OMAHA, Neb. – The Southeastern Conference takes center stage Monday night at Rosenblatt Stadium.
Though the league was unable to send as many teams to Omaha as it would have liked, an ESPN2 primetime match-up between two of its most successful schools on the diamond – Arkansas and LSU – is a nice consolation.
"You get spoiled a little bit," said Southeastern Conference associate commissioner Charles Bloom. "We've had four teams here before. This year we had four teams in the Super Regionals and three were hosting, and then the one team that doesn't host (Arkansas) makes it all the way. That sends a great signal about our league that we can go on the road and beat a top 10 team handily.
"Sure, we'd love to have more but it sends the right signal that seven of our eight teams that made the NCAA Tournament won at least one game and many played for the regional championship. The depth is what makes our league so strong."
The game is a bit of a precursor to a new relationship between the league and ESPN. The two parties agreed to a 15-year contract in which the network would be an exclusive provider of SEC games.
Bloom said while that deal is primarily aimed at football and men's basketball, baseball is a sport that could eventually be a beneficiary.
"College baseball is still growing in terms of visibility," Bloom said. "We always look to get into more homes watching college baseball. Tonight people from around the SEC, around the country and around the world will have a chance to see our teams.
"We're looking for things that we can do to help promote the game. I think pace of play is a huge issue in how long games are lasting and keeping the fans tuned in. We're talking about a society today that has the attention span of 140 characters or less, and then we're talking about three and four-hour ballgames. So we really have to look at pace of play on a national level. TV might embrace it more if they knew they had a three-hour window that they could carry a game; that would make it a lot more conducive to television."
Bloom said ESPN currently receives ratings for coverage of college softball than college baseball.
"Softball is a lot quicker and a lot more fast-pace, and maybe that's something baseball can learn from," Bloom said. "The (baseball) talent levels are fantastic and our schools are making such large commitments to baseball. Kids coming out of high school now have a much tougher choice to make rather than just going straight to pro ball."
Baseball coaches are certainly those that would benefit from more exposure on a national level, especially in terms of recruiting.
"It's definitely a plus," said Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn. "We're on a lot of kids right now that are finishing their junior years and we can start contacting by phone in about two weeks. We're already talking with them by e-mail and letters, and everything we can do legally.
"The league is tough and it can knock you around a little bit. Being on TV is great for our program and it's great for LSU's program."
Bloom said the two teams in tonight's match-up are a good indication of the future the conference has in the sport.
"Arkansas is young and could be back here next year," Bloom said. "Paul (Mainieri) has already brought LSU twice, so they could be back next year.
"It's great for the league and baseball to have LSU and Arkansas in the winners' bracket. The visibility helps the league. Every year we get teams to Omaha but we haven't won a title since 2000, and we'd like to get over the hump this year."
SEC benefits from primetime match-up
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