SEC Basketball – Football Conference Lost on the Hardwood

Seemingly agreeing with the theme of the article, most search results for “SEC Basketball” look a lot like this.

SEC Basketball – Football Conference Lost on the Hardwood


            Ask any college basketball fan about the state of affairs in the Southeastern Conference. Their sympathetic laugh will last a minute. Understand that you may first be required to remind them that the now 14-team conference, which stretches from Texas to the Atlantic, does indeed play basketball. Next, you will need to convince them that the University of Kentucky is indeed an SEC University, too often are the eight time national championship winners placed in a subsection of the conference, as their success lies in sharp contrast to the rest of what most consider a football conference. The necessity for explanations such as these, however satirical, demonstrates what many in the college basketball world already understand. Undoubtedly solid at the top with both the University of Florida and the University of Kentucky currently ranked in the AP top 25, it is the middle class that defines the quality of a conference, not its top tier. What then is the cause of decline from a football conference that finished the year with seven teams in the AP Top 25 to a basketball conference that saw a miserable three teams enter last season’s NCAA Tournament.

            Across the map few conferences boast and recruit more homegrown talent than the SEC, in 2014 eight of the top twelve football recruiting classes will come from the SEC. Read that line again, still surprised the conference has won seven of the past eight national championships? While the top two programs in SEC basketball continue to impress on the recruiting campaign, both annually in the top 15 classes, others go glaringly unnoticed on the national radar. A conference known for handpicking from within is becoming all too accustomed to watching homegrown talent flock to programs with guaranteed exposure through lucrative media deals and fan bases annually expecting titles. Essentially, basketball players from the South are signing elsewhere seeking the SEC football treatment during the winter months.

It is not as if an area rich in athletes fails to produce talented high school basketball players, in fact quite the opposite rings true, as Doug Brodess of Bleacher Report lists five SEC positioned states in his top ten, “States with Most 2014 Talent.” This exodus of gifted players is clearly evident for the continued unproductive nature of SEC basketball, but the blame for poor recruiting does not fall solely on the coaches’ shoulders. It is indeed the coach that may sign a high school basketball player, but it is the campus and fan base that will ultimately attract and maintain a players commitment to a university. So while recruiting may be the cause of poor play across the conference, it is the publics’ perception that has ultimately hindered the SEC. It should come as no surprise then that elite talent around the nation have no interest in committing to a program where they’re destined to play second fiddle. What then must basketball programs in the SEC do in order to begin competing with their football counterparts?

The solution is clearly not simple, but developing and maintaining a stranglehold on recruiting in the region would be a good place to begin. With three new coaches at the start of 2013 and maybe more by the end of the season, new perspectives on recruiting couldn’t impair an already damaged conference. Instead of attempting to compete with already tested programs in Kentucky and Florida, middle of the conference schools should aim for a new identity and approach. An alternative to Kentucky’s blue chip “one and done” ideal, other SEC schools should aspire to recruiting players committed to the program. The wealth of talent is more than present, and in time extended attendance from players could work to improve the public’s perception of the program. No longer seen as a mere stepping-stone into the professional game, well-known players could provide the community with a face to represent the university. There’s reason to be hopeful for basketball to eventually thrive in the Southeastern Conference, its location provides an abundance of talent, universities with championship goals, and fan bases expecting no less than greatness. In time I expect the SEC to play an integral role in determining the outcome of the national championship, whether it is five years or ten years down the road, the SEC has too much talent to continue taking a backseat in college basketball. So when the time comes ask any college basketball fan about the success of the Southeastern Conference and prepare for a very different answer.