published Monday, May 31st, 2010

SEC leaders meeting

The possibility for league expansion and changes to the basketball tournament seeding format could be on agenda this week in Destin, Fla.

Twenty years after the Southeastern Conference announced that Arkansas and South Carolina would be joining the league, expansion talk could dominate this week’s spring meetings in Destin, Fla.

Whether it’s on the agenda or not.

“There may be some discussion or some informal talks about expansion, but I don’t anticipate anything being formally done,” SEC associate commissioner Charles Bloom said. “We don’t anticipate making it a topic on our side.”

Expansion within college athletics has provided curious conversation since December, when the Big Ten announced it was considering growth from its current 11-school membership. Before his league’s spring meetings in Chicago earlier this month, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney e-mailed conference officials to deny a report that Missouri, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Rutgers had been extended invitations.

Delaney said in Chicago that the conference would adhere to its original plan of deciding whether to expand in 12 to 18 months.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive stated last month that he is comfortable with his league’s landscape but added, “If there is going to be a significant shift in the conference paradigm, the SEC will be strategic and thoughtful in order to maintain its position as one of the nation’s premiere conferences.” Often mentioned as possible SEC targets are Clemson, Florida State, Texas and Texas A&M.

Several SEC football coaches last month expressed their trust in Slive but also hoped the league would stand pat at a dozen. Georgia’s Mark Richt said a 16-team super conference would be “almost like having two different leagues.”

Bloom said there are not a lot of eye-catching items on the docket for the SEC meetings, which begin Tuesday, because the league has sewn up television and bowl deals for years to come.

One subject that will be debated is whether to re-seed the men’s basketball tournament. Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Florida went 24-0 against West Division teams this past winter, but the Vols (11-5 in SEC games) and Gators (9-7) had to play on opening day, while Mississippi State (9-7) and Ole Miss (9-7) received byes.

The top two seeds in each division have received byes since the event expanded to 12 teams in 1992, but this past winter marked the second time in four years in which the East embarrassed the West. In ’07, Florida (13-3), Tennessee (10-6), Vanderbilt (10-6) and Kentucky (9-7) posted the four best conference records, but MSU and Ole Miss each got byes despite 8-8 league marks.

“This issue was brought up as soon as this past tournament was over,” Bloom said.

Another agenda item is Alabama’s upcoming football schedule, which has South Carolina, Ole Miss, Tennessee, LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn each with open dates the week before playing the Crimson Tide. Alabama’s week off is before the Nov. 6 game in Baton Rouge.

The league has yet to release its official schedule for 2010, and conference officials are hoping at least one of Alabama’s conference foes can switch a date to provide the reigning national champs some aid.

“We need to prevent this from happening again,” Bloom said.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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