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Mississippi State's Wendell Lewis (30) dunks over Tennessee's Tobias Harris (12) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Knoxville.

A majority of Southeastern Conference men's basketball coaches believe their decision in late May to combine into one division next season will provide a truer league champion.

They're not as eager, however, to determine the "truest" champion possible.

The SEC is shifting to one division for the first time since the 1990-91 season, which was right before Arkansas and South Carolina joined the 10-member collection. When the league had 10 institutions, each team would play each other twice for an 18-game round-robin schedule, but a full round robin now would consist of 22 games.

"I don't know if I would be in favor of that or not," South Carolina coach Darrin Horn said Monday on an SEC teleconference. "I think it's important to have some flexibility in scheduling, and if you play 22 league games, obviously your hands get tied on the flexibility of your schedule. If you're Kentucky and you play 22 league games, do you still play the Indiana and North Carolina series and all those that are so good for the game of college basketball and especially the SEC?

"In terms of fairness, though, it's really the only way."

A 16-game league schedule will be used for a 21st consecutive time during the 2011-12 season, but the number of conference contests is up for debate for 2012-13 and beyond.

League coaches decided last month in Destin, Fla., to form a subcommittee comprised of coaches and athletic directors to study the issue. The subcommittee is expected to submit its recommendations to the league's ADs when they hold their next scheduled meeting in August.

LSU's Trent Johnson supports a 22-game league schedule, and Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings admits he's a little intrigued.

"I don't anticipate that's where we'll end up, but it would give us the truest form of a conference champion," Stallings said. "It's something to think about, even though we feel like we've been drug through Armageddon after we get finished with 16 games. I couldn't imagine how we would feel after 22, so I don't think that one will get a lot of traction."

This past season the SEC, ACC and Big 12 employed 16-game league schedules, while the Big East, Big Ten and Pac-10 each used 18. The Atlantic Sun, which includes Belmont, Lipscomb and East Tennessee State, had the largest league schedule at 20 games.

"I think you're talking about 16 or 18, but what's more important than the 16 or 18 is our nonconference scheduling," Kentucky's John Calipari said. "Leagues that have gotten tons of teams in the NCAA tournament have figured out that it's about your nonconference strength of schedule and your nonconference RPI."

Alabama's Anthony Grant worked with an 18-game league schedule when he coached Virginia Commonwealth in the Colonial Athletic Association. New Arkansas coach Mike Anderson came from the Big 12, which has one division but the identical format the SEC has used the past two decades in which schools in the same football division play twice in basketball.

The number mentioned most Monday by coaches was 18, and Stallings believes the verdict will result from healthy discussion.

"For the most part, our league meetings are harmonious," Stallings said. "It was not 100 percent in terms of wanting to go to one division [Mississippi State's Rick Stansbury was against it], but our meetings never tend to get out of bounds relative to people expressing their opinions.

"I think we've got enough big thinkers in the room that the general consensus is that we're trying to do what's best for the league going forward."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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