“Put up again thy sword into his place; for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”
You’ll find that line in the King James Version of the Gospel of Matthew. You might know it better in its more colloquial form: “live by the sword, die by the sword.” And when it comes to the SEC’s two revenue sports, you can change the word “sword” to “reputation.”
With the SEC landing just three NCAA Tournament bids this year, there are plenty of league coaches talking about what went wrong:
Tennessee’s Cuonzo Martin: “It’s almost like a mid-major mentality in this league, when you’ve got your second-place team that doesn’t get in the NCAA Tournament. This is a BCS league. It’s one of the best leagues in America. That shouldn’t happen.”
Kentucky’s John Calipari: “(One of the) things that hurt us was the impression the league’s down. Everyone seems to say it. That’s why I tell the coaches we’ve got to brag about each other. We’ve got to set that straight.”
Florida’s Billy Donovan: “When you have coaching changes, when you have player turnover, when you have departures of really good players, it’s going to take some time. The unfortunate part with all those transitions going on is you really pay the price in November. … What happens is your league gets labeled in November and December.”
But as the Associated Press points out, five SEC teams ranked lower than #230 in non-conference strength of schedule. Those teams that did play tough non-conference competition lost twice as many games as they won. SEC members went a combined 15-33 against the other five major conferences this year.
Coaches can try to spin it, but the Southeastern Conference was down this year and everyone knows it. Its reputation was deserved this year, but Martin, Calipari and Donovan are still correct in suggesting that reputation matters on Selection Sunday.
We just find it ironic that the SEC is the league moaning about reputation.
Every fall, fans and coaches and commissioners from other conferences try to convince the world that the SEC is overrated in football. The league’s teams just beat up on one another and they fail to schedule games up North or out West with any kind of regularity. Blah, blah, blah. But because most knowledgeable football people believe the SEC is great, the SEC indeed winds up with a team in the BCS title game every single year. Heck, sometimes both combatants come from Mike Slive’s league.
Just as the SEC has earned its recent reputation as a so-so hoops league, it’s earned its reputation as the best football conference in America. Winning six, no wait, make that seven BCS titles in a row will do that for you.
And as the SEC’s reputation cost it NCAA tourney bids this year, the league’s solid reputation enabled a two-loss LSU football squad to reach the BCS Championship Game in January of 2008 (a game it won, thank you very much).
The fact that the SEC benefits from its reputation in the fall makes it all the sillier for SEC’ers to moan about the league’s reputation hurting it in the spring. If SEC basketball coaches want to build a better reputation for their conference the process is remarkably simple:
1. Schedule tougher games.
2. Win those games.
An advanced degree isn’t necessary to figure that one out.
But until the hoops side of the league improves its reputation, please, fellas, no more whining. Your conference lives by the same sword every autumn that it dies by every spring. Want a better reputation? Go earn it.