By Brad Locke | NEMS Daily Journal
Mike Bianco has experienced the frustration of his team not receiving an NCAA tournament bid he thought it deserved.
With the new SEC Baseball Tournament format, unveiled by the league Monday, the Ole Miss coach is hoping that will be a less frequent occurrence.
The SEC Tournament is expanding from an eight-team to a 10-team field starting in 2012, bringing to fruition years of talk by the league’s coaches regarding the matter. They’ve wanted to expand for a long time, and now they have a more inclusive, and they feel more fair, postseason setup.
“Back in 2002 we had an RPI that was about a 29 or a 30, and we didn’t make the conference tournament, and we didn’t get in (the NCAA tournament),” Bianco said. “Even though we’ve had teams make it that didn’t make the (SEC) tournament, there’s probably been a lot more cases where the teams that didn’t make the tournament didn’t get in.”
Bianco, who’s taken Ole Miss to the NCAA tournament nine times in his 11-year tenure, also pointed to LSU’s exclusion in 2011. The perennial power didn’t receive one of the NCAA’s 34 at-large bids despite a 36-20 record and, more importantly, an RPI ranking of 25. The Tigers finished ninth in the SEC, just missing the league tourney.
Mississippi State coach John Cohen also felt LSU got jilted.
“It’s my opinion that if we have a 10-team tournament last year, LSU gets in the NCAA tournament, and who knows, they might end up in Omaha,” said Cohen, referring to the College World Series.
The SEC had seven teams in the 64-team NCAA Regionals last season, including MSU. Between 2001-10, the league put at least eight teams in the NCAAs all but one year (five in 2007). The SEC has gotten nine bids three times over that span (2004, ’05 and ’08).
‘A good thing’
“The more SEC teams get in the tournament, the stronger our league gets, and the more opportunities for teams to get to Omaha,” Cohen said. “It is a good thing for our league, because I really believe in future years, in a given year there might be a very small gap between the person who wins the Eastern and Western division and the team who finishes in last place.”
The SEC Tournament will start a day earlier – Tuesday, May 22 – and will have byes for each division winner. Games played Tuesday through Friday are double-elimination, with single-elimination starting on Saturday with games 15 and 16, and concluding Sunday.
Part of the impetus for the expanded tournament was the expansion of the SEC, which will add Missouri and Texas Aamp&M to the fold in July. Both have strong baseball programs that will make the SEC even deeper – Texas Aamp&M reached the College World Series last season.
“So now to cut six teams out of the tournament doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Bianco said. “It was just perfect timing for it to happen.”