South Carolina basketball coach Frank Martin is prepping for his 10th season in the SEC as he looks to lead the Gamecocks back to the postseason. Previously, he’d been a part of the Big XII at Kansas State, where he helped the Wildcats reach the NCAA Tournament four times.
Now, it appears the two of his former Big XII foes are headed East as Texas and Oklahoma look to join the Southeastern Conference. Coach Martin has had his run ins with these soon-to-be league rivals, and on Monday, he opened up about SEC expansion, conference structure, and championship game options as it pertains to both football and basketball.
First was an option for football, where Martin favors a two-division setup, with the possibility of a four-team playoff to decide your conference champion. He dives into this further below.
“I think it’s real simple. You have an East division and a West division. That now gives you seven games and then throw it up in the air, you get your eighth game from the other side, then the winners play each other for a conference championship. I would even go and say let’s do a conference semifinal and a conference final, so you take your top two. Number one plays two and number one plays two… Put your own best teams every year in a playoff for the conference.”
Splitting into two divisions is the easiest route, but it would mean shuffling members from the East and West. Missouri would likely be on the move West, where they’d restore past series with their former Big XII rivals. Alabama and Auburn would shift East to even the divisions at eight teams apiece. Sticking with the current eight-game SEC schedule, teams would face off against their seven divisional foes, while having one cross-divisional matchup.
While this seems an easy fix, it wouldn’t help the current issue of having long gaps between matchups with cross-division rivals. For example, the Gamecocks have played Alabama just once in the last 10 years on the football field. They haven’t played Mississippi State since 2016, and won’t again until 2023. The Bulldogs have already been through two different coaching searches in that time. In Martin’s scenario, it could take eight seasons to cycle through your western division opponents.
What is interesting, though, is Martin’s idea for not only a conference championship between East and West, but also the possibility of a conference playoff. He would, first, pit the top two teams from each division in a semifinal matchup. The winners of those two games would move on to the SEC Championship. Here’s what it would’ve looked like in 2020.
It’s an interesting setup, but I’m not sure it’s one that SEC coaches would go for. Adding another game to an already grueling schedule wouldn’t be beneficial unless out-of-conference matchups were all but eliminated. The scenario could have the Gamecocks facing an eight-game SEC slate plus the annual season ending matchup with Clemson. Yikes!
Martin also talked a little basketball, opening up on having to play Texas and Oklahoma on a yearly basis. The head coach says that he welcomes the new competition, even if it makes his job more difficult. Those additions could come as early as the 2023 season. Coach Martin is welcoming his former Big XII foes with open arms.