Updated Wednesday Hoover Notebook

It's Wednesday afternoon and here I am, seated on the second row of the first-base side press box at the Hoover…no, not the Met, it's now Regions Park. Renamed, rebuilt, and refurbished, but still home to my favorite event on the college sports calendar. One other thing has not changed: I have just taken the ceremonial first slurp of Dr. Pepper. Thus, my SEC Tournament is now officially underway.

Admittedly I'm arriving a game late, and a darn good one it was by the radio broadcast by a deflated Alabama crew as they described the one-hit shutout by Arkansas' Nick Schmidt. Now who was that moron babbling on this message board the other day about how SEC aces rarely show up strong for the tournament's opening day? That guy should have his credential revoked and be temporarily exiled off somewhere infernal, like Hades or Conference USA.

Anyway, after detouring to the MSU Motorhome (can't miss it in the big parking lot down past the rightfield corner; JT will be grilling up the sausage about 6:00 today) I'm here for the second game which ONLY started 29 minutes later than the ever-optimistic schedule lists. Not bad. I'm naturally pulling for old friends (even after his abrupt, ummm, departure in 2001) Pat McMahon and Timmer Parenton and their Gator team to get it done. They're up 3-o so far, though their NCAA hopes are at best tenuous at 28-28 overall. These are not good times to be a Florida head coach with a team not winning championships.

TOURNAMENT TALK

Speaking of scheduling, this is as good a time as any to talk about the SEC Tournament, both it's format and future. As anyone who has kept up with the league for a few years knows, this eight-team format has been in place since 1996 after three years experimenting with separate Divisional tourneys. It's been here at Hoover since 1998, though the tourney first came to this park (then the Met) in 1990. Yep, I was there to watch State and LSU ‘tie' for the title when the final game was halted by lightning with State getting whupped.

I loved the event and locale then and even more today, which made the Mays of 2004 and '06 pretty painful…even though I did come on over for a day each time. Why let a pre-issued press pass and all that Dr.P go to waste? Yet practically from the first tourney here in Hoover or elsewhere there have been question among league media and administrators about just how useful or necessary a SEC Tournament was/is.

The thinking was that the top teams at Hoover had ‘nothing to play for' with NCAA bids assured. And when even teams like State (2004 and '06) and others still got NCAA bids without playing in the SECT, more ammo was provided the critics. It was only slightly muted when the NCAA changed its site-assigning date to the Sunday of conference tournament week, leaving some tension for clubs in the middle of the pack. Still purists, and whatever team is annually affected by the absence of one foe on the SEC schedule, will lobby to give up the tourney in favor of playing a full 11-series slate. I won't entirely disagree even if MSU clearly benefited by not playing SEC champs Vanderbilt this season. That might be made up for Thursday of course.

The debate will continue. Every indication is that the SEC will insist on keeping a conference tournament as a ‘signature' event for the sport in a major media market. Which will almost certainly remain Hoover. Other sites have done decent jobs hosting, and for the last couple of years a few professional parks around the region have enquired about opportunity. It's not going to happen, and not just because the SEC Office is just over the mountain from Hoover.

MSU athletic director, and current chair of the NCAA baseball committee, Larry Templeton told media Wednesday morning that with the remodeling of the AA park this year, and all the efforts to facilitate access and parking, the SEC will keep the tournament in Hoover for "a good while. It's centrally located. The kids enjoy coming here, it's a great ball park. I don't know how much more we could ask for."

FORMAT CHANGES IN STORE?

The site won't change and the event will continue. But what of the tournament format? Templeton has seen the tourney evolve over the decades, starting from the matchup of old ten-team league division champs and runners-up (1977-85) to a six and then eight-team field 1986-92, a couple of separate Division tourneys in 1993-95, and finally back to the current setup. The only change since then has been going to a two-bracket format to ensure two teams can meet for a single-game playoff on Sunday for TV, or the Omaha CWS system.

But Templeton says the league's ADs are talking to the coaches about testing other formats being used in various leagues. Such as the ACC, which will have the two brackets in their eight-team tourney play round-robins among themselves. That way, every team is assured three games and there will be an automatic tie-break even if a couple go 2-1. And only two teams will play as many as four games.

"In our case the team that wins the tournament might play five games," Templeton noted. Which is what Mississippi State did in 2001 to take the championship. In 2005 the Dogs did it in four games over five days, though title game foe Ole Miss had to play five times. So the ACC's ‘pod' type system might be of interest.

Templeton even offers the prospect of a 12-team, single-elimination tournament. "I'm certainly in the minority," he admits. "But I think it would rest us for Regionals and super Regionals. I worry about wearing the kids out."

There's one other aspect to a ‘pod' tournament that make it more attractive than the standard double-elimination system the SEC has always used. With three games guaranteed, Templeton suggests, a team that is on the NCAA bubble can afford to lose the first two contests then still win the third game and possibly stay in committee consideration.

And speaking of the committee, Templeton will leave for Indianapolis on Friday. The sixteen #1 seeds and 16 first-round host sites—which might not necessarily be identical lists—will be announced Sunday afternoon at 2:30ct, or a half-hour before the SEC tourney title game. The full field of 64 will be bracketed and announced Monday at 11:30am central.

BULLDOG SEC TOURNEY ROSTER: *--lefthanded or switch-hitters

INFIELDERS: *2b Brandon Turner, 3b/SS Russ Sneed, *2b/OF Jeffrey Rea, *1b/DH Brian LaNinfa, *SS/3b Jet Butler, *1b/OF Mitch Moreland, 3b/1b Connor Powers, 1b/OF Jeff Flagg.

OUTFIELDERS: *Mark Goforth, Nick Hardy, Joseph McCaskill, *Andy Rice, Cade Hoggard. (and Rea, Flagg, Moreland).

CATCHERS: Edward Easley, *Wyn Diggs, *Ryan Duffy

RIGHTHANDED PITCHERS: Chad Crosswhite, Josh Johnson, John Lalor, Ricky Bowen, Aaron Weatherford, Greg Houston.

LEFTHANDED PITCHERS: Justin Pigott, Jesse Carver, Tyler Whitney (and Moreland).


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