Scooter Hobbs column: SLC gets bracket just right
Published 7:24 pm Wednesday, May 18, 2022
It hasn’t been the best of years for the Southland Conference.
But let’s give credit where credit is due.
The conference may have stumbled onto something really good, something it can build on.
Email newsletter signup
It’s up to the league.
Like much of what the SLC has been doing lately, it was born of patchwork and plugging holes, scrambling this way and that.
But for the Southland’s needs and realities, the format adopted for this year’s baseball tournament seems to check all the boxes.
We’ll see how it plays out, but on paper — the bracket — it looks just about perfect.
It is the Omaha bracket used at the College World Series, where dual, four-team brackets do the double-elimination thing, with each bracket’s survivor advancing to play each other in a best-of-three series for the tournament championship and the automatic bid to the NCAAs.
The top two seeds — No. 1 McNeese and No. 2 Southeastern Louisiana — will be bracket hosts. The highest seed between the brackets’ winners will host the finals series.
I love it.
You couldn’t do this at one location — too many games. Omaha takes almost two weeks to get it done. The Southland will use 10 days, but with at least three days off (possibly four) between the bracket finals and the start of championship series.
Those days off are an improvement on the Omaha version, in which the finalists often begin the championship round drawing straws for pitching. It’s also a good buffer against rainouts.
This format wouldn’t be a good fit for every conference.
But for what has traditionally been a one-bid league like the Southland and others, this is exactly the right move.
The two top teams get to host. Whatever advantage you give to the teams that have proven it over the regular season, the better it is, especially in as fickle a game as baseball can be. The three games for the finals also makes it a better overall test, far more resistant to flukery.
But the additional games involved could maybe, possibly even catch the eye of the NCAA selection committee enough to perhaps wrestle away an occasional second bid for the SLC.
Maybe not, but it can’t hurt.
Regardless, it’s a win-win.
The conference’s ill-advised experiment with playing the tournament at a neutral site in a Houston suburb for a few years was a disaster that the conference should have seen coming. What on earth were they thinking? It was tough to get close friends and family to attend.
The bracket hosts figure to make it an event — fans, concessions, tailgating, the works. The finals could have a true regional atmosphere.
It is such a perfect fit, in fact, that you knew there had to be a catch.
This format was approved by the coaches for one year — this year — and McNeese may be the key to making sure it continues.
If you recall, as part of the negotiations for McNeese to stay in the Southland after threatening to leave for the Western Athletic Conference, the SLC agreed to let McNeese host the basketball, softball and baseball tournaments for the next four years, beginning next season.
This perfect format doesn’t work in one spot — certainly not a prearranged spot, as Sugar Land, Texas, learned while ignoring the festivities.
“It’s great because we have earned this by winning,” Cowboys head coach Justin Hill said of hosting Bracket 1. “What more could you want than to be at home?”
Hopefully, he’d feel the same way no matter who earns that right.
Only seems fair.
So McNeese needs to take one for the good of the league here and relinquish its “right to host” what would have to be a different format.
In this sport, the Cowboys can do it like they did this year, the old-fashioned way, by earning it.
There could be other minor complications.
The SLC could look different next year. When the musical chairs with Lamar maybe returning and Incarnate Word maybe leaving settles down, it could be nine teams, could be seven, might still be eight.
No problem. The ninth-place team stays home (or maybe an 8-9 seed play-in). If it’s seven, the No. 1 seed gets a first-round bye and saves its top arm, another earned advantage.
Just don’t let minor details get in the way of such a perfect solution.
The ball is in McNeese’s glove. It’s up to the Cowboys to do the right thing.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org