DESTIN, Fla. – The Southeastern Conference baseball tournament is staying right at home.
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey announced Friday that SEC schools voted to keep the tournament in Hoover, Alabama, where it has been played since 1998.
The length of a new contract with Hoover is still to determined.
Hoover beat out four other contending sites, including Zephyr Field in Metairie. Other finalists included: Memphis, Tennessee (AutoZone Park); Nashville, Tennessee (First Tennessee Park); and Jacksonville, Florida (Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville).
The tournament has been at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, which sits just a few miles from SEC headquarters in downtown Birmingham, since 1998. Unlike the minor-league ballparks from the other four cities, the Hoover Met has no tenant beside the SEC tournament.
“It was a much more difficult task than may have been indicated,” Sankey said here at a news conference on the final day of the SEC Spring Meeting. “The real tipping point is the area around the stadium and the fact we had over 150,000 fans (attend this year’s tournament).”
The city of Hoover has committed to making what Sankey said will be $70 million in improvements to the “campus” around Hoover Metropolitan Stadium over the next couple of years.
Those improvements include a 155,000-square foot multipurpose building adjacent to the stadium, expanded car and motor home parking and six practice fields, one of which will be built to the dimensions of the Hoover Met field. The multipurpose building will be able to accommodate both teams waiting to play and fans in some sort of “fan fare” setting similar to what exists at the SEC Championship Game and SEC basketball tournaments.
“That campus setting, added parking and RV spots, and the ability to accommodate our teams in a healthier way were important points,” Sankey said.
Jay Cicero, president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, expressed disappointment at not being able to bring the tournament back to the New Orleans area for the first time since it was held in 1992 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“While disappointed, we appreciate Hoover’s long history of success in hosting the annual SEC Baseball Tournament,” Cicero said in a written statement. “The New Orleans Host Committee crafted a strong bid that promised the SEC unprecedented support for the event on every level. New Orleans and Louisiana residents, as well as LSU fans, are passionate about college baseball.
“While our bid contained competitive financial and experiential enhancements only New Orleans can offer, the SEC’s decision today sent a message that Hoover’s geographic proximity to a majority of their institutions as well as a competitively neutral location were both critical in the decision.”
Memphis was widely considered the top challenger to Hoover’s hold on the tournament. AutoZone Park, the home of the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds, has long been lauded as one of the top ballparks in minor league baseball and would have given the event a centralized location similar to Hoover.
Hoover is located within six hours drive of nine SEC schools, including LSU.
Despite the prospect of the tournament moving to LSU’s back yard in Metairie, a number of LSU fans attending the tournament in Hoover last week said they wanted the tournament to stay where it is.
“We’re not coming back if they move it,” said Donavan Andrews of Colyell, who attended the tournament with several members of his family.
“If it ain’t broke,” said Chris Ozark of Monroe, “don’t fix it.”
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.