Column-writing is my passion. It's all I've ever wanted to do in the newspaper business. And while my abilities to rival some of the other greats in this state -- this publication included -- may fall short, it is still gratifying to ply the trade before you on a regular basis. Oh, to be like some of those who have filled this space.  My first mentor was Doug Bradford, a quiet gentleman with a dry wit and writing style that won him respect all throughout Alabama. Bill Coker came along in the procession, a unique blend of both an official and writer extraordinaire. Ron Ingram made prep sports a priority and I'm proud to say I hired two of the best in the business today, editor Jon Johnson and Alabama beat man Ken Rogers.

            The question most asked of me is how long does it take to write a column. Varies. If you've got something to say that's burning a hole in you, it may require mere minutes. During the dog days of Deadsville, as my late friend Jim Fyffe used to reference each summer, it can be a tiring, tooth-pulling of enormous proportions.

            Today, I could fill the entire section with my admitted-emotional disdain for the current status of college basketball in this region, specifically the Southeastern Conference, pinpointed to the hilt at the situation at Auburn.

            In a word, awful. Not bad, not down, not unlucky. Awful.

            While I study and adore the game, people who know far more than me confirmed that notion Sunday afternoon. The NCAA Selection Committee named three, as in a trio out of 14 candidates, SEC teams got bids to the NCAA tournament. Florida and Missouri were considered shoo-ins before the just-completed SEC tournament. Nobody else was guaranteed. Ole Miss wound up making up the final league invitee by upsetting Florida in the title game, but had to benefit from a last-second Gator shot that seemed to go all the way through the cylinder only to rattle out. The committee said Ole Miss was in the field anyway, but if you're completely convinced of that allow me to show you the beachfront family land in northern Dale County.

            With the exception of Florida and Missouri I have never seen a poorer quality of play among any league in my 35 years of journalism. Sub-par athletes, horrible shooters, stand-still offenses and a basketball I.Q. of a combined 146, which is 34 points shy of a genius. My, how ironic, 34 is the same number of years since Auburn won just nine games in a season. That's where the genius comparisons stop abruptly, for Mighty Casey hasn't just struck out, he's hit rock-bottom.

            I read with shock and dismay athletic director Jay Jacobs' statement Friday endorsing embattled coach Tony Barbee and his downward-spiraling outfit.

            "Coach Barbee and I will continue to work together to support our basketball program...," the knee-jerk reaction read. Really? As opposed to picketing the $120 million Auburn Arena urging the long-suffering Tiger family to go home and not attend? A silly rationalization, obviously. But no more so than keeping Barbee another year. In essence, Auburn gave Gene Chizik two years after the national championship before they axed him. Barbee will apparently get four. Rationalize that.

            Barbee's pleading his case because he has to. Next step for him in the head coaching profession? Can you say Abilene Christian or the likes? The players say they're staying. Uh, and where would they go? Nobody in his right mind would waste a roster spot on them. Help's on the way? Sorta like the six of Barbee's first eight signees headed for higher ground?

            The SEC is in fact horrible, and the nation's laughing, perhaps in part because of the football stretch of dominance. But the fact is, every school has a two-sided face in its national sports reputation. Football, indeed, is one of them, but basketball is the other one. Historically, the league will get better. Kentucky is set to sign six of the top eight recruits in the country for next season. There is no such hope at Auburn unless a broom of mighty proportions swings through.

            Phil Paramore's column appears Tuesday in The Dothan Eagle. He can be heard weekdays from noon until 2 on AM 560 WOOF, 100.1 FM or at www.woofradio.com. He can be reached at the same website..