Realigning SEC Basketball

In 2010, the top four teams in the SEC East (Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Florida) finished 24-0 against the SEC West. The gap is so wide that no SEC West teams are favored to advance to the Conference Semifinals or reach the NCAA Tournament. The performance of the West this season and in much of this decade has led to calls of ending the SEC's divisions for basketball. Realignment, however, is a flawed solution to a short term problem. 

In February, Clay Travis did a very good job of breaking down the reasons for why the West is so inferior to the East. However, in calling for ending divisional play in basketball or more equal divisions, he avoids addressing of how the schedule would work. The SEC could play a round robin of 15 games, but that would make the SEC the only Big Six conference with less than 16 conference games. Plus, that would create an uneven home-road schedule for some teams. You could do a round robin, plus some home-and-home series like the Big East or Big Ten. But if you're blowing up the divisions to increase competition, only home-and-homes among similarly skilled teams make sense. Who would then determine who has skill and who doesn't? Would it change year to year and cause the SEC schedule to be built by the votes of administrators?

Divisional play is a good thing because it puts a premium on defeating your rivals. While success and failure is cyclical, Florida will always hate Georgia, Alabama will always hate Auburn, and everyone will always hate Tennessee. Making the SEC into North-South or a single table with unbalanced scheduling only breaks up the best teams. But they will still be the best teams. Major League Baseball always runs into this problem and has considered realignment for about the hundredth time in my lifetime. Moving the Tampa Bay Rays out of the AL East may give them an easier road to the pennant, but they would still have to play the Yankees or Red Sox in the playoffs. 

Travis is right in that the Conference Tournament should be seeded 1-12. After awarding the top two seeds to division winners, it makes much more sense to seed everyone by record. Only in the SEC could Tennessee, a team that defeated two No. 1 ranked teams, be given the same seed as Arkansas, who finished the season on a five game losing streak. Basing seeding on divisional finish also alters the NCAA selections. Let's say that UF defeats Auburn and Mississippi State to get to the SEC Semifinals. On the other side of the bracket, Ole Miss defeats Tennessee to move into the SEC Semifinals. We assume that UF needs two wins, but does Ole Miss need two wins too? They both finished in the semis, so are they the same level of team? Could Ole Miss' win over UT look better than UF's since it was at a neutral site, and push Ole Miss in as the fourth SEC bid? It is a lot of questions but it demonstrates how the seeding system is less than perfect.

I expect to hear this same realignment argument in ten years when Billy Donovan is retired, Kentucky is under sanctions, Bruce Pearl is dead of overheating, while Arkansas and LSU compete in Final Fours and Auburn uses their new arena and white limo to pull in top-10 classes. Keep the divisions as they are and eventually you will see a power shift.

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