On Friday, the SEC announced changes to the tournament format, which includes expanding from 10 to 12 teams. It’s the second consecutive year the league has overhauled the bracket, and this latest iteration aims to streamline the event.
Last season, the tourney expanded from eight to 10 teams because of the impending additions of Missouri and Texas A&M to the league. The bracket was, to say the least, confusing.
Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said the new bracket is “a little cleaner for the fans to understand, because once you get through the first day, it’s basically the eight-team tournament we had a few years back.”
One big change is that the tournament’s first day – in next year’s case Tuesday, May 21 – will be single-elimination. The top four teams, which includes the winner of each division, will draw first-round byes, and there will be opportunities for more byes later in the bracket.
The tourney will then go to double-elimination on Wednesday before returning to single-elimination on Saturday. Just like last year, there will be 17 total games.
“For our situation right now, it’s the best we can do,” Mississippi State coach John Cohen said of the opening-round setup.
The main concern for Cohen, whose Bulldogs won the tournament last season, is how the regular season will affect tournament seeding. With the league now at 14 members, teams will play four cross-divisional series instead of five.
“Somebody is going to play the three best teams on the other side, and somebody’s going to play the three bottom schools on the other side, and that’s going to effect the seeding of the tournament,” Cohen said. “It’s going to have a dramatic effect, but it’s part of this experience of going through this one time.”
Both Bianco and Cohen noted the potential for more confusing tie-breaker scenarios when it comes to tournament seeding. On the other hand, putting 12 teams into the tournament could lead to more NCAA tournament berths.
The SEC put eight teams in the NCAA regionals last season, the 10th time in the last 12 years it’s earned at least that many berths.
“We’re trying to stay above the curve and trying to figure those negative things out before we get there,” Bianco said. “But the truth of the matter is, sometimes you don’t know when you get there.”