DESTIN, Fla. - The Southeastern Conference is trying to take advantage of its postseason basketball success.
Florida won the national championship, Louisiana State also advanced the Final Four and South Carolina won the National Invitation Tournament. The league also finished with the highest Rating Percentage Index in the country.
Although coaches realize the achievements mean little once next season begins, they believe they have a chance to change the perception of the conference - and be recognized as a basketball powerhouse like the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big East.
"You certainly hope it's going to have a major, positive impact," Gamecocks coach Dave Odom said. "It should. It's up to the conference to take advantage of that type of thing. It's not going to happen if we let it lie dormant.
"We've got to move forward with some beating of chests and some things of that nature, but not doing it in a tacky way. I think just telling the truth is the way to go."
The coaches discussed several suggestions during the league's annual spring meetings this week, most notably about securing more television exposure and working out a deal with either the Big East or the Big 12 to rival the annual Big 10-ACC challenge in November.
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said ESPN is looking to have games on Thursday and Sunday nights, both of which the conference would like to be a part of.
Odom said a deal with either the Big East or the Big 12 will happen and likely begin in 2007. Until then, the league has made a commitment to schedule attractive non-conference games.
Florida and Tennessee have scheduled Ohio State next season. Georgia will play Gonzaga, South Carolina has Kansas on tap, and LSU faces Connecticut and Texas.
"Not only do you schedule those games, you've got to win those games," Tigers coach John Brady said. "Scheduling those games is not that difficult, but winning those games elevates your program and elevates your league. If you do that consistently enough, then SEC starts rolling off people's mouths like the Big East and the ACC."
That should be the case next season, especially with Florida returning nearly everyone from its championship team while several other big-time players also decided to come back.
Brady noted that the most beneficial part of the conference's success might have been that it didn't include Kentucky, which historically has accomplished far more than anyone else in the league.
Now, the coaches want to make the most of their latest exposure.
"We've got to have an overall perspective that this league is as good as any basketball league in the country and on some years, we are the best - that's the way we've got to look at it," Odom said. "We can't ever take a back seat and give in to anybody by saying they're better, because they're not."
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