The SEC hyped the arrival of Mike Tranghese into the SEC advisement fold.
Mike Tranghese’s services consulting the SEC will not do the conference any good. Tranghese is getting a good payday from the gig, but hiring the former Big East Commissioner and right-hand man of Big East Conference founder Dave Gavitt is not going to save the day. The embarrassments will continue for the Southeastern Conference in College Basketball and it is a tough pill to swallow for the partisans. The South, especially the Deep South, has never truly embraced the sport whether it be Men or Women competing. Great players and a few great coaches have come through the conference, but never were able to break through and put the sport on nearly equivalent terms with Football.
The Southeastern Conference has had back-to-back commissioners that hail from Upstate New York. Former Commissioner Mike Slive is from Utica, where they are completely unfamiliar with Albany expressions. Current Commissioner Greg Sankey is from Auburn and his academic background shows that he stayed in Upstate New York having attended SUNY Cortland and Syracuse University. Surely, if there was someone that could appreciate and understand College Basketball and its culture, it would be Sankey.
Sankey was brought into the Southeastern Conference in the wake of the scandals surrounding Alabama and Kentucky Football in 2002, his job was to help clean up the conference from a compliance and reputation standpoint. Sankey likes to bring up the conference’s ability to avoid NCAA scandals because he takes greatest pride in maintaining compliance. Sankey is the Commissioner of the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions. Sankey is not known for being a promoter like the way former Commissioner Roy Kramer was. Kramer was an innovator compared to Slive and Sankey, who oversaw great growth in the conference and benefited from population shifts and a conglomerate with a subsidiary that became fiscally irresponsible.
Any efforts to improve Men’s Basketball in the conference have been completely unnoticeable. Mike Slive made it a point in 2013 that the conference had to elevate the sport after perhaps being reminded of the embarrassment of evaluating more teams’ NCAA Tournament credentials than he should have in 2009. In the 2013 NCAA Tournament, the SEC placed three schools in the NCAA Tournament just like 2009. Of course, the 2016 NCAA Tournament was an embarrassment as only three programs made the tournament with one of them being completely humiliated in the First Four (Vanderbilt).
Consultants have not changed much for the SEC over the past three years. No, this is not a typo. Past three years. Mike Tranghese is not the first consultant that the SEC has contracted to fix SEC Basketball. The SEC brought Greg Shaheen into the fold as a consultant in late May 2013, this was a significant move as Shaheen served for twelve years as the NCAA Executive Vice President for Championships and Alliances. Shaheen was known for his involvement with the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament having negotiated the broadcasting deal with CBS/Turner. Shaheen also has unique insight into how the NCAA Tournament selection committee makes their determinations for the Field of 68. Shaheen was supposed to be the scheduling sherpa that would guide more SEC programs to March Madness.
Mike Slive also installed Mark Whitworth as the SEC Basketball Czar who was responsible for fixing the conference’s reputation in Men’s Basketball and inspiring support for the sport. Whitworth would leave the SEC on April 20, 2016 to become an executive with Sports Marketing firm, Knight Eady. Whitworth served with the SEC for 25 years before becoming the SEC Men’s Basketball Czar in 2013. Under Whitworth’s leadership, SEC Basketball got worse. The SEC was evidently better off without a czar.
Dan Leibovitz was installed as the new Men’s Basketball Czar of the SEC in the wake of Whitworth’s exit. Leibovitz served in the same role with the American Athletic Conference for two years. Prior to those two years, he served as an Assistant Coach for the Charlotte Hornets, Head Coach of the University of Hartford Men’s Basketball Team and was an Assistant Coach at Temple and Penn. Leibovitz’s experience truly makes him ready to make SEC Basketball Great Again. Please clap.
The last part was facetious, Leibovitz does not realize what he is walking into with this role. Leibovitz is completely unfamiliar with the culture of the Deep South and is completely unfamiliar with who has the biggest megaphone and what matters most to “SEC Nation”. All one has to do is watch the SEC Network for an hour or listen to sports talk radio for an hour to detect the problem. It is not hard, but consider the efforts made by those that know the local environment and consultants that have made suggestions, it has not worked. At all.
Even with consultants and special micromanagement coming to Birmingham, it has not worked over the past three years and it is not going to work going forward. Mike Tranghese, Dan Leibovitz and Greg Shaheen are not going to turn the Deep South into Philadelphia, New York or Providence. Professional sports are not offered in every city, comparatively smaller and selective Catholic colleges and universities that offer Men’s Basketball on the Division I level are nowhere to be found, there is greater sprawl and organized travel and non-travel leagues from K-8 are not as robust in the South compared to the Northeast. The culture and what works in the Northeast does not work in the Southeast.
SEC Basketball consulting and advisement has become a lot like Republican Party campaign consultants and strategists. Matthew Sheffield wrote an article for Praxis that is eerily familiar to those that follow SEC Basketball where consultants are paid large sums of money to fail using the same strategies and tactics on a repeated basis. Tranghese, one would fear, is just another consultant profiting off the pain of a conference that is too afraid to address real problems. After all, Tranghese is the same Commissioner of the Big East that failed to keep the conference together, afloat and coherent in terms of competitive sports, geographic location and membership. Presently, the Big East has a clear vision and is rock solid as a conference that prioritizes every sport, but Football and of course has the Catholic nexus for all members with the exception of Butler University.
Tranghese gets two-thirds of this statement correct: “The SEC has resources, it has facilities and it has great rivalries.”
- The SEC has the resources as the conference and member institutions are major revenue generators.
- The SEC does have the facilities to compete.
- The SEC does not have great rivalries. There are no basketball rivalries. Every game is equal and fails to attract the attention that the Football game between two schools would receive. Selling out for a game against Kentucky does not mean there is a rivalry present.
The work that the consultants thus far have done over the past three years has been abysmal:
- Scheduling was supposed to improve: If every SEC Men’s Basketball schedule had to be approved by the Men’s Basketball Czar, how were LSU and South Carolina able to have the non-conference schedules that they had last season? Why would Mark Fox call NCAA Tournament selection standards a ‘moving target’ with the hyped guru Greg Shaheen on board? Shaheen would be able to know what the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee is looking for, it is exactly what he was brought on-board to do!
- Football gets coverage every day for 365 days a year. Basketball does not, even when teams are in action: How is this possible? College Basketball Teams go on foreign tours every four years, the only program in the SEC to actually have live coverage of these games – Kentucky. Georgia will be on tour in Spain from July 31 through August 10, what is the SEC Network airing? Enough said. Summer and Spring previews galore for Football, while Basketball Season just happens out of the blue.
- SEC Men’s Basketball was supposed to get more attention: Has it? When there are more articles about what is wrong with SEC Basketball.
I’ve been asked a lot this week, what’s wrong with SEC MBB? One answer is the media in the SE. Total FB focus. Don’t give BB it’s due.
— Joe Dean Jr. (@joedeanjr) March 17, 2016
The SEC has its own propaganda network and cannot even get it right when it comes to promoting Men’s Basketball.
The conference did go into full spin mode in response to the 2016 NBA Draft, proclaiming it a victory of some sort, but there was very little context behind it aside from the volume of draftees in the First Round.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) June 24, 2016
The truth is that Ben Simmons was going to be the #1 pick no matter where he went and he almost went out of his way in the month of March to not be considered for that spot. LSU had a disappointing season with the #1 pick of the NBA Draft and suffered a fate worse than the previous season’s heartbreaker in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament. LSU also literally quit in the SEC Tournament semi-finals 71-38 against Texas A&M, which was a bad look for not only the program, but the conference as the SEC Tournament looked like a sham.
Skal Labissiere was drafted because John Calipari did some last minute begging to the Sacramento Kings to get his extremely raw Freshman drafted in the first place.
Wade Baldwin IV and Damian Jones left the program just in time as Kevin Stallings had left for Pittsburgh. Their potential draft value and the unknowns of playing for Bryce Drew after an extremely disappointing season that ended with a clunker did not exactly entice them to come back to Nashville for another year.
It is easy to argue that the recognition of the SEC’s dominance in Football after winning three straight BCS National Championships went hand-in-hand with the fall of SEC Men’s Basketball. Economic recession, rejuvenated Southern pride in the face of political change, championships and a louder voice given to the ordinary fans made for greater retrenchment. The Men’s Basketball rivalries became ordinary and attendance shifts reflected it. In College Football, stadiums are growing in the SEC, but in College Hoops, the opposite has actually happened. Beard-Eaves Coliseum at Auburn University held 10,500 in attendance, but it was replaced by Auburn Arena that holds 9,121.
Is there hope for next season? Something for the SEC Officials to point to and lazily say, “Mission Accomplished”.
- Kentucky: Pretty much a given to make the NCAA Tournament and contend for a National Championship. Not the program to worry about for Dan Leibovitz and Mike Tranghese.
- Alabama: The SEC and ESPN really want Alabama Basketball to be relevant as it is a program that is held up as being unbalanced as far as focus is concerned. The media loves Avery Johnson, but then again, he was once a part of the media himself. Alabama has serious depth concerns, especially in the frontcourt. The backcourt is completely re-configured and should be better. Last season, the frontcourt was a major issue and Alabama played at a grinding pace. What is this team’s identity? Alabama outperformed last season, but this is a team destined for another NIT bid.
- Arkansas: Last season was not very relevant outside of Dusty Hannahs impressing people with his shooting and Moses Kingsley trying to carry a frontcourt all by himself. 40 Minutes of Hell and the Fastest 40 Minutes in College Basketball seem to be a distant memory. Six newcomers and Colorado transfer Dustin Thomas finally gets to see action on the floor. If Dusty Hannahs improves his lateral speed and acceleration off the ball, he can be more dangerous than Marshall Henderson was at Ole Miss during his tenure there. Right now, this team has too many uncertainties and a Head Coach that is on the hot seat.
- Auburn: Two years, two 20+ losses each season. It makes a great recruiting pitch. Bruce Pearl gets the best shot blocker he has ever coached in LaRon Smith, but the frontcourt is thin as a whole. Horace Spencer’s improvement and Anfernee McLemore’s ability to contribute as a Freshman are imperative. There’s a lot of faith in student-athletes that have yet to see the floor. Danjel Purifoy and Mustapha Heron are hoped to significantly narrow the talent gap and be a part of an extremely fast paced team that Avery Johnson could only claim that is baked in the DNA of his team. Only 11 will see the floor and 7 of them are Freshmen and Sophomores. Expecting an NCAA Tournament berth from this team would be extremely unfair.
- Florida: Year 2 under Mike White should be different. This team has experience and many of these guys have played together in White’s system. Kasey Hill, Canyon Barry, John Egbunu, Justin Leon and Devin Robinson make for a very good nucleus in the starting lineup. With the slick and more experienced Chris Chiozza, KeVaughn Allen and Kevarrius Hayes coming off the bench, White has guys he can trust will be productive. White needs to play deep and he will be operating with only 12 scholarship student-athletes because of Jalen Hudson’s transfer into the program. Florida’s biggest loss was Dorian Finney-Smith, but Florida’s biggest bugaboo is from the perimeter and Canyon Barry’s ability to shoot may ultimately propel him to a starting role or play alongside KeVaughn Allen. Florida needs to improve at the Free Throw Line and 3 Point Line to return to past glory in some sense. A return to the NCAA Tournament makes sense.
- Georgia: It is less about the student-athletes and more about the team’s identity. Is this team going to play fast and does Mark Fox trust his talent? This is the most talented UGA Basketball Team in over a decade. The team has to play like it all year round. The November blues have to end and there must be consistency. Yante Maten and J.J. Frazier cannot carry this team unwillingly to an NCAA Tournament. It is very likely that the UGA bench will be deeper than last season and that Tyree Crump will emerge as a Freshman to watch. There are no excuses, UGA should be the second best team in the conference. Will this team do it?
- LSU: Does the LSU Tire Fire keep burning? The LSU 2016 Class is a step down compared to past classes that Johnny Jones had signed and without Simmons, Quarterman and Hornsby there are more questions than answers. Elbert Robinson III and Craig Victor will be expected to carry the frontcourt, which is not an easy task. Only three return in the backcourt and Antonio Blakeney stands out as the team’s star. Jalyn Patterson will likely be thrust into the starting Point Guard role. All things considered, if LSU took a step backward last season with some star holdovers and the eventual #1 pick in the NBA Draft… why should anyone expect improvement this season? After all, LSU made it to the NCAA Tournament First Round in 2015 with two NBA draftees (Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey).
- Ole Miss: The student-athletes may change, but the results are always consistent. Andy Kennedy produces teams that win 20 games every season, expecting otherwise is insanity. Whether Ole Miss makes the NCAA Tournament field really depends upon whether Marcanvis Hymon and Rasheed Brooks make the next step in their development. Sebastian Saiz is likely to average a double-double a game this upcoming season. Stefan Moody, Tomasz Gielo, Anthony Perez and Martavious Newby graduating would typically result in lower expectations for Ole Miss, but Andy Kennedy’s track record indicates that this will not matter. Kennedy has had two seasons out of eleven that resulted in less than 20 wins and never had a team with a losing record in Oxford.
- Mississippi State: 11 out of 12 student-athletes are freshmen or sophomores. This is a very young team with a raw frontcourt and a talented backcourt once again. This is not I.J. Ready’s team though despite his seniority, this is Quinndary Weatherspoon’s team. How fast this team matures and is able to play well together will determine how far they can go. This is not a team to be confused with the 2014-15 Kentucky team, this is a young team with a solid concentration of talent on the roster, but at this time is comprised of borderline 2017 NBA Draft talent. Expecting this team to make the NCAA Tournament would be foolish and the media has once again bought into the hype much like last like year.
- Missouri: Mizzou is burning. Another very young team that will experience growing pains. Kevin Puryear, Terrence Phillips and K.J. Walton cannot carry this team out of the cellar. Kim Anderson has been less than inspiring as a Head Coach and there has been a malaise that has set into this program.
- South Carolina: What can be said about a team that is making so many wholesale changes? Only six student-athletes return from last season’s roster. The core of Sindarius Thornwell, Duane Notice and P.J. Dozier can only go so far. Chris Silva is going to carry the frontcourt and everyone else is a complete mystery. Who is the emotional leader that will take the place of Michael Carrera? Who will fight out there for Frank Martin? South Carolina is known for their physicality, but without Carrera as the enforcer, can the intensity continue? If South Carolina could not get into the NCAA Tournament last season, how can they do it this season being so inexperienced and untested? It is possible that Sedee Keita may break out simply because he has no barriers to getting the playing time.
- Tennessee: What is this team going to be like after losing three of their four biggest producers last season? Does Tennessee keep up the same pace as last season after adding some size to the roster? Can Shembari Phillips and Detrick Mostella improve as perimeter shooters? Lots of questions here. This is not a team that is poised for big things this season, but next season could be different. It is still a patchwork roster of sorts that will have their ups and downs this upcoming season.
- Texas A&M: Let’s get a little uncomfortable. What was Texas A&M Basketball like before Rick Stansbury came to College Station? What was it like when Stansbury was in College Station? Stansbury is now in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Remember that great ball movement that Texas A&M had with two experienced Point Guards on the floor at once? Well, throw it out the window. J.C. Hampton is at the Point Guard spot and there isn’t a second Point Guard on the floor to help him. Jalen Jones and Danuel House are not there either. The supporting cast that provided the energy and versatility off the bench return along with future NBA Draft pick Tyler Davis. It is impossible to deny that there is talent, it is just how the talent will be used. Billy Kennedy has to prove he can win without Rick Stansbury being the “Coach Whisperer”. Otherwise, Texas A&M just falls back to the middle of the pack with a winning record and nothing to show for it.
- Vanderbilt: New coach, new scheme, new attitude. Luke Kornet, Riley LaChance and Matthew Fisher-Davis return, but not much else remains the same. The heart and soul of Vanderbilt Basketball was drafted (Wade Baldwin IV) and the lineup has its holes. Adjusting to a new style of play on both ends of the floor may be frustrating. This is not going to be an NCAA Tournament team given the depth concerns. Bryce Drew’s hire may be a good thing for Matthew Fisher-Davis’ development on defense, but he may press a bit more on the floor to compensate and make unnecessary fouls that hurt the team in early road games.
The SEC’s ceiling is five NCAA Tournament bids, which would be a victory for the conference. The floor is likely three. Kentucky, Florida and Georgia appear to be the most likely NCAA Tournament teams while Ole Miss and Texas A&M can make a case for themselves. March 2017 may likely prove to be a very ugly month in the SEC. The consultants cannot fix this without making sweeping changes across the board.
#SECBasketballMatters or #MakeSECBasketballGreatAgain
The fastest path to fixing the mess and making College Basketball relevant in the conference is not some secret scheduling formula, T-shirts, hiring arena developers or having College Basketball coaches look like idiots on national television at an SEC Football game.
It is about making the games matter more and communicating how these games matter. Making SEC Basketball games an event, a must-attend event is critical to the conference’s success. Doing so improves optics and reputation. It may even soften the image of the conference as a whole.
The first step is admitting there is a problem, the SEC has done that and so have many that care about College Basketball in the South. The next step is to stop lying about how the conference has made strides and how bringing in a consultant will change things. There is no consulting Messiah here. The third step is to reconsider how fans and alumni interact with the member institutions. If the fans, alumni and students do not care, nobody will. If the fans, alumni and students only care when the program wins, it is unsustainable. If the fans do not care, but the alumni and students do, there must be a more targeted effort rather than treating everyone the same. The failure to acknowledge the segmentation within the support bases of each program is also a problem.
One of the first visible things that the SEC can do in the 2017-18 season (too late to fix the 2016-17 season) is to create SEC Doubleheader Weekends in the Fall that enhance rivalries and transition into Basketball season with a bang. The SEC Network can promote these weekends heavily and it will serve to enhance the rivalries of the SEC.
The SEC Football focus that exists is the equivalent of closing the bar at 10 PM, the party can continue all year round through other sports and Men’s Basketball is excellent conduit to expand the interests of SEC partisans. If promoted properly, SEC Basketball can be a major profit-driver for SEC member institutions and help other sports that are considered cost-centers become profitable themselves. It would actually take the guts to re-consider how they and their member institutions treat the portfolio of competitive sports. If the SEC was wise, they would treat August through June like the way the Olympics are treated during the time that the Olympics are taking place. The SEC Network (the propaganda mouthpiece of the conference) could take ideas from NBC Sports to create that same sense of urgency for all sports.
Maybe there needs to be an incentive to succeed and make all sports matter. The CapitalOne Cup is not exactly something people pay attention to or even care about, but within the SEC there could be an overall sports Cup or Title to chase every year. Every sport is treated equally and the winner of the “SEC Cup” (just a proposed name, surely it will have a sponsor’s name in it… cough cough Regions cough cough) is awarded a $20 Million scholarship bonus to be divided up and given to current students at the institution that wins it. At some schools, it is a $500 scholarship and others it can go up to $1,600, if applied evenly. Why so much? Because if it was less, it would not generate intrigue. Surely, the SEC can pull together $20 Million per year to create an incentive for patrons to show support for teams representing member institutions and increase ticket and apparel revenues. The SEC Network would be able to raise advertising rates and consider August through May to be peak season rather than August through December.
There needs to be a culture change, but the consultants are just providing the SEC with more of the same. There is no reason to expect things to change unless bold, fresh ideas are put out there. In a region steeped with tradition, fear of change and contentment with the status quo in SEC Athletics there is little motivation to try something different. However, it is easier to just spend money on consultants that total out into the low seven figures and pretend to try to fix SEC Basketball. Bluffing the effort and accidentally stumbling upon success every four or five years and spinning the success is the path of least resistance, which fits well in Birmingham.