Overshadowed from within

Football has long ruled the roost in the Southeastern Conference, but, with an expanded and improved league, SEC basketball is now competing more than ever with the gridiron greats. Hear the league's coaches discuss the 'problem.'

HOOVER, Ala. – Exiting Southeastern Conference Basketball Media Day 2012, the storyline grabbing most headlines was ESPN's "All-Access Kentucky" show and how several of the league's coaches feel about it.

With the defending-champion Wildcats on primetime television, it's the sexy topic of the week. It's current, it's highly public and, to some, it's at least a little controversial.

It's also a bit overblown.

The real story that emerged after talking with coaches from across the SEC basketball landscape is that they feel overshadowed by something totally different.

SEC football.

Very few were legitimately worried about cameras constantly fixed on John Calipari's ‘Cats. A significantly higher number was concerned about exposure lost to the conference's gridiron counterparts during the fall semester.

As a result of football's absolute stranglehold on the NCAA, SEC basketball, which claims three of the last seven national champions (Florida in 2006, 2007 and Kentucky in 2012), gets lost in the shuffle.

The reality of living in a football-first conference – and the comparisons that come with the territory – is something each of the league's 14 coaches has to contend with, whether it's fair or not.

"As basketball coaches sometimes we feel like we have to be apologetic for SEC basketball, which to me is ridiculous," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said at Media Day. "It's because of the monster, and it's a monster in a good way, which is SEC football. What have they won? Six straight titles. They may be on their way to 17 straight.

"As a result everything pales in comparison, but we are a league that has had three of the last seven national champions. I think the league is strong and well. I just think that when you're dealing with college towns with for the most part a college-football mentality because of the heritage and tradition of SEC football, many times when you look up and see you're into SEC basketball, you're already into January."

Kennedy, heading into his seventh year leading the Rebels, certainly knows the lay of the land in the conference of Dixie.

But even a newbie to the league knows who the boss is.

"The reason that (SEC basketball is overshadowed) is because football is so doggone good," said Missouri coach Frank Haith to a round of laughs.

New South Carolina coach Frank Martin, joining Haith in coming over from the Big 12, echoed the same sentiment during his time at the mic.

"Here's the problem with the SEC, maybe I shouldn't say the problem," Martin leveled with reporters. "But it's not an SEC problem, it's a national problem – that we have so many teams that are competing for a national championship in football that all the national media outlets talk SEC football til January."

Martin did qualify his statement, a lot like Kennedy did, by saying despite the shadow cast by football, he's proud of what SEC basketball has to offer. "I know I'm happy to be in a league that has that kind of strength, that has that kind of unity, that has so many programs that are that good."

What's perhaps most ironic is that the oft-publicized and occasionally resented Wildcats are the conference's ticket to notoriety in the fall. In other words, the rest of the league admittedly relies on Big Blue.

Explained Kennedy: "Well, it's good for Kentucky to be able to carry that flag nationally until we get to that (point in January), when people can look and say ‘Hey, man, there's quality basketball being played in that league.'"

Guess when it comes to talking SEC basketball, one way or the other, it all comes back to Kentucky.

*Fox Sports Next's John Garcia Jr. and Kristen Ledlow contributed to this report.

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