In an attempt to expand its popularity, the SEC made the decision to move its men's basketball tournament from its usual home in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta to the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa.
The SEC Tournament will be rotated among several cities over the next few years. But the decision to place it in Tampa — which is so far outside what's considered typical SEC country — has become a hot topic heading into Thursday's opening round.
Attendance could be down since Tampa isn't convenient for many SEC fans to travel to, and there is a chance that some fans could decide against spending a few days in Florida during a struggling economy.
"I would be surprised if (this year's tournament) is as well attended as it is when it's Atlanta. Atlanta is probably an easier place for the majority of our conference fan base to get to," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "But our conference office made a decision to have it in Tampa this year, and I'm sure it'll be well done and hopefully well attended."
Florida should benefit the most from the SEC Tournament being in Tampa this year. The Gators will enjoy the closest thing to a home-court advantage when they face Arkansas at 8:45 p.m. Thursday.
So far, none of the SEC's coaches have publicly criticized the league for moving the tournament to a city other than Atlanta. Still, this week could have a much different feel than in years past.
Tampa has never hosted the SEC Tournament, and it remains to be seen if the large mob of Kentucky fans who typically invade Atlanta every year dressed in their blue-and-white outfits will travel to Florida to support their Wildcats.
"It's a new place and so I don't know if it will be like it has been in Atlanta. Last year was my first taste of it," Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie said. "... I would assume that we'll have a good showing over there (in Tampa)."
Since joining the SEC, Arkansas has traveled to five cities other than Atlanta to play in the conference tournament — Birmingham, Ala., Lexington, Ky., Memphis, New Orleans and Nashville, Tenn. Tampa will be No. 6.
Like other SEC coaches, Arkansas coach John Pelphrey admitted that he doesn't mind the SEC Tournament moving to Tampa — as long as it still has a permanent home in Atlanta.
"It will be interesting to see how much of a neutral site (Tampa) will be with us playing Florida. But at the end of the day, I'm not overly concerned with it," Pelphrey said. "I do think it's important for us to have that presence in Atlanta. I think it's an important place for the Southeastern Conference."
This year will mark the first time the SEC Tournament has been played in Florida since Orlando hosted in 1990. The event will return to Atlanta in 2011, but first it will head to Nashville next year and then go to New Orleans in 2012.
For most SEC coaches, though, the site of the SEC Tournament isn't a big deal. After all, they have bigger things to worry about with an automatic invite to the NCAA Tournament up for grabs this weekend.
"I like (the tournament) in Atlanta. I liked it in Nashville," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "I liked it in Tampa, and I'll like it when it goes to New Orleans. I don't have a real strong opinion on where it should be."
Arkansas' Trips To The SEC Tournament
Year City Arkansas' record
1992 Birmingham 1-1
1993 Lexington 1-1
1994 Memphis 1-1
1995 Atlanta 2-1
1996 New Orleans 1-1
1997 Memphis 0-1
1998 Atlanta 1-1
1999 Atlanta 2-1
2000 Atlanta 4-0
2001 Nashville 1-1
2002 Atlanta 0-1
2003 New Orleans 0-1
2004 Atlanta 0-1
2005 Atlanta 0-1
2006 Nashville 1-1
2007 Atlanta 3-1
2008 Atlanta 2-1