Divisions gone from SEC basketball
Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury, pictured far left along with assistant coach Marcus Grant, was the lone Southeastern Conference coach to vote against ending divisional play in men's basketball Wednesday. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
By MATTHEW STEVENS
For the first time in 20 years, the Southeastern Conference will not be split by divisions in men's college basketball next season.
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The league's athletics directors approved a recommendation Wednesday at the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla., eliminating the East and West divisions in that sport starting with the 2011-12 season.
The Starkville Daily News learned the recommendation voting results of the leagues head coaches was 11-1 to end divisions in SEC men's basketball that began with the 1991-92 season and dissenting opinion was Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury.
"Ain't no question who the one was," Stansbury said. "I'm totally against it. I just got outvoted by everybody."
Mississippi State athletics director Scott Stricklin said in a phone interview Wednesday this type of procedure does not need the approval from the majority of the league's school presidents.
Stricklin would not divulge the actual results of the athletic directors vote but said the new format was approved by a large majority.
"I'm disappointed because divisions have been good to Mississippi State in the past," Stricklin said. "Our position was simply to not make a knee-jerk reaction to a one or two year trend in the league."
The last time the SEC didn't have two divisions in men's basketball was 1990-91 season when Stansbury was a first-year assistant coach at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs actually tied with LSU for the league regular season championship that year as Kentucky was prohibited from winning the conference due to probationary sanctions.
Stansbury, who will be entering his 14th season as the men's basketball head coach, has won at least a share of the Western Division championship five times since 2005 voiced severe displeasure Wednesday with getting outvoted by every one of his coaching rivals on this issue.
"I heard all kinds of reasons but you'd have to ask them why they voted the way they did," Stansbury said. "My concern is with the fans and what happened today is the excitement of competing for a championship in February is gone. That's not good for our fans."
Kentucky head coach John Calipari, who chaired Wednesday's meeting, told ESPN.com that the coaches were hoping the re-alignment would help get "eight teams in the discussion for NCAA bids.''
Judging by the discussion before and after the coaches' vote Wednesday, the Bulldogs head coach can't understand Calipari's reasoning.
"How does not having divisions help get more teams in that NCAA Tournament?" Stansbury asked. "I can't figure out how that makes any sense."
Since 1985, when NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams, the SEC has never had more than six bids. That includes 85-91 when divisions didn't exist.
This past season five of the six teams in the East (Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Georgia) all received NCAA Tournament selections while none of the West teams received a bid.
The SEC slate will be a 16-game schedule next season under the old scheduling format for one season with the West teams playing a home-and-home against each other while splitting the other six home and road games versus the East opponents.
Stricklin told the Starkville Daily News that discussion will continue on how the SEC schedule will look in future years with the potential for 18 or even a 22-game league schedule as early ideas as of right now.
"We're still looking at options for that and we will come back to decide that later," Stricklin said.
The SEC Men's Basketball Tournament will now be reseeded 1-12 with the top four teams receiving byes into the second day of competition. Under the old format, the top two teams from the two divisions received the byes leaving some three-seeded teams in the East with the task of winning four games in four days despite having a better record than the West champion.
"The thing is I'm for a 18-game schedule and I'm for reseeding the SEC Tournament 1 through 12," Stansbury said. "But you can do that with divisions."