HOOVER, Ala. — A site for the next three to five Southeastern Conference baseball tournaments will probably be voted on at next week’s SEC Spring Meeting in Destin, Florida.
SEC officials say it’s likely talks on the format of the SEC tournament will follow at some point.
The SEC tournament expanded to 12 teams in 2013 when Texas A&M and Missouri joined the conference to form a 14-team league. The tournament grew from 10 teams to 12, continuing to ensure that only two teams were left out. This year’s tournament marks the first time that the LSU Tigers, the No. 5 seed, found themselves playing in Tuesday’s single-elimination round with a late game against No. 12 Tennessee.
Including a full dozen teams makes the SEC tournament complex and unwieldy. The tournament goes from single elimination Tuesday to double-elimination rounds Wednesday and Thursday, then back to single elimination for Saturday’s semifinals and Sunday’s winner-take-all championship game.
How confusing is that? LSU fans might recall that their Tigers started strongly here last year with a bye as the SEC regular-season champion followed by double-elimination round wins Wednesday over Auburn and Thursday over Arkansas. After a one-day break, LSU came back for Saturday’s semifinals and was bounced 2-1 by Florida.
The current format requires that four games be played on the tournament’s first three days (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday). Everything went off without a hitch on this Tuesday. There were no weather issues, no extra-inning games. In a minor baseball miracle, Jake Latz’s first pitch whistled across the plate on time at 8:01 p.m.
But bad weather and unusually long games are a certainty at some point. They have the propensity to push games off their scheduled days and spill over into later days of the tournament. A smaller tournament field might help alleviate such concerns.
Hopefully all formats will be considered, including pool play. The ACC is one conference that uses pool play for its conference tournament. Here’s how it works:
The ACC, which has 14 baseball-playing members, starts with 10 teams eligible for the tournament. On Tuesday, the bottom four seeds — No. 7 versus No. 10 and No. 8 versus No. 9 — met in a pair of play-in games. The winners of those two games advanced into the two four-team pools. The two teams with the best pool play records (they play three games in four days) meet in Sunday’s winner-take-all championship game.
The ACC format ensures that its top six teams plus the two play-in survivors will have a guaranteed three pool play games. Most coaches are sure to like a format like that. Three games is enough time for a team to state its case — or play its way out of — an NCAA tournament bid.
It’s an intriguing prospect, though not perfect. Such a format employed in the SEC this year would have meant No. 7-seed Ole Miss, a team with a No. 6 NCAA RPI, would have had to sweat it out in a play-in game to get to pool play.
There’s no guarantee the SEC will change its tournament format going forward. On the other hand, a vote is imminent on where to play the SEC tournament, whether to stay here in Hoover or move to Zephyr Field in Metairie; Memphis, Tennessee; Nashville, Tennessee; or Jacksonville, Florida.
SEC spokesman Chuck Dunlap said an announcement could be expected June 3, on the final day of the SEC Spring Meeting.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.