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Hobbs Column: SEC’s math not so good in baseball

Last Modified: Wednesday, May 08, 2013 10:40 AM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

It’s never too early to start trying to figure out the bracket for the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament.

In fact, we may already be too late, at least if the goal is to decipher it by the time the postseason gala starts on May 21 in Hoover, Ala.

Presumably it will end at some point, although the bracket is somewhat murky on that point.

But let me see if I’ve got this straight. In the now-bloated SEC — 14 strong and proud to be in Texas and Missouri — it will attempt to accommodate 12 teams. This means that the conference went to all the trouble of a 30-game regular season league schedule for the express purpose of eliminating exactly two schools — or roughly 14 percent.

The NHL regular season is more efficient than this.

Back when the conference was a mere two six packs, the tournament normally let eight of them in the postseason tournament. But it wasn’t unusual for coaches to get their feelings hurt when missing out on the trip to Hoover, a tiny Birmingham suburb that is nice enough, but certainly not on many travel guides’ bucket lists.

So we can only guess that this is just another sad example of what happens when you leave 14 baseball coaches alone in a room with no adult supervision.

Most likely they hammered this thing out while the rest of the SEC was preoccupied with something really important, like a semi-equitable conference football schedule. That, by the way, is a quest that continues to this day with no real solution on the horizon.

The baseball coaches, at any rate, must have giggled their way all the way home after pulling this off.

They turned the regular season into summer camp, where almost everybody at least gets a ribbon and a pat on the head.

In keeping with this theme, maybe the tournament should revert to Little League mode, with requirements that every player gets one at-bat and two innings in the field.

But let’s dive in anyway.

As best I can tell, this thing kind of morphs back and forth from being a single-elimination tournament and the traditional double-elimination format.

You need to check each day before heading to the ballpark. You never know. The first day, Tuesday, and then again on Saturday, are the single-elimination days. So is the final, allegedly to be played on the Sunday.

Wednesday and Thursday you get a mulligan if it’s your first loss.

To their credit, the single-elimination days don’t appear to have been picked at random.

Basically, Tuesday is just the bottom eight seeds doing four play-in games to get it down to a manageable eight teams in what will be almost an Omaha format, with two four-team brackets. The top four seeds wait until Wednesday to start. Best I can tell, barring some screwy rain-out scenarios, LSU has clinched one of the top four spots.

The tricky part is that those two brackets always hit a point — in this case, Saturday — when one team has one loss and one is undefeated. The one-loss team normally has to win and force that next “if needed” game to reach the final.

In this case, however, it will be one game, winner take all, regardless. If the one-loss team beats the unbeaten team, tough luck. He’s going home anyway.

It’s not a major issue, really. If you’ve played that long into this tournament, you’re probably ready to go home and rest up for the NCAA tournament anyway.

The good news?

It really doesn’t mean much.

Oh, there will be at least one team — from the East — with a losing overall record and needing to win the whole shooting match to earn an NCAA bid. There could a bubble team or two also.

But these teams would be playing their fourth or fifth game in five days anyway, and would take that deal of needing just one win for the final.

The game the conference really would like to see this year is LSU (43-6, 19-5) against Vanderbilt (41-6, 21-2), which have stood head and shoulders above the rest, Vandy ranked No. 2 in the country, the Tigers No. 3. Sadly, by quirk of the scheduling, they don’t play in the regular season. It would draw national attention.

If they do play in the tournament, it will be in the final when both, having locked up coveted top-eight national seeds, will be drawing straws among backup left fielders for a starting pitcher.

It’s not likely LSU will catch the Commodores for the overall regular-season title, trailing by 212 games with six to play (Vanderbilt has played one less game due to a rain out).

But LSU could make the argument that Vanderbilt benefits by getting to play the entirety of the weaker East Division. If the tournament started tomorrow — and maybe it should if it wants to finish by May 26 — the odd teams out would be both be from the East, Tennessee and Georgia.

LSU doesn’t get a regular-season series with either of those strugglers.

In fact, other than Vanderbilt, those two teams LSU won’t play have combined to go 11-32 in the SEC. You’d like a shot at them.

Vanderbilt, on the other hand, in addition to not playing LSU, also missed Arkansas and Texas A&M — combined record, 25-23.

It’s more luck-of-the-draw scheduling than conspiracy theory stuff. The SEC has never been suspected of aiding Vanderbilt on the field of play.

Nobody ever said baseball was perfect. But it doesn’t have to be as complicated as the SEC is making its tournament.

• • •

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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