Is Hoover the Best Place for SEC Baseball?

The 2008 SEC Baseball Tournament has now concluded, but for fans around the conference, one debate remains. Is it fair to hold the Tournament at Regions Field in Hoover every year, or does it show a preference for Alabama and Auburn? Are there other locations in the SEC that deserve a chance to host the tournament? Scout.com's Christopher Wellbaum looks at several possible alternatives.

Before we begin, it is important to note that this is not an attack on Hoover or Regions Park, but a question of sharing the wealth. Attendance has doubled since the Tournament was moved to Hoover, so it deserves a great deal of credit for helping interest in college baseball. The SEC has agreed to continue to hold the Tournament in Hoover until 2011, so the conference clearly feels that the relationship is fair and beneficial to its 12 member schools. Let's not forget that the SEC is headquartered in Birmingham, AL, so nearby Hoover is an attractive "local" option for SEC officials, for whom putting on the tournament is a massive undertaking.

One complaint about Hoover is that it seems to give an unfair "home field" advantage to Alabama and Auburn. At first glance, this appears to be the case when you consider that Alabama has won four of the twelve tournaments held in Hoover, with Auburn winning one. There is no doubt that the attendance is better when one of the Yellowhammer State schools is playing well, but a closer look does not support the theory of a home field advantage. In three of the tournaments they won (1996, 1999, and 2002), the Crimson Tide were the first or second seed, so they would have been expected to win. Alabama did win one tournament as a six seed (2003), and Auburn (1998) won as a five, but those are hardly outliers. Besides Auburn, a five seed has won two other times (2004 – South Carolina; 2006 – Ole Miss, with Alabama being the top seed), and though no other six seed has won, in 2005, seventh seeded Mississippi State won. If we look at the average seed of the tournament winner, the overall average seed is 3.4, while Alabama's average seed as a winner is 2.75.

In considering alternative sites, certain criteria would be required, including seating capacity, location, and some intangibles (explained below). There are three on-campus facilities that come close to meeting the criteria, so we have stretched the requirements a bit to include them, although this would provide an unquestioned home field advantage that probably should disqualify them at the start.

Seating Capacity:

Since the Tournament moved to Hoover full time in 1998, the average attendance has been 7,305 per game. The highest average attendance came in 2003 when an average of 9,415 fans saw each game, and in eight of the eleven years had single games with attendance over 10,000. As with any tournament, attendance increases from the opening rounds to the final game, so attendance was higher on Sunday than on Wednesday. For this reason, we will say that any prospective stadium must seat at least 8,000 (this allows us to include the new stadiums in Baton Rouge and Columbia, as well as Fayetteville), but preferably more than 10,000.

Location:

One of the advantages Hoover can claim is a fairly central location for all the SEC schools. While this matter is not as important for revenue sports like football and men's basketball, where fans would travel across country to see their team play, it is important for a sport that still has a relatively small fan base. All locations we consider must be in an SEC state (For everyone who wants to go to South Beach, we are not including Florida south of Gainesville). We will note the furthest and nearest schools in terms of driving time.

Intangibles:

Intangibles will, of course, include the immeasurable, but will also include available hotels, in addition to some things most fans may not think of, such as where the teams take batting practice and what are the available press facilities. Available hotels are an obvious concern, with several thousand fans coming into the host city. With several games being played each day, teams cannot take batting practice at the stadium; they have to have access to a nearby field where batting practice can be held. And while fans might think some members of the media should have their credentials revoked, the stadium still has to accommodate a media contingent from eight schools, plus other outlets.

We have identified eleven locations around the southeast that could make a compelling bid to host the SEC Tournament. We do not know if any of these would be interested in making a bid, and some have obvious flaws that would make them unappealing. With ballparks that are normally home to a professional team, it is understood that team would have to be willing to abandon its home for a week. However, we present to you the information, and you can draw your own conclusions.

New Alex Box Stadium – Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Capacity: 8,500

Location: Furthest school – Kentucky (12 hours) Nearest school – LSU (Home stadium)

Intangibles: Along with the new stadium at South Carolina, New Alex Box Stadium is one of two new on-campus facilities that will debut next season. The fact that it is on-campus makes up for the lower seating capacity, although eleven other schools may disagree. Hotels should not be an issue, and there is a pair of nearby baseball fields for batting practice. Baton Rouge is a long drive for the east coast schools.

AutoZone Park – Memphis, Tennessee

Capacity: 12,500

Location: Furthest school – Florida (11 hours) Nearest school – Ole Miss (1.5 hours)

Intangibles: AutoZone Park is one of the premiere minor league parks, and Memphis is well equipped when it comes to hotels and other attractions (Beale Street, Graceland, National Civil Rights Museum, and so on). There is another baseball field not far away that could be used for batting practice. The downside is that Memphis is not really an SEC city.

Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville – Jacksonville, Florida

Capacity: 11,000

Location: Furthest school – Arkansas (16.5 hours) Nearest school – Florida (1.5 hours)

Intangibles: Another premiere minor league facility, the biggest drawback for the Baseball Grounds is that it is currently host to the ACC Tournament, although 2008 is the last year of that agreement. Another complication is that Jacksonville is relatively remote in the SEC. The upside is that Jacksonville knows how to host a tournament, having had experience with the ACC and with the Super Bowl.

Baum Stadium/George Cole Field – Fayetteville, Arkansas

Capacity: 10,737

Location: Furthest school – Florida (16 hours) Nearest school – Arkansas (Home Stadium) Intangibles: Another on campus stadium, it faces the same challenges as the New Alex Box Stadium. There is a nearby field for batting practice, but the remoteness of Fayetteville in the SEC would be a major deterrent.

Greer Stadium – Nashville, Tennessee

Capacity: 10,000

Location: Furthest school – Florida or LSU (9 hours) Nearest school – Vanderbilt (same city)

Intangibles: Hotel space would not be an issue, but the biggest drawback would be the park itself. Greer Stadium is 30 years old, however, and lacks some of the modern amenities expected for hosting the SEC Tournament. There is a nearby field for batting practice.

Joe Davis Stadium – Huntsville, Alabama

Capacity: 10,200

Location: Furthest school – Arkansas (9 hours) Nearest school – Vanderbilt (2 hours)

Intangibles: The biggest knock on Huntsville is, why move two hours up the road? There are nearby ballparks for batting practice, but the stadium is older, and may not by up to the standards of the SEC Tournament.

Knights Stadium – Fort Mill, South Carolina

Capacity: 10,000

Location: Furthest school – Arkansas (14.5 hours) Nearest school – South Carolina (1.5 hours)

Intangibles: Although technically located in South Carolina (making it eligible under our criteria), Knights Stadium is home to the Charlotte Knights, and Charlotte is decidedly an ACC city. It also lacks a central location, and the Knights' desire to build an uptown ballpark has left Knights Stadium slightly outdated. Hotels would not be a problem, but there are no nearby parks for batting practice.

Louisville Slugger Field – Louisville, Kentucky

Capacity: 13,000

Location: Furthest school – Florida, LSU (11.5 hours) Nearest school – Kentucky (1.5 hours)

Intangibles: Like Knights Stadium, this is barely in SEC territory, if at all. There are no issues with the stadium or the hotel situation, but there are no nearby parks for batting practice.

Regions Park – Hoover, Alabama

Capacity: 10,000

Location: Furthest school – Arkansas (9 hours) Nearest school – Alabama (1.5 hours)

Intangibles: Hoover is the winner in terms of centrality, plus they have the added benefit of 12 years experience hosting the tournament. They have all the facilities necessary for hosting.

Turner Field – Atlanta, Georgia

Capacity: 50,000

Location: Furthest school – Arkansas (11 hours) Nearest school – Georgia (1.5 hours)

Intangibles: The only major league park on the list, Turner Field has the most to offer. However, it probably offers more than the SEC Tournament needs, aside from prestige. There is a nearby field for batting practice, and Atlanta has experience hosting the SEC Football Championship, so ability is not an issue. The biggest question is whether the Braves would be willing to donate the Stadium for a week.

Zephyr Field – New Orleans, Louisiana

Capacity: 11,000

Location: Furthest school – Kentucky (11 hours) Nearest school – LSU (1.5 hours)

Intangibles: Zephyr Field has hosted a Super Regional, as well as the Conference USA and Sun Belt Conference Tournaments, so it has experience with big events. Hotels and entertainment are certainly not a problem in New Orleans, and there is a nearby park for batting practice. The biggest challenge is that New Orleans is a long drive for the east coast teams.

New South Carolina Stadium – Columbia, South Carolina

Capacity: 8,000

Location: Furthest school – Arkansas (15 hours) Nearest school – South Carolina (on campus)

Intangibles: This as yet unnamed stadium has the smallest capacity on the list. It also lacks a central location and is on campus. However, hotels and batting practice are not a problem, though parking would be a problem.

Here is the average distance to all of the above venues from the 12 SEC schools:

average distances:

Baton Rouge - 7.6

Memphis - 5.9

Jacksonville - 8.5

Fayetteville - 9.7

Nashville - 5.3

Huntsville - 5.2

Charlotte - 7.2

Louisville - 7

Hoover - 4.5

Atlanta - 4.8

New Orleans - 7.2

Columbia - 6.7


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