Bulldogs: Reluctant ‘bye’ to SEC’s byes

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

Rick Stansbury remains the lone dissenting voice on an issue that’s already decided. The school presidents voted during the annual SEC spring meetings earlier this month to abandon the division format that had been in place for men’s basketball since the 1991-92 season.
They also decided to seed the SEC Tournament 1-through-12 instead of handing out byes to the top two teams in each division.
All the coaches were on board, except Stansbury. He has not wavered in his objection.
“My biggest argument was this: It takes away from your fans in February, when there’s more teams involved and competing for championships,” Stansbury said during Monday’s coaches teleconference. “I think it’s great for the fans and great for student-athletes – gives them another chance to compete for a championship.”
Stansbury has led MSU to an outright or shared Western Division title seven times in his first 13 seasons on the job, and more than once his team has gotten a favorable SEC Tournament draw despite a middling record. Last season, for instance, State went 9-7 to tie with Vanderbilt and Georgia – two teams it lost to – for the fourthbest conference record.
But MSU got a first-round bye due to finishing second in the West.
“I think there were schools and teams that benefited by the divisional play a little more than others, but I think from the league’s overall perspective it’s the right thing for us to do,” Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings said, without mentioning any schools by name.
LSU coach Trent Johnson said having no divisions is “the only way to basically have a true champion.” Stansbury said if coaches want a true champion, then there must be 22 conference games, where everyone plays each other twice.
Headed to 18? 22?
The league schedule, currently at 16 games per team, will be increased starting in the 2012- 13 season, and 18 seems the most likely answer. Most of the coaches like the 22-game concept but don’t feel it’s a viable solution.
“Theoretically the only true, fair way to do it is to play 22 games and do a round robin,” South Carolina coach Darrin Horn said. “I don’t know if that’s actually feasible with all the factors that have to get taken into consideration – with TV and scheduling non-conference and all those kinds of things.”
One of arguments for abolishing divisions is the widening gap between the East and the West. Over the past five years, 18 of the SEC’s 23 NCAA tournament bids have gone to Eastern teams, including all nine the past two years.
MSU and LSU were the last West teams to reach the NCAAs, in 2009.
Last season, East teams were 30-14 against West foes, including a 6-2 mark in the SEC Tournament, which was won by Kentucky.
Stansbury reiterated what he said at the SEC meetings: That the East’s domination is merely cyclical. Perhaps so, but his voice shall remain a solitary one on this matter.
“I think there’s been a perception issue in this league that we’ve almost had two separate leagues,” Auburn coach Tony Barbee said, “and that hasn’t helped the overall, it hasn’t benefited the league as a whole.”

Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or brad.locke@journalinc.com.

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