Thursday, February 25, 2010

Should the SEC have divisions?

Having two divisions in a major conference makes sense for college football.

There are only a limited number of league games to play, it ensures that the best in-conference rivalries are played every year, and it provides an easy way to determine two teams to play in a ratings-grabbing, dollar-producing conference championship game.

The sole reason you hear rumors about the Big Ten and the Pac-10 expanding their membership is so that both conferences can split into two divisions.

But the divisional setup doesn't work as well for basketball. That's why both the ACC and the Big XII operate as a single conference for hoops.

That leaves the SEC.

And it just so happens that the SEC this season is a perfect example of why the league needs to do away with their basketball divisions.

As of today, there are likely just four -- and possibly as many as six, depending on how the Mississippi schools finish up -- SEC teams headed to the dance. All four -- Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Florida -- play in the SEC East.

The top of the SEC West?

Mississippi State's in first (and would be tied for fourth in the East), followed by Arkansas and Ole Miss. Arkansas is not going to the NCAA Tournament unless they win the conference tourney. Ole Miss, who came back from 12 down to beat Auburn and snap a skid where they lost five of six games, will probably be NIT bound as well unless they can make an impressive run to end the season. Even Mississippi State, who moved to 8-5 in the SEC with a win over Alabama tonight, will need a strong finish to ensure a spot in the big dance. The Bulldogs have just one win over a team currently considered likely to make the tournament, and that's against a borderline bubble team in Old Dominion.

If the SEC were set up like any other BCS league, the top four teams in the SEC East would receive a bye in the SEC Tournament.

But it isn't.

The top two teams in each division get a bye, which means that whoever finishes third and fourth in the East will have to win four games in four days if they want to be the SEC champ. The first and second place teams in the West -- as of today, that would be Mississippi State and Arkansas -- would be the other two teams that receive byes.

Explain to me how that is fair? Please enlighten me as to why it makes sense to run the SEC like this?

I know that it makes scheduling the conference season easier, and I also know that such a noticeable difference in talent between the two divisions is a bit of a fluke.

But shouldn't the fact that a situation like this, where two clearly inferior teams get first round byes, is possible be enough to get the SEC to change things for hoops?