid agreement until that prospect is enrolled in school and a full-time student attending classes. "It's a way of dealing with early enrollees," Slive said. "It would not permit other institutions to talk to you. We want to know that our prospects are coming to our institutions."
• The conference will oversee the administration of medical hardship exemptions. The league will review each case and decide the outcome.
• Prospects attending summer school will count against the 25 scholarship total that year.