Since the SEC expanded to twelve teams in 1991, it has utilized the two-division format, with Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt in the East and Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Arkansas and LSU in the West. Each team plays a home-and-home series with the other members of its division annually, and switches home games every other year with the six teams in the other division, making for a fairly clean sixteen-game conference schedule. According to SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, though, the league is considering doing away with the two divisions altogether (as it has already done in women’s basketball), or at a minimum, keeping the divisions intact but seeding the postseason SEC Tournament according to overall W/L records.
The driving force for this is the current perception that the SEC East is the varsity squad to the SEC West’s JV group. Last season, with Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt leading the way, the SEC East went 27-9 (.750) against the other division, and those same three teams represented three-quarters of the semifinal round in the SEC Tournament. In the past four seasons, thirteen of the eighteen SEC teams to make the NCAA Tournament came from the East, and all four SEC participants in the 2010 NCAA Tourney were from that division. So long as coaches such as John Calipari (or whoever is at Kentucky), Bruce Pearl and Billy Donovan are in the same division, it’s difficult to argue that this is a cyclical thing where the SEC West will eventually rise to equal or better standing that its eastern counterparts. The last true powerhouse program in the West was Nolan Richardson’s Arkansas teams of the early to mid-90s, with the other five programs since making short-term claims but none truly rising to seize the mantle. For what it’s worth, it should also be noted that the twelve-team ACC and Big 12 conferences have successfully utilized the no-division basketball/two-division football formats for some time now and it seems to work well enough for them.
Maybe we’re becoming overly cynical and paranoid in our old age, but we wonder if this talk belies something else going on with the conference realignment debate and is actually a pre-emptive maneuver by the SEC brass to prepare for expansion of some sort. Consider that if the SEC raids the ACC and/or Big 12, as described in options here, what defines a school as eastern or western may suddenly shift a couple hundred miles on the map. By removing the divisions in basketball and testing possibilities with respect to scheduling and so forth, the SEC would be in better organizational position to accept its new members if or when that ever comes to pass. If you’re Florida State fan or Texas fan hoping that the call comes from the SEC someday, this seemingly small initiative could actually signal much greater changes down the line.