After a couple years of speculation and conversation, SEC basketball coaches today recommended the removal of the two-division format at the SEC Spring Meetings with an 11-1 vote (via Wes Rucker). The league will still operate in East and West divisions in the 2011-12 season. The new format will seed the SEC Tournament 1-12.
Before Arkansas and South Carolina were added to the mix twenty years ago, the ten team SEC played an eighteen game conference schedule, everybody going home-and-home with everyone else. That option will not be on the table in a twelve team league, so even if conference play goes from sixteen games back to eighteen, some new annual rivalries will have to be established. The league could eventually elect to essentially keep divisional play and the sixteen game schedule and only re-seed the tournament 1-12, which means the Vols would continue to have home-and-homes with current Eastern Division foes, but such an overwhelming vote may suggest a greater change is in play here.
A sixteen game conference schedule is five home-and-homes and then a rotating home/away with the other six teams in the league every year. If the league goes to eighteen games, that's seven home-and-homes plus a home/away rotation with the other four teams. I think the latter is a better model for the SEC: more rivalries and better scheduling for a conference with teams that struggle to make the NCAA Tournament because they won't schedule up in the non-conference.
If the league goes to eighteen games, the cleanest way to do it is to keep the existing five divisional home-and-home matchups, and then have each team pick up two home-and-homes against teams currently in the other division. I'd be more than fine with Tennessee picking up Alabama as a home-and-home basketball rivalry; after that I don't have much preference among the other five West teams.
If they go crazy and blow the whole thing up, there are some obvious rivalries you'd want to keep - Kentucky and Vanderbilt most notably, though I doubt the idea of not playing those two as home-and-homes will even be on the table - but I'd also miss the Gators if we didn't see them twice a year.
What do you think of the direction this appears to be headed in? And are there teams you'd want to add or subtract as Tennessee's annual home-and-home basketball rivals?