Like It Is

OPINION | WALLY HALL: It’s good to be back at the SEC Tournament


TAMPA, Fla -- The first conference basketball tournament yours truly covered was in San Antonio in 1981.

First-round games were played on campus, but No. 1 seed Arkansas and No. 2 seed Houston didn't play until the second round in San Antonio.

Arkansas, which was 24-8 and 13-3 in Southwest Conference play, was stunned by No. 6 seed Texas in its first game, but your trusty scribe had been introduced to one of life's great events.

That was the same year U.S. Reed made his half-court shot at the buzzer to beat Louisville and the Hogs advanced to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.

By the time the Razorbacks left the SWC, Arkansas and Texas playing in the Southwest Conference Tournament in Dallas was the highlight of a season.

The late great "Fast' Eddie Christian and his friends from Fort Smith would take over a huge section of the Hyatt Regency bar and hold court for days.

Their area was taped off with yellow crime scene tape.

They moved their show to Birmingham for a while, but there is a reason the SEC Tournament is called the Kentucky Invitational.

The Wildcat faithful show up by every mode of transportation and buy every ticket they can.

To try and compete back then, Razorback fans started donating to other SEC schools so they could buy their tournament tickets.

There was a memorable moment during Arkansas's first SEC Tournament.

Back then, hundreds of Razorback fans traveled to the conference tournament. The Hogs walked in during an afternoon game and a rim ringing Hog call rang across Jefferson Memorial Coliseum, momentarily stunning Kentucky fans and serving notice the Hogs were for real, at least in basketball.

The Razorbacks were upset 90-89 by Alabama who then got spanked by, you guessed it, Kentucky.

The Wildcats have dominated the SEC Tournament, winning it 31 times.

In the 30 years the Razorbacks have been in the SEC, there has been a major snow storm in Lexington that cancelled flights until two days after the tournament ended (Kentucky won at home) and too many trips to Nashville.

It's a great city but if not for the tidal wave of Kentucky fans it would not be a great basketball environment.

This is the second time it has been played in Tampa and it was not well supported the first time and may not be this week either.

Of course, the Razorbacks football team was here for the Jan. 1 win over Penn State. Now the basketball team gets to enjoy the hospitality and have a chance to leave as the winner, too.

In all the years of covering tournaments, there is one that stands out more than all others.

It was in Nashville and had nothing to do with music, food or even the games.

In the opening round, Arkansas beat Vanderbilt 86-73 and were set to play South Carolina the next day, but the next morning came the biggest upset in basketball history.

Covid-19 ended conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament.

Arkansas won the last game of that season. It was such a stunning time, the Big East stopped play at the halftime of its final game.

Tournaments resumed last season but without fans or media members.

Today, your scribe has made his first commercial flight since covid hit.

On the plane ,everyone wore a mask and few people spoke to each other. But life has started to be normal again and normal for this time of the year is for me to celebrate a birthday and head to the conference tournament.