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SEC hoops ready to scrap divisional format

Photo by Heather Meadows

Photo by Heather Meadows

DESTIN, Fla. -- Men's basketball in the Southeastern Conference is about to be united.

The league is expected to eliminate divisions today, a move that would make seeding the postseason tournament more fair but also could create some scheduling issues.

The SEC's 12 basketball coaches proposed to athletic directors this week that the league scrap the divisional format and that the tournament be seeded 1 through 12. The top four teams would receive byes in the opening round.

Commissioner Mike Slive expects the proposal to pass when athletic directors and school presidents vote Friday, and the changes would be implemented for the 2011-12 season.

The 16-game conference schedule would remain intact for one year, then the league would expand its number of league games the following season.

''We want to do a thorough due diligence moving forward on what is in the best interest of the league,'' Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy said. ''Everything is on the table.''

The SEC is the only conference in the big six -- which includes the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big East, the Big Ten, the Big 12 and the Pac 10 -- that has divisions. They were set up in 1992 when the league expanded and created a lucrative title game in football.

But the only purpose they served in basketball was to seed the tournament.

''The one thing we're trying to get away from is that it's almost two different conferences,'' Florida coach Billy Donovan said. ''There is an East and a West. As coaches, we felt like we needed to represent the conference as one.''

This is the second consecutive year that the league's basketball coaches discussed doing away with divisions. They voted on it a year ago and were split down the middle -- six for, six against.

''We have to look very hard at going away from divisions,'' Georgia coach Mark Fox said. ''Two years in a row, the Western Division champion has been left out of the NCAA tournament. For the health of our league, I think we have to look at it.

''There is no championship playoff between the division winners like in football. What is that format doing to help us? I'm not saying we have to change it, but we have to evaluate what's the best thing for SEC basketball.''

If the league eliminates divisions, the conference schedule probably would expand from 16 to 18 games. But it remains to be seen how the unbalanced schedule would work.

Would each school be assigned rivals to play home-and-home series annually? How often would teams rotate on and off each other's schedule? And wouldn't everyone want Kentucky, by far the league's top attendance and television draw?

Slive expects to create a committee to figure out the details over the next few months.

''We've talked about this a couple of years,'' Donovan said. ''I don't know if anybody feels we've got it solved and here's the solution to this.''

One thing the coaches did agree on was that they don't want a 22-game conference schedule in which all the schools would play each other twice.

''The only way you're going to have a fair situation for everybody is if you went to 22 league games and everyone played each other twice, home and home,'' Donovan said. ''But I just don't see that happening. I don't see our league going to 22 games.''

Although the conference might create extra revenue by replacing two non-conference games with league games, the real goal of the move is to strengthen the overall league.

The SEC hasn't had more than five teams in the NCAA tournament since it landed six berths in 2008. Even then, that's shy of the eight teams Kentucky coach John Calipari would like to see in the mix for the NCAA field annually.

''We will do whatever we have to do that makes this league better,'' Calipari said. ''We just have to get eight teams in the discussion. And if all eight are in, we'll be jumping for joy.''