In most years, the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament has been an enjoyable get-together and not much else. Before the policy was changed last season, NCAA regional host sites were announced before the first pitch was thrown. But things are different now. Who wins the tournament still won't likely have a lot of impact on the postseason picture. Host sites will actually be announced Sunday during the championship game. But there are still some issues to be settled during the tournament, which starts Wednesday at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium when No. 3 Auburn plays No. 6 Vanderbilt.
LSU is lock to be a host not only a regional, but also a super regional. South Carolina, with 19 SEC wins, would seem set as at least a regional host. That leaves Auburn and Mississippi State as candidates to host regionals. Auburn has a leg up because it finished half a game ahead of the Bulldogs, won two of three in Starkville, played perhaps the nation's toughest schedule and has the nation's No. 2 RPI. Mississippi State has the largest stadium in the SEC and a history of drawing large crowds. Both teams should be selected as hosts, but there's no guarantee both will. How they perform in the tournament could be a significant factor.
Tug Hulett and the Tigers would like the opportunity to qualify for the College World Series with regional and super regional games at Plainsman Park.
Vanderbilt, Alabama and Arkansas, the bottom three seeds, have some work to do if the SEC is to get its usual number of teams in regionals. All finished 14-16 in league play. Seven SEC teams were selected last season and eight the season before. LSU, South Carolina, Auburn, Mississippi State and Ole Miss are locks for the 64-team field. Alabama and Arkansas might need to win a game or two apiece or might be in anyway. Vanderbilt, just 27-26 overall, probably needs to make a run deep into the tournament.
All the talk about Annika Sorenstam playing with the guys in his week's Bank of America Colonial golf tournament brings back a memory. When my oldest son was 14, he was a middle school wrestler. On weekends, the team would compete in tournaments against teams from around the Southeast. After he'd won his first two matches during one of those tournaments, he was finished for the day. He went to look at the brackets to see who he wrestled the next morning.
When he returned, his face had gone pale. He was wrestling a girl. "What am I going to do, dad?" he asked. "If I lose to her, I can't go back to school." He played baseball, football and wrestled. He played in championship games. But I never saw him as nervous about an athletic event as he was then.
I told him she chose to be there and he had to approach that match just like any other. Before the match, I saw him surrounded by his teammates. I thought they were encouraging him. When I asked him later what they were saying, he said. "They told me if I embarrassed our team and lost they'd never speak to me again." Anyway, he won easily and was no worse for the experience. Though some of the golfers on the PGA Tour don't like it, they, too, will survive having Annika in their midst for a weekend. And just think what a great story it will be if she is able to stay in contention.
It has not been a good football offseason in the state of Georgia. Nine Georgia players were caught recently selling their SEC championship rings and were declared ineligible. Ten Georgia Tech players were declared academically ineligible. It was an unseemly thing for the Georgia players to sell their rings, but for the life of me, I don't see how that should be an NCAA violation. Once the rings were awarded, they were the personal property of the players. What they did with them, it seems to me, is their business.
The Georgia players will have their eligibility restored, probably before the Bulldogs even play a game. There is a lesson here. Fans would like to think players have the same emotional investment in their teams that they do. Some players do. Most don't. That doesn't mean they don't play hard. It doesn't mean they're not loyal to their teammates and their coaches. It's just a fact of modern life in college athletics.
The problems at Georgia Tech are much more serious. I laugh when I hear the explanation that it is about Georgia Tech's demanding academic standards. Georgia Tech has been signing marginal students and getting them through school for years. If schools are going to sign marginal students--which they must do in the South to win--they are morally obligated to make sure those students have the help they need to succeed in school. There was a serious failure at Georgia Tech either in providing that help or monitoring the progress of those students. Until next time…