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Sun Belt Changes Coming – From the Bird’s Nest

Commissioner Karl Benson

The 2013 Sun Belt Conference baseball tournament, fan safety and scheduling for basketball and a change in the conference ejection policy highlighted the Sun Belt Conference fall meetings, which concluded Wednesday in New Orleans.

The baseball tournament, to be held in May at M. L. “Tigue” Moore Field in Lafayette, will revert back to the double elimination format, which was used from 2000-2010.  The eight team tournament will be split into two brackets, with bracket champions meeting for the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.  The tournament will begin on Wednesday, May 22, with the championship game scheduled for Sunday, May 26.

Beginning in 2014, the baseball league will split into two divisions with the teams continuing to play a 30-game schedule.  Details for 2014 will be announced at a later date.  The 2014 tournament was previously awarded to the University of South Alabama.

Other changes approved will take place in the 2013-14 academic year.  They include a change to the automatic suspension rule that has been in place for student-athletes and coaches.  Beginning next year, each ejection will be handled on a case by case basis, with Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson having the power to impose additional penalties.  However, a student-athlete or coach who is ejected will not automatically be suspended for the next game.  An exception is ejection for fighting, which is covered in the NCAA manual.

In basketball, student seating was addressed and it was decided that student sections would not be allowed directly behind the team benches.  The league officials and CEO’s were concerned about the proximity of the benches to the crowd, with concerns that students and student-athletes could be in danger if a student-athlete decided to charge into the stands because of verbal abuse by a fan.

In addition, it was decided that, beginning with the 2013-14 season, conference games in men’s and women’s basketball would not begin before the Christmas holidays.  This will mean the possibility of having to play three conference games in a one week period.

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Now, what does this mean?

The above are the facts.  Here is my opinion.

BASEBALL CHANGES–For me, this is a compromise.  I was in favor of keeping the round-robin format because it put everyone on an even playing field and diminished the possibility of pitchers being asked to throw an inordinate amount of pitches during a tournament, especially for anyone trying to get through the loser’s bracket.  While it’s still possibile that a team could have to play as many as five games just to reach the championship, at least the championship game stays on Sunday, which means a starter on Wednesday could come back on Sunday with a reasonable amount of rest.  Selfishly, I would have liked to have seen the round robin stay one more year.  Under that format, the home team got the prime time game every day.  For the Cajuns, that would have meant really good dollars.

It will be interesting to see how scheduling is handled beginning in the 2014 season.   Since a 30 game conference schedule is going to remain intact, my guess is the Sun Belt will schedule like the SEC has in their time of a twelve team league:  Play everyone in your own division every year and omit a team from the other division on a rotating basis.

With the league expanding to twelve teams beginning in 2014, the coaches asked the AD’s to look at the possibility of a ten team tournament, but it was decided to remain at eight.  That’s a good move as well.

EJECTION RULE–Good deal!!  The rule, which I called the Wright Waters ejection rule, ignored the fact that every circumstance is different.  It also gave incredible power to officials, especially in baseball, who could eject a coach at any time.  Getting rid of the automatic ejection and handling it on a case by case basis is the right thing to do.  The auto-ejection never should have been enacted to begin with.

CHANGE TO THE STUDENT SEATING–Actually, it’s more than likely going to change where the teams sit.  While I don’t like the idea of taking away some of the home court advantage, I understand why this is happening.  I don’t remember the opponent, but it wasn’t that long ago that an opposing player was ready to go Ron Artest on someone in the student section.  That wouldn’t be a good thing. In fact, it was only a matter of time before it happened, whether at the Cajundome or somewhere else.  It will be interesting to see what the Cajuns decide to do.  They could simply switch teams to opposite ends of the court.  Or, they could move the teams to the other side of the Cajundome, where the teams were during the Marty Fletcher era.  One thing you won’t see is moving the students, which would create a seating nightmare.

As far as the scheduling is concerned I’m all in favor of waiting until after Christmas to start league play.  In many venues, interest wanes until after the BCS championship football game anyway.  Playing a week or two with a three game week is no biggie.  The schedule will be eighteen games and I’m still interested to see how that is formatted.

All in all, and this doesn”t always happen, the moves made here are actually good moves.

 

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