STARKVILLE — Every Southeastern Conference baseball coach had the same question earlier this year when the NCAA tournament selection show ended: “Where’s LSU?”
LSU finished 36-20 (13-17 in the SEC) and 26th in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), but didn’t receive an invitation in large part for failing to make the conference tournament.
“I can’t even imagine what the LSU kids are going through,” Mississippi State coach John Cohen said on May 31. “I’m still shocked about that because there’s no doubt LSU deserves to be in the NCAA tournament. No doubt about it.”
LSU missed the NCAA tournament for the fourth time since 1985.
“This team clearly deserved to be in the NCAA tournament, and I’m so disappointed for the kids that they don’t get the opportunity to do so,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “The disappointment of today will be a very strong motivator for our team as we go forward. I know we don’t want to feel like this ever again. I don’t think we should be feeling like this, quite frankly, but we left the decision in the hands of people.”
The SEC announced a change to the conference tournament in Hoover, Ala., that could benefit league teams in contention for at-large NCAA bids. In 2012, the SEC will to allow 10 of its 12 teams to qualify for its postseason tournament. In 2013, the University of Missouri and Texas A&M will join the SEC. The league then will re-evaluate its postseason format.
The reasoning for the format change is to eliminate the thought a ninth- or 10th-place team in the SEC doesn’t belong in the NCAA field.
On the day LSU was left out of the NCAA field, Cohen became the Tigers’ biggest supporter. He said Monday the change was more than necessary.
“We’ll never know if being left of the SEC tournament was the reason they weren’t selected, but looking at all the data it’s impossible to suggest it wasn’t a factor,” Cohen said. “You’re talking about a team that not only deserved to get in but would’ve had an excellent chance to make an impact, so this was needed without a doubt.”
University of Mississippi coach Mike Bianco, whose Rebels didn’t make the NCAA field in 2011 after finishing ninth in the SEC, said the change would highlight the quality of play in the nation’s highest-rated conference.
“It gets rid of the argument for the (NCAA) committee sitting in Indianapolis to say, ‘Well, you didn’t make your conference tournament so you can’t play in the national tournament,” Bianco said.
Bianco cited the arguments made last season by NCAA tournament selection committee chairman Tim Weiser when commented to the media about the debate between at-large bubble teams St. John’s and LSU.
“What that discussion centered on for a number of our committee members is a second-place finish in the Big East (13th-rated conference) was more important than a ninth-place finish in the (top-rated) SEC,” Weiser said. “In these committees, it depends on your perspective as to how you answer that. We had a lively debate about it. In the end we got the seven votes done by blind ballot and that put (St. John’s) in the field.”
Under the new format, the tournament will continue to follow a format that is modeled on previous SEC tournaments and College World Series brackets. The 10 teams will be seeded 1-10, with the two divisional champions guaranteed the top two seeds and first-round byes.
“I think winning your division is something that should be rewarded, and a first-day is bye is something that accomplishes that,” Cohen said.
Games played from Tuesday through Friday are double elimination. Single elimination will start Saturday. The tournament field will include the top teams from the SEC’s Eastern and Western Divisions plus eight at-large bids seeded 3-10 based on conference winning percentage.
“I think the athletic directors should be commended for coming up with a tournament that doesn’t take anyway the traditional format of the old tournament and doesn’t add a significant amount of games to the event,” Bianco said.
The announcement is the first major change to the event’s format since 1996.
“It’s become almost the norm for all teams in Hoover who are eligible to advance to NCAAs,” SEC baseball spokesman Chuck Dunlap said. “Recently, however, we felt there have been years we could and should have placed 10 teams in the field given the strength of the league. This, I believe, solidifies the prospects of achieving that goal.”