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The SEC produced more evidence to back its claim of being the nation's best and deepest league by earning a record five regional host sites for this year's NCAA tournament.
Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana State, Mississippi and South Carolina will all serve as hosts when regional play begins Friday.
"They all performed well in the best baseball conference in the country, the Southeastern Conference," NCAA selection committee chair Charlie Carr said.
The SEC has earned four host sites three times (1999, 2001, 2002) since the tournament expanded from eight regionals and a 48-team field to the current 16-site, 64-team set up in 1999.
"We try hard not to judge any conference," Carr said. "By the same token, it would have been very hypocritical not to say we saw five schools (from the SEC), especially to anyone that's been looking at this the last two days ... There are five very deserving teams; that's why those teams will be hosting."
The ACC received three host sites (Georgia Tech, Virginia and Florida State) while the Big 12 ranked third with two sites (Texas and Oklahoma). Stanford is the only host out of the Pac-10, but neither of the league's next most-deserving clubs (Arizona State and Washington) submitted a bid.
All regionals will be held on campus sites except East Carolina (Grainger Stadium, home of the Class A Kinston Indians) and Oklahoma (SBC Bricktown Ballpark, home of the Triple-A Oklahoma RedHawks).
The Sooners' regional could get very interesting because the RedHawks are scheduled to play home games against Albuquerque on June 5-6, the final two days of regional play. College games are slated for that Saturday at 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m., with the RedHawks' game starting at 7:05 p.m. It's even more dicey Sunday, as the Triple-A game starts at 2:05 p.m., and the final regional games are scheduled for 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.
There are no minor league games that weekend in Kinston, which serves as a host site for the first time. East Carolina played host to a regional in 2002, but that one was held in Wilson, N.C. There are two first-time regional hosts this year in Mississippi and Virginia.
"We really enjoy finding new sites," Carr said. "It expands college baseball as much as anything."
Still, Notre Dame is the only Northern school to serve as a host. Wichita State, which has served as a host twice since the field expanded to 64 teams, did not earn that right this year despite winning the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament titles while going 47-14. Ohio State and Minnesota have each been a regional host twice over the last six years, with the Buckeyes also playing host to a super-regional last year. Neither was awarded a regional site this year.
"It is very difficult to match geography with results that are very deserving on the field," Carr said. "You are very correct in saying we look very hard to try to expand the tournament as much as we can."
Figuring Out Florida
The Florida Gators might have caught a break last year in becoming the first team to make the NCAA tournament after missing its conference tournament. This year, Florida easily posted the highest RPI of any team not rewarded as a host. Boyd Nation's pseudo-RPI rates Florida fifth. That's ahead of all the SEC hosts except South Carolina and three spots better than Florida State, the only host team not ranked in the Top 25 entering this weekend.
"I can easily say Florida is a very representative team, and I think they will prove that as they go through the tournament," Carr said. "I can't in good conscience say that Florida is not very deserving of hosting a regional. By the same token, there are a number of schools that are very deserving."
The Gators can't complain about their seeding among SEC teams -- they had a worse record or lost series to all five regional hosts for their conference. Florida did win two of three midweek games against Florida State this year. Perhaps six SEC hosts, or three in the state of Florida (counting Miami), was too much for the committee.
"It would not have been the first time there were three hosts in the state of Florida, but at the same time deserving hosts are changeable," said Carr, who as Florida State's athletic director left the room when the Seminoles were discussed. "It plays out not over a small section of the country but the whole country."
Vanderbilt, which advanced to face South Carolina in the SEC title game without a loss, was the next highest-rated team by the RPI whose bid was not granted. Clemson and Texas A&M were the only other top 20 RPI teams that will not serve as a host. All three teams finished in the middle of the pack in their respective conferences. But, as Carr reiterated several times during the 40-minute conference call, there was no shortage of qualified candidates so the committee had to look harder at its most important criteria: won-loss record, conference record, the final 10 games and nonconference success.
"The opportunity to host is driven obviously by success on the field," he said. "Particularly this year, there was an enormous amount of success by some very good baseball teams."