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From the Bird’s Nest: If you’re going to run a conference tournament…..

The Sun Belt Conference softball tournament is history.  It was the highest attended softball tournament ever, with over 10,000 fans through the turnstiles.

It was showcased in a state-of-the-art facility that was praised by fans, regardless of which team they supported.

The #1 seed won the tournament and got to celebrate before a raucous, partisan crowd.

But there were a few things that could have been much, much better.  And all of them have to do with how the tournament was run by the Sun Belt Conference.

If you’re going to put on a tournament, here are some words of wisdom.  Well, maybe not wisdom.  After all, I’m the one who’s writing this.

1.  GET THE BRACKET RIGHT THE FIRST TIME

The Sun Belt Conference, in its weekly softball release, has had a bracket listed since day one.  Throughout the season, everyone was informed as to how the bracket would work.  Then, at the coaches meeting the night before the tournament began, a change was made to the bracket.  Now, although they had several months to figure this out, this is not that big a deal.  And it’s probably not the first time that has happened in the Sun Belt, or many other conferences.

However, once the tournament starts, the bracket must remain.  And, that’s not what happened this weekend.

The tournament began on Wednesday.  On Thursday evening, after seven games had already been played, the Sun Belt announced a change to the bracket.

Really?

Louisiana c0-head coach Stefni Lotief was informed of the bracket change in the third inning of the Cajuns’ game against Troy.  She

Stefni was in the bullpen with her pitcher before the Troy game. Conference officials said they couldn't find her to tell her of the bracket change. Photo courtesy ragincajuns.com

 was told that SBC officials couldn’t find her prior to the game.  What….were the other two coaches having a beer in the locker room?  They couldn’t find ANY of the coaches?

But that isn’t the point.  The point is this.  Make your bracket.  Make any revisions to the bracket BEFORE the tournament begins.  But once the games start, live with what you have.  If you screwed it up, fix it for next year.  But don’t change the rules in the middle of the game.  There’s a credibility issue here.

2.  DON’T SELECT YOUR ALL TOURNAMENT TEAM LIKE TEE-BALL

You know the drill if you have children or have ever been to a game involving the little ones.  You have some players who can hit the ball.  You have some who can’t hold the bat.  You have some players that can catch the ball.  You have others who spend their time picking flowers in the outfield.

But when the season is over, everyone gets a trophy.  And, with little ones, it’s probably the way it should be.

But not in Division I softball.

In defense of the Sun Belt Conference, it’s hard to even find a way to select an All-Tournament team.  By the time the finals come, most of the media is gone.  And most who remain are affiliated with the host school.  Same thing with Sports Information Directors.

But what the league has come up with defies logic.

At the end of each game, the two coaches turn in three names; one of their own and two from the opposition, who have excelled in that particular game.  At the end of the tournament, the player with the most votes is the Most Outstanding Player.  The other nine make the All-Tournament team. 

But what if there are more players who excelled?  And, what if the other team was simply bad?

Here’s a case in point.  In the tournament semifinals on Friday, Louisiana defeated South Alabama 10-0.  The Cajuns pounded two South Alabama pitchers.  Ashley Brignac threw a no-hitter.  It was probably the most dominant performance of the tournament.  Now, after the game, Stefni Lotief had to nominate two players from South Alabama.  What do you do?  How about the girl who drew the only walk Brignac allowed?  Or maybe the first baseman who had seven putouts?  How about the pitcher who was the least ineffective? 

Well, whoever got named had their vote carry as much weight as the girl who just threw a no hitter or the slugger who set a new NCAA record with her fourth grand-slam homer of the season.

Despite a record-setting tournament, Nerissa Myers was snubbed for the All-Tournament team. Photo courtesy ragincajuns.com

Brignac, Gabrielle Bridges and Christi Orgeron were all named to the All-Tournament team (Orgeron was the MOP.)  But Nerissa Myers, who batted .500, played incredible defense, and set a new tournament record for runs scored was nowhere to be found.  All because, hey, we gotta spread the love around.

How about having an all-conference team made up of players who were deserving?  A novel concept, to be sure.

Nope, not here.  When the team was released at the end of the tournament, every single team was represented except for Middle Tennessee, who had the worst record of the tournament qualifiers.  The Cajuns were the only team with more than one representative, but when you hammer every opponent you play, run rule two of them, shut out two of them and average nearly nine runs per contest, you deserve more than what you got.

3.  DON’T DISRESPECT THE HOST SCHOOL

If you’re a Cajuns’ fan, you know the history.  If you aren’t, here’s the skinny:

In 1999 when Southwestern Louisiana changed it’s name to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, there was a lot of confusion as to what the school would be called athletically.  The University administration left the door open, but made two things clear:

They did not want to be referred to as ULL.  And, under absolutely NO circumstances should they EVER be referred to as Lafayette.

The second one was especially important, since Lafayette is a separate institution, located in Easton, PA.  They play in the Patriot League.  Their mascot is the Leopards.

It was no secret that the Cajuns wanted to brand their athletic teams simply as “LOUISIANA.”  And, the Sun Belt Conference in 2000 complied, referring to them as such in their releases.  When asked about it, Commissioner Wright Waters responded “we will call our member institutions what they want to be called.”

That changed when Louisiana-Monroe entered the Sun Belt.  They have vigorously protested the Cajuns’ use of their athletic brand.  Yet, the school in Monroe chose “ULM” as their athletic brand.  No one protested.  Yet they continued to rail against the Cajuns’ choice, to the point where the conference office relented.

However, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette remained steadfast in their name request.

Don’t call us ULL.  And never, EVER call us Lafayette.

There’s your background info.

Banner at Tigue Moore Field. Someone obviously had an issue with the second "L" and performed surgery.

The conference office comes to town and immediately erected two large banners on the first base side of M. L. “Tigue” Moore Field, promoting the softball tournament at Lamson Park.  And, in the biggest letters of all, the banners proclaimed “Hosted by ULL.”

Tuesday night there was a coach’s meeting where any questions were answered and announcement was made that the bracket was changed (that’s before they changed it again.)  At that meeting, Director of Championships Dr. Kathy Keene repeatedly referred to the Cajuns’ as LAFAYETTE.

Public Address announcer Blair Gee was instructed before the tournament to use Louisiana-Lafayette, the one reasonable request the Conference made.  But, having used Louisiana exclusively in his other duties during the season, he sometimes slipped.  He got corrected every time.  Finally, after fans protested, Gee was allowed to refer to the two schools as “Cajuns” and “Owls” during the championship game.

Now, you think if the conference spent more time worrying about their bracket instead of the PA announcer they’d have gotten it right?

At the beginning of the first game involving the Cajuns, the scoreboard read MT and Louisiana.  Conference officials instructed that “Louisiana” be replaced.  Louisiana Interim Director of Athletics Scott Farmer said that only UL and Louisiana were acceptable, since MT was being used at the wishes of Middle Tennessee.  (Middle Tennnessee’s official name is Middle Tennessee State.  Their official abbreviation is MTSU.  They wish to be called Middle Tennessee.  The conference office is more than happy to do that….for every school in the league except for the Cajuns.) In fact, the scoreboard also referred to Louisiana-Monroe by their preferred name of ULM.   Louisiana stayed on the scoreboard for the rest of the tournament.

From the Cajuns/Owls broadcast via the Sun Belt Network

But Commissioner Wright Waters is adamant that the Cajuns be referred to as ULL, to the point where he issued an edict to member schools instructing them to  refer to the school as ULL.  He has done the same thing with television announcers who broadcast Sun Belt games.  During the broadcast of the championship game the school was referred to consistently as ULL or Lafayette.

Now, maybe it’s just me, but I would think that if you go into someone’s house, the last thing you want to do is to pee on the carpet.  And, since the Cajuns’ lead the Sun Belt in softball attendance, baseball attendance and men’s basketball attendance that maybe, just maybe, they’d be treated with some respect at their home venue.

So, another softball conference tournament has come and gone.  Perhaps the league has learned through their mis-steps and will get some things corrected before they put on another tournament.

Or, not.

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