As Mike Slive begins his second decade as the commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, the 71-year-old is preparing for new challenges.
The process, he says, reminds him of what homeowners go through in a renovation.
“When you put an addition on your house, it’s messy for a while. That is exactly what we have,” Slive said a couple weeks ago. “How do you schedule? How do you educate two institutions to a new culture, new rules, new regulations?”
Slive and the rest of the SEC began answering those questions recently at the league’s annual spring meetings in Florida.
Missouri and Texas A&M officially join the conference on July 1, pushing the league to 14 members and marking the first expansion since 1991. This leads to numerous changes in the SEC’s framework, most centering around scheduling.
Of course, football is at the forefront. The league’s athletic directors and coaches agreed to stick to a 6-1-1 scheduling format for future seasons. The format, which is in place for the 2012 season, features teams playing all six teams in their seven-team division, along with one permanent and rotating opponent from the opposite division.
Vanderbilt’s permanent rival from the West division will continue to be Ole Miss, while Tennessee extends its rivalry with Alabama.
Though adding a ninth conference game was a possibility, Vanderbilt coach James Franklin likes sticking with eight. That leaves four nonconference games, which he says can be used to build a resume worthy of a national championship contender or allows a reprieve for a rebuilding program.
“The conference is difficult enough,” Franklin said. “But I think the flexibility of having those four games out of conference and do with it what you want I think is very, very important.”
Men’s basketball schedules also were revamped to fit an 18-game format — two more than previously.
Each school will play a permanent rival home and away every year, four rotating opponents home and away, and single games against the eight other schools. Vanderbilt’s permanent rival is Tennessee in both men’s and women’s basketball. But the women’s coaches voted to stay with a 16-game schedule.
Both sides will begin their conference tournaments a day earlier, adding a fifth day. The bottom four teams play on the first day, and the top four seeds receive double byes into the quarterfinals.
Men’s coaches did away with divisions prior to last season in an attempt to create better seeding in the SEC Tournament and to strengthen the conference’s chances at earning at-large bids in the NCAA Tournament. Four league teams made the 2012 NCAA Tournament, one more than 2011.
“Any time you talk about expansion ... you’re never going to have a real, true balanced schedule,” said Florida coach Billy Donovan, who got the unfortunate draw of Kentucky as permanent rival. “You’re never going to have a true champion in your league, just because not everybody is playing the same schedule. So it all gets really kind of skewed a little bit.”
Also a hot topic throughout the week was the league’s stance on football playoffs.
LSU coach Les Miles said the current BCS system needs to be a part of whatever format is implemented.
“I don’t think there has been a missed step by the BCS system as it is to date,” he said. “You tell me we play a playoff, the same two teams [Alabama and LSU] play in the national championship as played last year. That being said, I think there is a want for more games.”
Slive and the league reached a unanimous vote to support a push for a playoff that features the top four teams in the country and not just conference champions.
Vanderbilt vice chancellor of athletics David Williams pleaded the Fifth when asked for his opinion.
“I’m going to leave that to smarter people than me,” Williams said, laughing. “Even with just four, there are going to be people that are not going to be happy. It’s interesting, because I go back long enough that I can remember when in the NCAA basketball tournament it was only the conference champion that got to go. The conference champion was the only one that got to go to a bowl game. … Now we have a lot more bowls, and we have 68 teams that go into the NCAA March Madness.
“So I’ve seen that expansion, but there are still people that say that you missed me. I think there will always be some concern about did we get it right.”
Whatever unfolds, Williams believes it should be decided by league commissioners. And rest assured the SEC — with Slive — plans to be right in the middle to reap the rewards.
The conference will distribute a record $241.5 million to league members in the revenue sharing plan for the 2011-12 fiscal year, which ends on Aug. 31. The 12 current members will receive an average of $20.1 million. This money comes from basketball and football television deals, bowl games, the SEC football championship game, the SEC men’s basketball tournament and NCAA tournaments.
“This might be the golden age of the SEC in terms of athletic competition,” said Slive, who became commissioner in 2002. “It has just been for us an extraordinary period of time.”