But for my money the can't-miss event is the SEC Women's Tennis Championships, starting Thursday at the Brownlee O. Currey Tennis Center. That other stuff serves as nice appetizers... but the SEC Tournament is a satisfying main course. How often does an event like this come right to your doorstep, and your home team has such an outstanding chance to win the whole darn thing?
The chance to host the SEC Tournament provides a watershed event for Vandy's women's tennis program, as well as a golden opportunity for uninitiated fans to experience collegiate tennis at its finest. Vanderbilt has become a women's tennis powerhouse since the arrival nine years ago of head coach Geoff MacDonald. The team's matches are a blast to watch, because... well, Vandy is so doggone good at this sport.
The tournament format is much like that of the SEC basketball tournaments, with which most Vandy fans are already familiar. Twelve teams. Eleven matches over four days. Four teams get eliminated on Thursday, four more on Friday. Winners duke it out on Saturday and Sunday. Survive and advance, as they say.
The No. 3-ranked Commodores, by virtue of a 9-1 SEC record and a No. 2 seed, earned a bye for Thursday's round and won't play until Friday around 1:15 p.m. They'll have to win three matches in three days, and none of them will be easy. Somewhere along the way, unless they stumble early, they'll likely have to win a titanic match against top-seeded Florida. Yeah, I'm looking ahead.
But you've got to think, with the mentality these ladies have demonstrated in breezing to a 20-2 record, and with playing on their own familiar courts, they've got an outstanding chance to win the whole event.
"This is arguably the best conference in the country," said MacDonald. "You've got three of the top five teams in the country (Florida, Vanderbilt, Georgia), and a host of other teams just outside the Top Ten. It's exciting. Everyone's playing not only to win the conference championship, but to position themselves well for NCAA play."
MacDonald, who knows great tennis when he sees it, acknowledged last week that his current group of Commodores is beginning to show some of the same resiliency shown by his team that advanced all the way to the championship match three seasons ago.
"There are some similiarites," MacDonald said. "They aren't taking anything for granted. They're competing so well. They're doing a good job of keeping their feet on the ground, and not worrying too much about things they can't control.
"We're excited about where we are right now, but we really want to win an SEC Tournament. That would be a great step, and it would be a first.
"The SEC Tournament is so similar to the NCAA Tournament from about the quarterfinals on. Last year we played Tennessee in the Round of 16, in order to play Florida in the quarters. It's kind of like women's basketball in a way, in that you just have so many SEC teams that are in range of the quarterfinal and Final Four national berths."
Tennis will probably never be a revenue-producing sport-- and fans don't typically think of it as a sport where a rowdy home crowd can make a difference. But if that's what you'd been thinking, Coach MacDonald and I would just like to say, hey, think again.
And at only $7 for a one-day pass, $20 for the whole four days, this may be the greatest bargain since... the $75 men's basketball season ticket?
"Tennis is such a game of emotion and momentum," MacDonald said. "Feeling a crowd's energy helps trip momentum your way, for sure. I've found that everyone who comes to one of our matches absolutely loves it. They're astounded at the level of play. It's world-class.
"It just means a lot. Tennis players aren't used to big crowds. In college to have a partisan crowd is really nice."
Trust me on this one. You can skip Thursday's matches if you must, but get up early on Friday and come watch the matches starting at 8 a.m. The Vandy women meet the Auburn-Alabama winner around 1:15 p.m., and hopefully, spurred on by their home crowd, MacDonald's Commodores will still be hanging around come Sunday.
Who knows, you may like it so well, that you decide to stay around and see the Vandy men's team host their tournament the next week.
2004 SEC Women's Tennis Tournament at the Brownlee O. Currey Jr. Tennis Center in Nashville, Tenn. April 15 - 18 Thursday, April 15 #5 LSU vs. #12 Arkansas - 8 a.m. #8 South Carolina vs. #9 Ole Miss - 9:45 a.m. #6 Kentucky vs. #11 Mississippi State - 11:30 a.m #7 Alabama vs. #10 Auburn - 1:15 p.m. Friday, April 16 #4 Tennessee vs. Winner of LSU/Arkansas - 8 a.m. #1 Florida vs. Winner of S. Carolina/Ole Miss - 9:45 a.m. #3 Georgia vs. Winner of Kentucky/Miss. State - 11:30 a.m. #2 Vanderbilt vs. Winner of Alabama/Auburn - 1:15 p.m. Saturday, April 17 Winner Match 5 vs. Winner Match 6 - 10 a.m. Winner Match 7 vs. Winner Match 8 - 2 p.m. Sunday, April 18 Winner Match 9 vs. Winner Match 10 - 1 p.m.