Dunlap: It's a combination of the addition of two new teams to the SEC in 2013 (Texas A&M and Missouri) and where we stand going forward in regards to the NCAA Tournament. We obviously already have a very strong league in the sport of baseball, which will now only get stronger. Texas A&M for example was in Omaha last June. So there was a desire to increase the number of teams coming to Hoover due to changes in the conference.
Q: How to you feel this will affect the SEC and the number of teams it can send to NCAA Regionals?
Dunlap: We've had on several occasions through the years under the current format where we sent nine teams to post-season play, where one team who did not advance to Hoover received a NCAA bid. It's become almost the norm for all teams in Hoover who are eligible to advance to NCAAs. Recently, however, we felt there have been years we could and should have placed 10 teams in the field given the strength of the league. This I believe solidifies the prospects of achieving that goal.
Q: What other options were considered?
Dunlap: We looked at a couple of different options of 10-team tournaments (seeded by divisions, seeded straight 1-10 regardless of divisions, pool play, double vs. single elimination, etc.). This was the format we thought best fit our league and what our fans, coaches and student-athletes want to see. It is very similar to the format we've had the last 15 years that helped make the event so successful.
Q: How long is the new format in place for?
Dunlap: The SEC Athletic Directors wanted to implement the new format this season on a one-year trial basis to see how it goes before the full expansion to 14 teams in 2013. So this year's event will be reviewed by the SEC ADs in Destin in June the week following this year's tournament to evaluate. I would suspect if it goes as we expect it to, it would be permanent fixture.
Q: Aside from starting a day earlier than usual and two more teams in the field, what are some things for fans to look for in the new format?
Dunlap: The Eastern and Western Division Champions will receive first-round byes, with the opportunity to earn another bye later in the week. The other higher seeds also have a chance to earn a bye with a victory in the opening round, so it certainly places an added emphasis on the regular season and seeding that earns you in Hoover. We also no longer have the possibility of those "if necessary" games on Saturday night. We have two semifinal games on Saturday with the winners advancing to Sunday's championship game. Once we get to Saturday, all games become single elimination.
Q: With a six-day outside event, what happens in case of rain during the week?
Dunlap: As you can see, the bracket is very top heavy. We are scheduled to play 12 games Tuesday-Thursday, with only five games Friday-Sunday once we get to quarter-finals. So if we have rain early in the week, we have built in time on the latter half of the event to make up for any rain issues that may occur.
Q: Will all games continue to be televised, even the ones in the first couple of rounds?
Dunlap: Yes, all 17 games will continue to be televised, as well as available on the internet at ESPN3.com. In addition, we'll have streaming audio via the SEC Radio Network and live stats on the SEC website, as well as audio on SirusXM. So while we realize some fans may not be able to be with us in Hoover the entire six days, they will certainly be able to follow and watch at home and on their computer and mobile device. We hope to have television information finalized very shortly after the New Year.