Kevin Stallings threw out the suggestion not in jest — but in all seriousness.
Still, even the Vanderbilt men’s basketball coach couldn’t believe the words were coming out of his mouth.
When the Southeastern Conference men’s basketball coaches met earlier this month in Destin, Fla., for the annual league meetings, they agreed to dissolve the current two-division format for one 12-team scheme to go into effect this upcoming season.
That created the possibility for an increase in the number of conference games, currently 16. But to what? That’s when Stallings tossed out a nice, even number of 22.
“Like I said when I said it [at the league meetings], I am the most surprised person in the room that I am saying this,” Stallings said during Monday’s SEC summer teleconference call. “But it is something to think about. Obviously, we feel like we’ve been drug through Armageddon after we get finished with 16 games. So you can imagine how you would feel after 22. I don’t think that will get a lot of traction but I at least thought it was worth bringing up and discussing.”
Under the old, two-division format, every team played its five divisional foes twice and played the other six conference teams once, with the location rotating every year.
Playing 22 games would mean that every team in the league would play each other twice — home and away. Thus, that format would deliver the “truest form of a conference champion,” as Stallings put it.
However, 22 league games would cut into non-conference schedules. Vanderbilt played 29 regular-season games last year — 13 outside the SEC. That number would be even lower with Stallings’ proposed league schedule. It might be a hard sell for other SEC schools, which might not want to reorganize non-conference slates and renegotiate TV deals.
“I don’t anticipate that is where we will end up,” Stallings said. “…It will be difficult. That is why I am not ready to throw my opinion out there. Whatever we decide, it needs to be what is best for our league going forward. Not is what best is for Vanderbilt or Kentucky or what is best for Florida. It needs to be what is best for our league. That is what we will try to do.”
There is no timetable for a new schedule or if the league will even increase the number of games from 16, but a new proposal most likely would be approved by next year’s league meetings.
“I am not prepared to say at this time what I think is the right number,” Stallings said. “I would want to look into a little bit more. Certainly, 18 seems like a number that may be logical. If that is the number we went to, it would require some obvious schedule alterations.”
As for getting rid of the two divisions, Stallings said, “It makes sense for the league.” The decision was not unanimous but most likely was fueled by the possibility of creating a few more conference at-large bids for NCAA Tournament, along with reseeding the SEC Tournament.
In the past two years, only schools from the SEC East — such as Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Florida — have earned at-large bids for the NCAA Tournament.
“I think that there were schools and teams that benefitted by the divisional play a little more than others,” Stallings said. “I think from the league’s overall perspective, I think it is the right thing for us to do.”
• Offseason surgeries: Two key members of Vanderbilt’s 2010-11 team recently underwent surgery.
Starting center Festus Ezeli (knee) and backup Steve Tchiengang (ankle) both had successful corrective surgeries, which Stallings called “minor in nature.”
Ezeli, who is listed at 6-foot-11 and 255 pounds, had a piece of his patella tendon removed from his left knee. The Nigerian battled through the injury last year as he started all 33 games, averaging 12.6 points and 6.2 rebounds, along with blocking a team-high 86 shots. The senior is expected to be ready for preseason conditioning in August.
Tchiengang, also a senior, played in every game, despite nagging ankle injuries. The native of Cameroon averaged 4.8 points and 3.1 rebounds in 16.7 minutes. The 6-foot-9 reserve forward had surgery on his right ankle a couple weeks ago. The recovery time could take as long as three months.
• Final Four bound?: Georgia coach Mark Fox thinks Vanderbilt is dripping with enough talent to make a deep postseason run.
Fox, who will begin his third season with the Bulldogs, knows Florida and Kentucky will be popular national picks to win the SEC. But he said the Commodores shouldn’t be overlooked.
“I think they have a team that legitimately can contend for a Final Four,” Fox said. “They have a great backcourt. They have terrific wing play, terrific shooting. They have an NBA center and I think they're well coached. I think they’ll have a good bench. I think that when you start looking at the ingredients of a team, there’s not much missing from Vandy’s team.”
• Walker’s future: Andre Walker might use his remaining year of eligibility — just not at Vanderbilt.
The 6-foot-7, 220-pound forward from Flossmoor, Ill., is reportedly considering a transfer to the Kansas, Wichita State, Northwestern and Xavier. He did not immediately return a phone call on Monday.
Walker has already graduated from Vanderbilt and has one year of eligibility left since he redshirted the 2008-09 season after suffering an ACL injury. Walker played in just 14 games last winter due to mononucleosis and a high ankle sprain.
He averaged 3.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and nearly three assists a game during the 2010-11 campaign. It was a disappointing junior campaign, just one year after he started 31 games, averaging 6.1 points and 5.4 rebounds.
Darshawn McClellan will not be back for his last year of eligibility. The Fresno, Calif., native has transferred to the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. McClellan, who also finished his undergraduate degree at Vanderbilt, redshirted the 2010-11 season.
• Already gone: The 6-foot-7, 229-pound McClellan averaged 2.2 points and 2.4 rebounds in three seasons at Vanderbilt. He figured to battle for playing time on a Vanderbilt squad that returns its entire starting five and all four of last year’s top reserves, in addition to two players who redshirted and three incoming freshmen.