Conference Tournament of the Absurd

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The SEC Tournament used to be as good if not better than the College World Series itself because of the caliber of teams that were in it- just don’t tell the NCAA that.  1998 was their worst nightmare after all- with five SEC teams making it- including our beloved MSU Bulldogs.  But as it is now- the SEC Tournament has become a joke complete with teams pitching freshmen, guys recovering from Tommy John surgery, and literally starting their bullpen.  What happened?  How did the SEC screw this up?  Is Larry Templeton in charge of the SEC Tournament now? That would at least provide a plausible explanation.

First of all some background info- the SEC Tournament has had many formats over the years, and in the 90’s the SEC coaches decided that one of the best ways to make the SEC more powerful and more prepared for Omaha was to basically simulate the College World Series format in the SEC Tournament.  Actually, that was a really good move.  Some things have changed since then, however.  The College World Series is now more spread out- you really can conceivably get through with two dominant starters, a good set-up guy, and a great closer- see LSU three years ago.  Also, now the SEC has expanded to fourteen (maybe sixteen?) teams.  So, allowing eight teams in means only about half the league gets in if they kept the format the same- depending on what happens.

Why is that a big deal?  The NCAA likes to try to spread the wealth around in college baseball, and they will often times give the SEC the shaft for “the better of college baseball”- or in their opinion that means letting Seton Hall in the field.  One excuse last year for leaving an in my opinion deserving LSU team out of the postseason was because they didn’t qualify for the SEC Tournament.  Some critics have suggested that the SEC coaches wanted to expand the field for their job security.  Maybe they’re right- but I do know this- the SEC getting fewer teams in is not good for the conference- which in our case means MSU as well.

So, the result is a confusing bracket with ten teams, and a tournament that starts almost two days after the last SEC game- heaven forbid you have to deal with a rainout like LSU and South Carolina.  There has to be something better than this- and I offer some solutions to the SEC.

The most obvious thing to me is to condense the tournament.  How is this done?  Well, first of all, we’re going to need two stadiums.  Birmingham is actually a perfect city for that.  They currently have Regions Field where the SEC Tournament currently is played, then they have Rickwood Field- which is one of the oldest stadiums in America.  And the Birmingham Barons still use the field for at least one series a year.  So, it’s in good enough shape to handle SEC baseball for a few days.  Birmingham is also building a brand new stadium downtown.

OK, now you divide the ten teams into two pods- which is pretty much exactly what they do now.  The games that are now currently played on Tuesday and Wednesday I would move them to Thursday- which is when the Tournament should start.  One pod plays at Hoover, the other at Rickwood.  The games that are currently held on Thursday and Friday are now moved to Friday.  The two pods switch stadiums. From Saturday forward- keep the Tournament as is.  What venue they play at- that’s semantics from that point forward.

Another option- which is somewhat anti-purist baseball, and an idea that I don’t even know if I care for, but would work well with a 16 team league is a single elimination tournament.  Everyone makes it, and the first team to win four in a row wins the tournament.  Boom. Simple.  Of course, you would be talking about eight games during day one, so again, either two venues would be needed or possibly a first round played on campuses?  Hmmmm…

Finally an option that I like is to do away with the SEC Tournament (gasp from Birmingham)….and have a special series called the SEC Championship series.  The teams that win the East and West match up at a neutral site- possibly moved around the south to say Memphis, Birmingham, Pearl (HA!), New Orleans, etc.  Make it a three game series and have ESPN hype the snot out of it.  And have a special provision where if MSU wins, Ron Polk is brought out and John Cohen gets to punch him in the gut and slap him in the face with the trophy.  Or Greg Byrne.  Or both.  That could be kind of dangerous since the SEC Championship Trophy is kind of pointy.

At any rate, I just gave the SEC three options that are a heck of a lot better than what they are doing now.  They can thank me later.