Marshall: The SEC Should Listen to Coaches

If any further proof was needed, all one needs to do is look at the NCAA baseball regional pairings. The Southeastern Conference baseball tournament is surely the most meaningless event staged by the league.

LSU, the biggest name in college baseball over the past two decades, found out the hard way Monday when the pairings went out. The Bayou Bengals, who squeezed into the SEC Tournament as the No. 8 seed, were stunningly left out. Mississippi State, which did not make the SEC Tournament field and was woeful the second half of the season, got in.

What was really at stake in the conference tournament?

Alabama could have lost its No. 4 national seed had it gone two-and-out, though it would have been unlikely. Georgia might have earned its No. 7 national seed by winning three games. Kentucky might have been a top eight seed had it not gone two-and-out.

Beyond that, the tournament meant nothing in the big picture. Mississippi State is the third consecutive SEC team to make a regional without playing in the SEC Tournament. Auburn did it last season and Florida the season before.

Sure, it was a thrill for Ole Miss players, coaches and fans to win the championship. But the Rebels would have been right where they are in the regionals had they gone home early.

All of this begs another question. Why in the world doesn't the SEC include everybody in the tournament? It would be simple, really. Give the top four teams byes and let the bottom eight teams play four single-elimination play-in games. That would mean starting the tournament one day earlier. It would also mean selling more tickets.

The four first-day winners would have slim chances of winning the championship, because they would probably run out of pitchers. So what? As the events of Monday verified again, it doesn't even matter.

At least, every team would get to experience the tournament. Every team could hold out hope until the end that it could earn the league's automatic bid. It works in basketball. Why not baseball?

SEC basketball coaches will tell you that the tournament helps keep players focused late in seasons that might have been disappointing. It's not realistic, but basketball players, even on the weaker teams, believe they can make a run and win the tournament. The same would be true in baseball. Auburn players, for instance, probably would have had much more of an edge at Arkansas in their regular-season finale if they knew they were going to the tournament. And they would have held out hope until the end that they could win the tournament and go on to a regional.

Of course, SEC athletics directors and the SEC office are not known for giving baseball its due. Games can be lost to rainouts and can be ended early by curfews to accommodate travel plans. That would never happen in the marquee sports. Baseball doesn't make enough money to be taken seriously, I guess.

For years, baseball coaches have been pleading to either include everyone in the tournament (which doesn't bring in as much money as one might think) or do away with the tournament altogether and play a complete round-robin with 11 regular-season series.

Doing away with the tournament would actually be the fairest thing to do. That way, everybody plays everybody else and there are no arguments when the season is over. At the same time, the tournament is a fun event and winning it is a worthy goal, even if it doesn't have much impact later on

Why not listen to the coaches and include everybody? I don't believe there is a good reason why not.

The biggest shock of Monday was LSU's being left out of the field. Want to know why it happened? Check the RPI. Mississippi State's was higher, not much higher but higher. People who have served on the committee say privately that RPI is, by far, the most important factor in picking the field.

The snub just added more fuel to the anger directed at Coach Smoke Laval by LSU supporters. There are those who question whether he will keep his job. That's pretty amazing, considering he has won an SEC championship and been to the College World Series twice in five seasons.

Until next time...

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