But at the SEC meetings this week, the coaches voted unanimously to get rid of their divisions after 5 teams from the East and 0 teams from the West made the NCAA tournament this past season, a proposal that could go into effect as soon as the 2012-13 if approved by the league. This has me wondering, should the OVC break into 2 divisions like the SEC, or remain simply a 12-team league like the Big XII and ACC.
One of the reasons blamed for that divide in tournament teams from the SEC was an uneven schedule. The teams in the east, which were stronger, played each other twice, raising their RPI versus the west, who were weaker. But if the SEC breaks divisions, and stays at a 16, or even if they go a 18 game schedule, how does this fix the problem? The schedules will still be uneven. The only way to ensure even scheduling is to play a full 22 conference games, which would be the most of any conference in Division I. Sure, you can stack the schedules in a way to make them more even, assuming every team plays as well as expected, which rarely if ever happens.
While multiple tournament teams aren’t a concern in the OVC, uneven schedules are, but this is already going to be an issue this season with 11 teams; Every team will play 4 of the teams in conference only once. Uneven scheduling happens. It’s something unavoidable as conferences expand past 9 or 10 teams. It’s not a sound argument for or against divisions.
But rivalries may be. Dividing the OVC by geography, there’s two splits that make the most sense:
North: Murray, SEMO, EIU, EKU, SIUe, MORE
South: APSU, TTU, TSU, Jax St., UTM, Belmont
East: Murray, SEMO, EIU, APSU, UTM, SIUe
West: TTU, EKU, MORE, Jax St., Belmont, TSU
If you use the North/South split, Austin Peay and Murray would only play once a year. If you use the East/West, Peay would only play the two Nashville teams which are about 30 minutes from Clarksville, once a year. For the Govs, it’s a lose/lose; they will lose at least one rivalry either way.
Another issue becomes the OVC tournament. 4 teams from each division would, presumably, make the tournament. So a 4-12 team in one division could theoretically beat out a 6-10 team from another for a spot. One team could get a double bye with a 11-5 record, while another team is forced to the single bye at 13-3. In the SEC winning the tournament isn’t a prerequisite to making the NCAA tournament, so “unfair” seedings isn’t as big of an issue. It is in the OVC.
There are benefits to dividing, namely costs. By having teams play the teams closest to them twice a year, it cuts down on travel costs, especially for “fringe” teams like EIU and Jax St, who would only have to travel to each other’s home court every other year.
There is no perfect system short of playing a 20 or 22 game conference schedule, but even that’s not perfect as we’ve found out over the past few years, as that reduces the number of chances for the OVC to play on a national stage against major competition. But creating 2 divisions isn’t the slam dunk I once thought it was.