May 29, 2014

SEC addresses scheduling issues; Hart 'feels very good'

DESTIN, Fla. --- Football news --- other than an 'if-necessary' proposal to address an early signing period if needed and the potential for a 10th full-time assistant coach --- hasn't carried the week here at the SEC's annual spring meetings.

Basketball, however, has addressed some major topics --- most notably non-conference strength of schedule and a future scheduling format for the league in conference play, which would run at least three years but could extend longer, sources told

The SEC has continued to address its desire to see members schedule tougher non-league games, even enacting some relatively new legislation in that regard. The data SEC coaches were give has been staggering.

"It was certainly talked about quite a bit, and I think everyone was in agreement that that has to take place. With the new legislation, and I don't know how new it is but I think it's fairly new, having to try to play someone with 200 (RPI) or above," said first-year Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall, "because they said literally one game on everyone's schedule each, that's in the 300s, can make the difference between being a seventh-seeded RPI-conference or a two or three."

Tyndall has unique perspective, having slain some BCS-level foes during previous head coaching stops at both Morehead State and Southern Miss.

"Well, it does. I think the biggest thing, I said this before: at Southern Miss we were in a unique spot because we had a good program and teams didn't want to play us," Tyndall told "It was a pretty tough place to get to, and then if we happened to beat them, their fans would view it as a bad loss because we weren't a top-five type league. Whereas Tennessee, if you go play a team that's a good team and you beat them, to their fans it's not quite as bad of a loss. So from that standpoint they're probably more apt to put you on the schedule."

Tennessee Vice Chancellor/Director of Athletics Dave Hart said the SEC has taken some good steps but also must continue to progress forward to get basketball on a level more in line with its football and even baseball counterparts. The SEC managed just three teams in this year's NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive time and third such instance in six years.

"We talk a lot about strengthening the men's basketball product, and Mike (Slive) has done a nice job of implementing some priorities that have us on the right track," Hart said. "I think the fact that Greg Shaheen was our consultant was a huge step in the right direction. I think Mark Whitworth being put in a permanent role of oversight of men's basketball was a great step in that direction. The RPI factors into that, too.

"The rivalries are more important from my perspective. And the tradition of it. Certainly if we do end up formally going to three permanent partners, it would certainly be another move in the right direction of getting more teams in the tournament."

Those rivalries, many of which were impacted dramatically during the SEC's current three-year cycle into a one-league, non-divisional format, now are coming back to the forefront in this week's discussions. Tennessee's permanent rival is Vanderbilt, giving the Vols home-and-away games annually with the 'Dores. But the new proposed pod format would factor in two more rivals and then make concessions against other foes around the league.

"Certainly (UK) is one we'd like to play on a permanent basis. We've had a lot of discussion since we made the decision, when we went away from divisions and went to one permanent partner," Hart said. "We've had relatively consistent discussions in our league. I always point to the Tennessee-Kentucky rivalry, to play that many years and have it go away … was something that we've talked and that I've been talking about a lot. And so I think now we're into that process. We're assessing that again and have been. We'll come to some culmination relative to a decision at some point in time."


Two of the Vols' three most prominent coaching figures --- football's Butch Jones and basketball's Donnie Tyndall --- are now 'Dave Hart hires.' But Hart professed strong confidence in the direction of men's athletics three biggest sports --- including baseball under head coach Dave Serrano, who was hired just three months before Hart in 2011.

Hart was asked if this was the most confident he's felt in the direction of the 'Big Three' sports of his athletics program.

"I feel very, very good. It is, yeah, I feel very good about our direction and in our total program," Hart said to the question from "We've had challenges, and we're not sliding into home. But we're clearly on the base paths and I feel good about where we're headed. We still have a financial challenge that's still very real, but there will come a time that we climb out of that as well."

Hart provided detailed rationale for his viewpoint on Serrano's baseball program, which qualified for this year's SEC Tournament for the first time in several years and just missed an NCAA Tournament berth.

"I think Dave, and he doesn't stand alone here, is one of the coaches who inherited a really challenging environment. Let me put it that way. When he took over as leader of our baseball program. And Dave would be the first to tell you: it's not an excuse. It's just reality. I think this year's team showed a lot of improvements. I think this year's team was a lot better," Hart said. "We had 19 one-run games. We've got to win more of those games, and we will with a more veteran baseball team beginning next year.

"Whether it's baseball or football, you know, we don't want to be in that 10th position. We don't want to be struggling to get into a bowl game. And we won't be going forward. But again, I know the realities. I see it every day, and I see the progress, too. But I know where some of these programs were when these coaches came on board. I think you can't lose sight of that reality. Eventually, everybody understands that you not only have to show progress but you have to climb out of that hole at some point. We're on the way to doing that. I'm very pleased, and excited, with where we're going. But I know it's frustrating. Frustrating for Dave, who you asked about. Frustrating for Butch. But nonetheless, we'll get where we need to go."

Hart professed strong confidence in his three coaches as ambassadors for UT.

"It absolutely is. I think Dave Serrano is a heck of a baseball coach and a great representative. I'd say the same thing about Butch Jones," Hart said, "and Donnie Tyndall, I've said it before, I think Donnie Tyndall is a really, really good fit at the University of Tennessee from many, many perspectives."

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