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The SEC Drops the Ball in Scheduling Next Year’s SEC-Big 12 Challenge

If you’ve followed my work here at KSR or other places over the last year, you know that there might not be a bigger SEC basketball honk than I am. Now to be clear, I never intended it to be this way. But it all started at this time last year, when I made a seemingly harmless comment about how I thought the SEC would be vastly improved in basketball in 2018, and how I believed that half the league (at least seven teams) would make the 2018 NCAA Tournament. It was an opinion that was largely laughed out of the room by virtually every prominent national media member (seriously, you can read their responses here).

Of course, like most things related to college basketball I was once again right. The SEC had what was unquestionably the best basketball season in recent conference history, with a record eight teams making the NCAA Tournament and six winning at least one NCAA Tournament game. Add in the fact that even the “bad” teams picked up marquee out of conference wins (LSU beat eventual Final Four club Michigan, last-place Vanderbilt beat tourney team TCU) and it’s clear that basketball in this conference has never been as healthy as it was last year. And the good news is, it shouldn’t slow down heading into next season either. While some teams will fall, the league as a whole will be strong at the top. Virtually every preseason poll has at least five SEC teams (Kentucky, Tennessee, Auburn, LSU and Mississippi State) somewhere in their Top 25. Things might not quite hit their 2018 levels a season from now. But it will be pretty darn close.

Unfortunately despite a run where virtually every program in the conference has upgraded across the board (coaches, assistant salaries, facilities upgrades) the sad truth is that to most, the SEC (outside Kentucky) is still the league where football, spring football and other sports reign supreme. Basketball is a sport that is seen by outsiders as a simple diversion in the SEC, and a step below the “real” basketball leagues like the ACC and the Big 12. The reality is that couldn’t be further from the truth. But no, it doesn’t change what the perception is.

That’s also why the SEC needs to do everything in its power to change the narrative on SEC basketball – and why Thursday was an insanely disappointing day for the league as a whole. It was on Thursday that the league announced the matchups for the annual SEC-Big 12 Challenge. And while the headline is another matchup of Kansas vs. Kentucky (excuse me as I wipe away the drool from my mouth) I couldn’t help but notice another, possibly more significant storyline. For the second straight year, some of the league’s best teams won’t participate in this event. After two NCAA Tournament teams were held out last year (Missouri and Auburn), those two schools plus LSU and Mississippi State won’t part of next year’s event either. It also means that three potential preseason Top 25 teams and three potential NCAA Tournament teams could be missing what is one of the league’s marquee basketball events.

To which I say: Shame on the SEC and its league office for such a poor, short-sighted decision.

Now to be clear, there is a reasonable explanation for why those four teams (including three which will probably make the 2019 NCAA Tournament) won’t play in the event. The Big 12 only has 10 teams, which means that there will always be four SEC teams held out of the event. The SEC previously decided to hold on the same four teams two years in a row, to ensure that every team in the league gets at least one home game, to go along with one away game for the event. The league also told the Kansas City Star on Thursday that it would also be unfair to all 14 league schools to wait until late May (when the matchups are announced) to notify schools who would be playing in the event. It could alter the whole scheduling process, since schools wouldn’t know whether they’d have a high-profile game against another Power 5 school or not until very late in the process.

To be clear, those are perfectly explainable reasons. They also aren’t a good enough reason to keep your best teams out of the event.

First off, don’t tell me that you’d have to wait until May to let the schools know whether they’d be in the event or not. By the beginning of April (when a lot of scheduling conversations happen in earnest across college basketball) most programs have a pretty good idea of what their roster will look like, and it’s pretty clear which teams will be good the following season and which ones won’t. It’s really not that hard. And if the SEC does find it that hard, well here’s a compromise: Call me. No one knows this league better. And (for a small consulting fee) I’m more than glad to advise you which teams to put in this event and which to hold out.

As for the fear that some teams will get screwed out of a home game, well, I hate to tell you SEC, but the reality is that scheduling is lopsided and flat-out unfair from time-to-time. It is in the regular season, conference tournaments and even in the NCAA Tournament. It’s unfair for high-majors and it’s certainly unfair for low majors. Not to mention that not putting your 10 best teams in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge it’s also unfair to YOUR teams as well. Seriously, you think Ole Miss (on paper the worst team in the league next year) cares they’re getting a home game if they know they’re going to get run out of the gym? Or you think they’d rather not be in this event at all? On the opposite side, you think LSU – which could be really good – wouldn’t gladly trade a road game, to play in an event that will give them national exposure? We both know the answer there.

And that last part also kind of underscores an important point here. If the SEC-Big 12 Challenge really is a showcase event for the league (which it is) isn’t it kind of counter-intuitive to not put in the teams that best showcase your conference? Honestly, what is the point of even participating in the event if you’re not going to put your best foot forward?

Which brings me to the most important point: While it might sound a little bit dramatic, not putting your best teams could have long-term implications for the league as a whole. Again, the SEC is a league still battling for respect in basketball. What happens to that respect, if say the league goes 3-7 in next year’s event, with three of its best teams sitting at home? Think that might hurt the league’s perception? And don’t you think it could hurt it in the big-picture as well as we get closer to Selection Sunday? It sounds crazy, but I don’t think it’s preposterous. If the league is “perceived” to be down, I could imagine that impact seeding, and – in an extreme case – even impact whether a team gets in or not.

Add it all up and that’s why Thursday was ultimately a bad day for the SEC league offices.

They had a chance to continue to showcase the SEC basketball brand and how far it has come.

Instead they did the opposite.

It led to frustrated fan-bases today. And could lead to even bigger problems come March.

Article written by Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres is covering football and basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook or e-mail at [email protected] He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”

26 Comments for The SEC Drops the Ball in Scheduling Next Year’s SEC-Big 12 Challenge

  1. jr_hopkins
    3:36 pm May 24, 2018 Permalink

    love your work aaron! would be nice to maybe address the post title in the first paragraph or two for KSR readers in a hurry (or lazy readers)

  2. mashburnfan1
    3:52 pm May 24, 2018 Permalink

    SEC basketball was not good last year. Yes 8 teams got in but we had no team that had any chance at a title. We had a bunckh of average teams, so I guess if you consider average good basketball then the SEC was good. Facts are the SEC, in mens basketball, is just not that good. The 8 teams in I think 6 were gone 1st weekend. We only made it to week 2 by a gift. Also like 5 were blown out, was not a good tourney for the SEC. Don’t see much changing this year.

    • Eazy
      4:05 pm May 24, 2018 Permalink

      What about the year before when the SEC had 3 teams in the elite 8?! Was that not good? Oh, and the SEC has won 6 national titles in the last 25 years. The big 12 has 1 in that time frame. SEC is much better than the Big 12 if you go by titles and final 4s which is what you are saying!

    • Eazy
      4:08 pm May 24, 2018 Permalink

      The Big 12 is average every year and people act like they are great! This year the SEC will be more top heavy but we have a legitimate shot at a title. Another fact people look over is the SEC has the most top 100 recruits coming in and the most current NBA players. That’s a big deal. The SEC is vastly superior to the Big 10, PAC 12 and Big 12 in terms of talent every year.

    • Eazy
      4:11 pm May 24, 2018 Permalink

      One more thing…UK has a great chance to make a deep run this year. Better than any Big 12 team for sure.

    • Eazy
      4:22 pm May 24, 2018 Permalink

      I’m just so tired of people talking about the SEC being bad when in fact the SEC has won more titles than the Big 12, PAC 12, and Big 10 combined since the 90s. The pac 12 hasn’t even won since 97 and the big 10 since 2000. Talk about a joke. The SEC has the second most titles of any league since the 90s and is currently improving.

    • Eazy
      4:39 pm May 24, 2018 Permalink

      So one year in the last 9 where the SEC doesn’t out perform the Big 12 in March and it’s not good? You are right it wasn’t great last year but it was deeper. I think UK and Tennessee will both have a shot this year. And the talent level is second to none. Although it’s young. MSU and LSU will be good. Vanderbilt should be good too. All have great classes coming in. MSU and LSU also return a lot.

    • mashburnfan1
      4:32 pm May 24, 2018 Permalink

      Article was about last year, not last 25 years, and that is what my comment was about. NO team was even close to being a title team in the SEC and it showed in the tourney. Also of the 8 in the tourney I believe 5 or 6 lost to lower seeds. We had a bunch of average teams is all I said, it is a fact. I see the same this year as A&M will prolly be worse, Auburn may be better with experience and some new pieces. We don’t know what we have yet, will the FR be as good as advertised like Wall, AD etc, or will they be overrated like last years group.

    • ukmcky
      6:11 pm May 24, 2018 Permalink

      Lol Mashburn fan you are a piece of work. If your comment wasn’t about last year, why the hell are you talking? And no one expected any of last years freshmen to be Wall or Davis nor does anyone expect that this year and to say last years team was overrated just proves how stupid you are. They were a sweet 16 team that made it to the sweet 16, never expected to be better than that even before the season and if you did, then you don’t know basketball and that’s your fault. We had hopes of potentially making a better run because of the parity in college basketball. And what you’re saying about the SEC is exactly what has made the ACC and Big 12 overrated but no one has ever brought that to light.

    • ukmcky
      6:20 pm May 24, 2018 Permalink

      Also your comment wasn’t about last year yet you’re talking about last year, so which one is it?

  3. TateD
    3:52 pm May 24, 2018 Permalink

    Auburn not being included is ridiculous

    • Rembrandt
      5:11 pm May 24, 2018 Permalink

      But, really, who cares? By the time the game is actually played, Bruce Pearl might be wearing an orange jump suit, and Auburn might not have a player taller than 6’5”.

  4. J-Dub421
    3:53 pm May 24, 2018 Permalink

    Good article Aaron.

  5. Eazy
    4:11 pm May 24, 2018 Permalink

    SEC has 11 National Titles and the big 12 has 5. The big 12 is mediocre. SEC is more talented every year. UK and Tennessee should win the headline games.

  6. Rowinguy1
    4:12 pm May 24, 2018 Permalink

    Aaron, which of the teams that ARE playing would you like to see “relegated” out? Interestingly, the SEC won the challenge last year for, IIRC, the first time without fielding its strongest lineup.

    • Eazy
      4:28 pm May 24, 2018 Permalink

      SEC out performs the Big 12 almost every year in the tournament, too. 6 National Titles to 1 in the SECs favor since 1990. Not even close. UK is also 5-1 vs Big 12 competition in March under Calipari with the key game being the 2012 title obviously.

    • JTHinton
      4:30 pm May 24, 2018 Permalink

      Do you count WVU 2010 as Big 12, because if so, then we have two losses(hate to be THAT guy…)

    • Eazy
      4:32 pm May 24, 2018 Permalink

      Haha, nope. They were Big East then. We got our revenge against them with 3 straight wins, though.

    • Eazy
      4:41 pm May 24, 2018 Permalink

      I just get sick of hearing about the big 12 when they only have 1 National Title since 1988. That’s pathetic for a so called basketball conference.

    • mashburnfan1
      4:39 pm May 24, 2018 Permalink

      I was at the game in Cleveland when we were going for undefeated season. Huggy just sat on his chair in coaches box with a shocked look on his face. Had to be the worst loss of his career. Two nights later Notre Dame took us to the buzzer in the 2nd most exciting UK game I have ever been to. First most exciting game was the comeback game vs dUKe in St Pete in the tourney.

    • Eazy
      4:42 pm May 24, 2018 Permalink

      That game against WV was awesome, Mash! And the Duke game was my favorite all time.

  7. chrisg18
    4:35 pm May 24, 2018 Permalink

    The SEC shouldn’t promise any of the schools anything. This event should be on a year by year basis. It is a reward for programs who improve, and incentive to do something about your program if it declines. Giving all of the schools who participate guaranteed 2 years worth of this event is like handing out participation trophies.

    • drew_123
      5:44 pm May 24, 2018 Permalink

      Completely agree. Scheduling isn’t fair. If your team isn’t good enough to play in this event that’s too damn bad. Maybe try harder to get the roster better next year.

  8. The Original WTF Guy
    1:50 pm May 25, 2018 Permalink

    Auburn sucks. If the SEC is down to them being a team of note it’s time to fold the conference