The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Sports

May 29, 2014

SEC coaches turn to network, schedules for help

— DESTIN, Fla. (AP) — New Auburn coach Bruce Pearl has some ideas about raising the profile of men's basketball in the Southeastern Conference.

Most of them involve the SEC Network. One of them would be must-see TV.

"Bring the SEC Network to my home, let them see a barbecue and let them see what a barbecue looks like," Pearl said. "Let them see me cooking."

The suggestion drew laughs since the former Tennessee coach was fired after he invited recruit Aaron Craft to his home for a barbecue in 2010 and later lied about it to NCAA investigators. Pearl ended up with a three-year, show-cause penalty.

"Got to make sure the guest list is what it needs to be, right?" Pearl said, taking a playful shot at himself. "But don't you think the fans want to see that? So much of what we do is beyond just the basketball."

Pearl and his fellow SEC coaches are counting on the SEC Network's national exposure and better non-conference schedules to bolster a league that has been criticized in recent years for a lack of depth.

The football powerhouse has been far from a hardwood heavyweight — even with Kentucky and Florida advancing to this year's Final Four. The league ranked seventh in conference RPI last season, got just three teams in the NCAA tournament and then had two coaches at high-profile places leave for other jobs.

Missouri's Frank Haith bolted for Tulsa, and Tennessee's Cuonzo Martin jumped to Cal. Those moves did little to change the SEC's reputation as a mostly football-first conference.

Coaches and administrators are looking for solutions that would ultimately land teams in the NCAA tournament.

"This is as focused as I've seen this league and these coaches and the programs and the ADs in how do we move this ball forward," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "We had three teams in the Elite Eight, two teams in the Final Four, a team in the national championship game and still ... come on now. Our goal is let's get half of our teams in within the next three years and two of us playing for a national championship."

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