The first year of the new format for the Sun Belt Conference Baseball Tournament is now in the books.  Following the tournament, I sent out questionnaires to the coaches, asking them for their positives and negatives for the tournament format. (I did not send one to Western Kentucky, as outgoing coach Chris Finwood had already resigned when the emails were sent out.)   The new "round-robin" format meant that each qualifying team was guaranteed three games in the tournament, and also guaranteed a day off.  Under the format the host school was guaranteed the late (7pm) game for all three nights they played.  Of course, ULM did not qualify this year, so that didn't come into play.

Overall, the coaches felt they had discussed the positives and negatives of such a format before the vote last year to implement it.  And, there were really no surprises.

The whole reason behind the new format was to give teams that qualified for the NCAA Tournament more of a fighting chance when they got to regionals.  In 2010, both Troy and FIU each had to play six games in four days.  Troy had to go extra innings in two of those games.  This year, Troy played three games, FIU played four, as did champion UALR.  Coaches knew in advance who they were playing and on what days and times.  It was easier for them to make travel schedules (especially those who had to fly) and they were able to set their pitching rotations depending on who they were playing.  All coaches agreed that these were positive reasons for having the tournament in the new format.

"I think the new format, with a rested pitching staff, gives us a better chance to get a team back to Omaha," one coach said.  "In my opinion, that should be the bottom line when making a decision for the good of the conference."

But there were some negatives involved, as well.  And, although the coaches were aware of the negatives when they signed on, they got to actually play through it and see it first hand.

And, that's the opinion there are too many meaningless games.

For instance, after being upset in the first round of the tournament, Troy was already eliminated from championship contention before taking the field for their second game.  The final four games of the tournament had nothing to do with who would play for the title.  FIU and UALR had already clinched spots by then.  But not every coach agrees on the definition of "meaningless."

"Even though the teams in the finals had been decided, several teams were still playing with an RPI in contention for an at-large bid, so what may have been perceived as meaningless actually wasn't," said one coach.

Another agreed.

"Even those games were good experience for younger players.  And, it was a chance for seniors to play one final game."

But not everyone was on board with that opinion.

"I still like it when every game matters," another coach said. "I just think every game should mean something.  I want what's best for the conference but I'm not sure what that is."

Two coaches also didn't like that the host school got the prime game, even though that didn't play into the tournament this year.

The coaches agreed when they approved this format that they'd try it for two years, which means you'll see it again in Bowling Green next year, but not necessarily in Lafayette for 2013.

One coach already has an alternate idea:  "Model it after the SEC, double elimination over five days."

I also asked the coaches if they were in favor of a neutral site and if so, did they have a site in mind.

Surprisingly (to me, anyway) all of the coaches who responded like the idea of a neutral site for the tournament.  And, while some didn't necessarily have a site in mind, Zephyr Field in New Orleans got mentioned more than any other.  Mobile and Montgomery also were mentioned as well as the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Florida area.

My overall impression after getting the responses is a couple of coaches are sold on the format, a couple don't want it to continue and the others either want to give it more time or are still pretty neutral on the idea.

One thing is pretty certain though.  Despite having two new coaches in the league next year (Mark Calvi at South Alabama and Matt Myers at WKU), Sun Belt baseball coaches have always put what's best for the league ahead of their own personal opinions.

My guess is whatever decision they make after 2012, the coaches will put Sun Belt Conference baseball first.

As usual.