ATHENS - The conference that rules college football, but has struggled in the next most visible sport, continues to attack the problem.
The SEC has appointed Mark Whitworth as associate commissioner for men's basketball. Whitworth, who has worked in the SEC office for the past 25 years, is the first associate commissioner whose job title includes one specific sport.
The conference has fallen on hard times in the sport. Despite some high-profile recent success, such as Kentucky and Florida, the number of SEC teams making the NCAA tournament has decreased dramatically, and the bottom half of the league has been pretty putrid. The national profile of Kentucky has failed to raise the performance of the rest of the conference, with attendance at several schools, including Georgia, also lagging.
In the release announcing Whitworth's appointment, the SEC highlighted that it has won three of the past eight NCAA titles, and is third in the number of championships won by a conference. But then it also pointed out: "The SEC member institutions have recently focused on raising the profile of men’s basketball by agreeing to collectively improve non-conference scheduling and the launch of the SEC Network in the fall of 2014 will provide more exposure for the sport than at any other time in league history."
The SEC says Whitworth's duties will include serving as a "liaison" with the coaches, overseeing the SEC tournament, coordinating non-conference scheduling, preparing the SEC schedule, and working "closely with SEC media partners in matters pertaining to basketball."
The most interesting part of the job description is coordinating non-conference scheduling. That's still technically free to each school to handle, but the SEC has made clear it wants approval of each team's schedule. The concern in the SEC office is that too many teams have missed on NCAA bids because of weak RPI and schedule strengths.
“We are pleased to have a senior leader who is able to focus exclusively on SEC men’s basketball and Mark is ideal for this role, “ SEC commissioner Mike Slive said in a statement. “Based on his experience with the conference and our coaches, as well as his relationships with our partners, Mark will be a full time advocate for and effectively manage our efforts to promote and enhance SEC basketball.”
“SEC basketball is a world class sport with great tradition and all the elements are here to grow the sport and the brand,” Whitworth said in a statement. “I am excited to work with the Commissioner and our coaches to elevate men’s basketball to a level of even higher success.”
Whitworth has served in the SEC office for the past 25 years and had been serving as the associate commissioner of external affairs.