Billy Donovan says SEC schedule needs balance

By Adam Silverstein
January 23, 2012

When the Southeastern Conference signed a new television deal with ESPN in 2008, the network requested that the league adopt a scheduling format in which conference games were mostly played on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday so as many contests as possible could be aired on ESPN‘s array of channels.

Though commissioner Mike Slive received approval from the SEC’s coaches to adjust the schedule and make the deal, the league has found and continued to do its best to work out kinks in the scheduling ever since.

During No. 13/14 Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan‘s press conference on Monday, he spoke at length (nearly nine full minutes) about one major flaw in the schedule – teams being forced to play late games on Thursday and early games on Saturday. This type of scheduling, he argues, provides the players with little (if any) time to rest and the coaches with even less time to put a solid game plan in place.

Florida is set to face Ole Miss Thursday at 7 p.m. on the road before turning around and returning home to take on No. 16/18 Mississippi State on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

Donovan’s complete thoughts on the issue and how he believes it makes the SEC schedule unbalanced for some of the teams in the league is available…after the break.


“This all started about three years ago in spring meetings. All the coaches in the league meetings really felt like the opportunity to have this contract with ESPN was a great thing. Our league was pretty much a Tuesday-Wednesday-Saturday league for a long, long time. The team that played on Tuesday was generally a Super Tuesday game on ESPN and then maybe some different regional networks or national TV on the weekends. Pretty much it was a three-day league. The commissioner let us all understand that in order to do this with ESPN, there’s going to have to be some consideration taken into playing on Tuesdays, playing on Thursdays, playing on Saturdays. The only two days that are probably somewhat off-limits to our league [are] Monday and Friday. Pretty much every other day we’re going to play. Since I’ve been in the league, this is the first time we’ve never ever ever had a Wednesday game. We don’t play one game on Wednesdays, that mid-week, which is really surprising. It’s also good because you’re playing on TV.

“When all this started to talk, the biggest thing that everybody talked about is how do we really expose and pump up the SEC and basketball. One was the contract with ESPN. And how do we get more teams into the NCAA Tournament? Everybody was all on the same page that we all have different battles that we’re dealing with in terms of scheduling outside of conference, trying to get those home-and-home, those neutral site games. Everybody’s dealing with different set of elements to try and create those kinds of games. We all felt like there was some give-and-take with that. My problem with it is, if you want to get more teams into the NCAA Tournament and you want to do more with your non-conference schedule, our league should not put teams at a disadvantage competitively. There are teams in our league that are put at a disadvantage competitively. I don’t think that’s right to he players or to the teams that are playing. I think we all agree that we need to play Thursday, Saturday and Tuesday. We’ve done it, but I think everybody needs to do it. The league needs to understand what those competitive disadvantages potentially are.

“Just using it as an example: Alabama’s got to play a 9 p.m. game on Thursday night then they’ve got to play a noon game on Saturday. That should never happen. Not the Thursday-Saturday, we’re OK with that. But there’s got to be some level of consideration taken into these guys just played at 9 [p.m.]. They got to go to school on Friday, then they got to leave Friday and they got to play at noon. Pretty much have to wake up, eat and play the game. Give them an opportunity and play the game at 6-7-8 [p.m.]. If you’re trying to get more teams into the NCAA Tournament, don’t put the teams inside your league in a competitive disadvantage. That’s my only problem with it, where teams are at a competitive disadvantage.

“I got a lot of confidence in Mike Slive and [Mark] Whitworth, who does the scheduling. All these guys are great guys, and this is all new so they’re all trying to figure it out. It’s like the same thing with Alabama football a year ago. Alabama wins the national championship in football and all of a sudden they have to play six-straight games against teams that have basically two weeks off that are laying in the weeds getting ready to prepare for them. I don’t know if it was an oversight or what but that’s not going to happen anymore.

“There’s probably some things that are going on right now inside of our league with the whole contract being somewhat new that I think our league will figure out as time goes on. I got confidence they will. If we’re going to talk about trying to get more teams in the league [in the NCAA Tournament], don’t put teams in a situation where one team has got a huge advantage. I heard the argument, ‘It’s like that in the NCAA Tournament. You got to play Thursday-Saturday or Friday-Sunday.’ That’s great, but you know what? So does the other team you’re playing against. That’s where we’ve got to try and figure out a better way to make it work. Our schedule is what it is. We’ve done this now for a few years. There’s no excuses for us. We got to go out and play games. The schedule is set, this is the hand we’re dealing with and we got to do the best job we can preparing and getting ready to play.”

“There’s got to be some level of balance there. The league needs to look at those situations where maybe there’s a clear, distinct advantage. An advantage sometimes is if a team is playing a late night game on a Thursday night, there should be some rule put in that you’re not going to play Saturday until after 4-5 pm. I’m using Alabama [as an example] because it just recently happened. We’re in a very similar situation this weekend playing a 1:30 p.m. game on the road. We’re all under the understanding there is going to be some level of sacrifice that we all have to make inside of our schedule to do that, but I think it really needs to be leveled out across the board and be fair for everyone.”

“There needs to be some level of balance when you’ve got a new contract, which is great for the league. The commissioner has done a great job being on the selection committee. He’s done a great job bringing this ESPN package together. He’s done a great job promoting basketball inside of our league. I think all of those things have been great. Either everybody’s got to go Thursday-Saturday-Tuesday or it’s got to be a rotating thing every other year, but everybody should be under those same elements. There should not be a huge discrepancy in those kinds of games, in my opinion, where you have teams playing three or four times a year Thursday-Saturday-Tuesday. That just shouldn’t happen, in my opinion.”

“The biggest thing is, like I said earlier, it is what it is. We have no excuses. This is when we need to play. This is when the games are playing. We need to figure out and find out a way to get ourselves prepared to play at ole miss and get ourselves prepared to play on Saturday against ole miss. That’s the hand. I’ve never believed in making excuses.

“In the spring meetings, when we talk about what’s best for the entire league, I’m speaking about not in terms of just Florida, I’m talking about every school in our league. What is best for everybody? How does everybody benefit, how is there balance in all of this stuff? That’s all I’m saying. I don’t think there should be a competitive disadvantage. I don’t know if there is or is not a competitive disadvantage, but I do know when you’ve got to play a Thursday game, to get your guys back preparation-wise, it should be a little bit later in the day on Saturday. That’s just my opinion. That’s something I think our league will look at.

“Like I said before, it’s like the Alabama situation a year ago. I’m sure they probably never even recognized that or realized that. That was probably unfair to Alabama’s football team being ranked No. 1 in the country going into the season and winning a national championship and now they’ve got a bull’s-eye on their back and they’ve got six teams they’re playing against, half their schedule has two weeks off. That’s a heck of a bind to put them in. that was unfair to them, and they just won a national championship. I guarantee that’s not going to happen anymore. This is something that our league will look at and get it corrected. I don’t necessarily think there’s favoritism being played. I just don’t know if it’s an oversight or what it is, but it’s something we need to address.”

“We talked a little bit about what was best for our league [at the spring meetings]. A couple years ago when Commissioner Slive brought the whole ESPN contract to us that we needed to agree to play on Tuesdays and Thursday and Saturdays, maybe a Sunday game and Wednesday games. We all agreed that this was best for the league. When we talked about going to one division and not having an east and a west, everybody felt like this was best for our league. I’ve been in the league for a long time. I get [it]; you want what’s best. […] That’s what it’s always been about. The league is bigger than, per se, one institution. That’s what makes this league great in my opinion. Everybody’s had to make a level of sacrifice.”

One Comment

  1. SC Gator says:

    And by “everyone has to do it” he means everyone but Kentucky, who doesn’t have a single Thursday-Sat pairing at all, again. He’s just far too polite to come out and say it.

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