By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. -- The 2012 SEC Baseball Tournament is here.
After three months of home games, road trips and pivotal moments, the chance for the league's 10-best teams to shine is upon us. For the next six days, starting on Tuesday (more on that later), the road to the National Championship starts in Hoover at Regions Park. A talent packed collection of teams will battle each other over the course of this week, with the conference's tournament champion crowned on Sunday.
For fans, both local and those on their way to Hoover, this week is a preview of many things. You will see teams likely to advance to the NCAA Tournament, while also getting a glimpse at tomorrow's major league stars. That's why the phrase "The Road Begins in Hoover" is so apt, because it applies for everything that is SEC baseball.
Now, the SEC Tournament that we have all come to love is getting a face lift this year, which I'll explain in the space below. So, whether you've been to Hoover in the past or not, we will all get the chance to watch history in 2012.
As I always do, I'll let the numbers explain what I mean.
1. A New Day
The Number: 6
2012 marks a "new day" for the SEC Baseball Tournament. I don't mean that metaphorically, but literally. For the first time in SEC history, the baseball tournament will begin on Tuesday, adding another full day of action and giving the bracket an entirely new look (which you can see here
Why the change? 10 teams are now making the trip to Hoover, which is historic in itself. The decision to add squads was made in December, giving the conference office and tournament staff just five months to make all the necessary adjustments. There is a new bracket, and more four opportunities to watch teams play this season. This could prove pivotal in the NCAA pairings as well, as the criteria for SEC teams making the tournament can only improve with more teams in Hoover.
In a feature story I got the chance to do for this year's SEC Baseball Tournament Program (shameless plug), I learned of all the different groups that were involved in both the decision making and execution process. How it got to this point is also interesting, in that it took a combination of conference expansion and selection criteria for change to happen. That all comes to a head Tuesday morning, as first pitch will put theory into practice. Mind you, nothing is cemented in stone past this year's tournament, adding another level in intrigue to an already exciting atmosphere.
What does this mean for the games and players themselves? Well, coaches have more decisions to make, and pitching will come at more of a premium should you advance. There are 17 total games in this event, so keeping arms fresh and available will be even more important this year.
For you the fan, just sit back and enjoy. With a clear forecast predicted and baseball games galore, consider yourself lucky. You get to watch more of the nation's top baseball programs.
2. The NCAA Question
The Number: 10
Will a new SEC Tournament format equal more NCAA teams?
Baseball ranking is an inexact science, even less so than basketball. There are a few prognosticators out there, as they tend to use a personalized from of RPI (rating percentage index). All have the SEC as a league doing well this season, which should bode fine for the conference when the NCAA bracket is announced.
According to WarrenNolan.com, 10 league teams are ranked in the top 64 of his RPI metric. Boyd's World has the SEC's group of 10 ranked no lower than 53rd, again a good sign for the conference. The Perfect Game publication is even better for the SEC, with the 10 teams going to Hoover all 45th and under.
Does this mean the SEC will get 10 teams in the NCAA Tournament? I consider myself knowledgeable on many baseball related subjects, but the selection process is not one of them. My gut tells me yes, but you can't know for sure.
It will be interesting to see how the NCAA group decides. Will the move to 10 help the league? Or will it not matter? Stay tuned.
3. The Nation's Best....and History Again
The Number: 2 Million
It sure seems like I use the term "history" a lot in this column. Perhaps it is because I do, and that's because the SEC continues to make it every year they compete. Whether it is winning six straight BCS National Championships in football, or winning three straight College World Series titles, the conference is in the midst of a remarkable run. Well, you can add another historic number to the tally.
The number reflects the total baseball attendance figures for the league in 2012. Using my favorite cities analogy, that would make the SEC's fan total the fifth largest city in the United States. That number is larger than the populations of Detroit, Seattle and Boston combined.
This isn't just a top heavy mark, with the leg work coming from every program in the conference. Figures show that all 12 of the league's schools rank in the top 33 of attendance. In a staggering feat, five of the top six schools in the country were from the SEC. The conference as a whole averaged over 5,000 fans per game, another first in SEC history. The LSU Tigers, which topped all programs nationwide, averaged over 10,000 fans every time they took the field at Alex Box Stadium.
In an age of more people staying home to watch games on television, the accomplishment shows that SEC support only continues to grow. As evidenced by the number of fans that cheer on their teams, the SEC is simply the best. Figure that.