Bob Bowlsby said something to Heather Dinich about nonconference scheduling that bears repeating.
“I really do believe that nonconference scheduling should reside with the institution,” Bowlsby said. “They know best what they think it takes to get their team ready for the regular season. Having said that, we have talked about the very real circumstance of a situation where you have a weak schedule and you’ve got two teams that are about the same, and one played a good nonconference schedule and one played a poor nonconference schedule. I don’t think there’s any question the one with the good nonconference schedule is going to get in.”
Talk is cheap. Control is real money.
Compare Bowlsby’s laissez faire attitude with Mike Slive’s on SEC nonconference basketball scheduling.
For as much as the SEC is seen as a football-driven conference, the people who run the conference have long felt strongly about their basketball reputation. So when things hit rock bottom two years ago, being called a glorified mid-major, they sprung to action.
The commissioner hired a basketball czar and also retained an outside expert. They sat down with their coaches and hammered away at the same message: Improve your scheduling to get those RPI numbers up.
It didn’t end there, though.
But lack of knowledge with what the NCAA tournament selection committee wants figured into it, too. Slive couldn’t quite get it through to his coaches, so he called on Whitworth and Shaheen to re-emphasize it.
One of the first things Shaheen did in 2013 was produce a 20-page document analyzing each team’s non-conference schedules during the 2012-13 season. The SEC also instituted a rule saying that every school had to send its non-conference schedule to Birmingham for approval.
That’s paid off, as this season the conference is widely expected to reverse an alarming trend.
Between 1999 and 2008, the SEC never had fewer than five teams receive NCAA bids. Then the drop-off began: Only three made it in 2009, followed by four apiece in 2010 and 2012, and three apiece the past two years.
As Shaheen puts it,
“These are institutions that are used to playing at a high level,” Shaheen said. “Sure, there’s an extraordinary amount to be proud of here. But the issue in response has to be: ‘What do we need to do to make sure the rest of America knows that?’ ”
Shaheen emphasized the need to “play anyone, anywhere, anytime.” And that led to what he called a “healthy dialogue,” with the coaches, and they proceeded to improve their schedules the last two years.
“The schools have done all the heavy lifting here,” Shaheen said.
Now SEC football has the luxury of banking on a reputation that SEC basketball doesn’t have. That’s why it’s been able to get away with avoiding the hard choices of going to a nine-game conference schedule in football and doing away with games against FCS cupcakes without doing any damage to its reputation. But nothing lasts forever. A few more seasons of the SEC West falling flat on its face and other conferences whining about the SEC’s strength of schedule, and who knows what the selection committee will think of SEC schools’ nonconference scheduling?
If that day should come, I doubt we’ll see whoever’s running the SEC share Bowlsby’s attitude. The question will be how stubborn the member schools will be in response.