If the top eight teams received bids to the Atlantic Sun Conference baseball tournament, Dave Jarvis wouldn’t be having this discussion.
But only the top six make it to the event, which for the second straight year Lipscomb will host (May 25-28).
So Jarvis, the baseball coach at Belmont, has to hope his team can take at least two of three against Stetson this weekend to assure the Bruins (29-23, 15-12) a spot in the A-Sun tournament. Otherwise, the Bruins, who are in sixth place, will be left out — again.
Last year, Belmont finished seventh in the league standings, just a half game out of the sixth and final spot. Lipscomb hosted the tournament last year but, like Belmont, didn’t qualify either and won’t again this year — the Bisons (19-32, 10-17) are in ninth with one series left.
Thus, there is a good chance that for the second straight year that neither Nashville school will be able to play in a tournament in its own city.
“I think it is just another good reason why there should be probably be eight of these baseball teams in it,” Jarvis said. “I think as strong as our conference is in baseball that obviously any of those eight teams could win the thing and be a great representative for the Atlantic Sun Conference in a regional tournament. I think it would also improve our conference RPI [currently seventh in the country] and drive that even higher than it is right now. And improve the chances of getting back to the days where this league was getting two or even three teams into the NCAA Regionals.”
Jarvis and the Bruins won’t have to worry about qualifying for the Atlantic Sun tournament much longer. Belmont announced last week that after the 2011-12 season, it would be switching league affiliations and joining the Ohio Valley Conference. Currently, the OVC baseball tournament takes just the top six teams but the possibility to expand to eight might be addressed later this month at league meetings.
As for the Atlantic Sun, plans to expand the tournament field aren’t in the works right now. Lipscomb Athletics Director Philip Hutcheson said part of the reason for a smaller field is the state of the economy — cutting back on travel costs — and with the hope the league sends the best representative to the NCAA Tournament. Translation: fewer Cinderellas.
“It is a discussion every conference has — what is the right size for the field?” Hutcheson said. “You’ll have some proponents of a smaller field that puts more of a premium on the regular season and, in a sense, rewards those teams that were successful in the regular season. You will have some proponents of a larger field that say, ‘Hey, you want the team that is hot at the end of the year representing you and if it happens to be a No. 5 seed then so be it.’”
Last year, attendance numbers were low at the tournament. No game totaled more than 350 fans and half of the 10 games drew fewer than 300.
By comparison, the year before when Stetson hosted the tournament, the three-day total for the five-game, single-elimination tournament was under 900 fans. In fact, the only game that mustered more than 300 fans was one that featured Stetson.
Hutcheson doesn’t expect Lipscomb to make much of a financial profit next week. As part of the two-year deal with the league to host the tournament, there is a set amount Lipscomb owes the league “regardless of what the gate is.” Lipscomb and the Atlantic Sun then splits the ticket sales 50-50, and the athletic department earns all of what it makes on concessions or sponsorship sales.
“If no one came to the tournament, we would still be writing them at least somewhat of a check,” Hutcheson said. “I would say we probably broke even [in 2010]. It was not a big enough number either way to notice.”
Still, Hutcheson said Lipscomb isn’t losing much by hosting the tournament. That played into the school’s decision to bid to host for two years.
In 2009, Lipscomb reached the championship game of the tournament at Stetson in DeLand, Fla., which is just 40 miles north of Orlando. Paying for travel, food and lodging for 35 people for half a week in the heart of Disney can add up.
“It is not just the revenue you take in, but it is the expense you don’t have to pay,” Hutcheson said. “You’re betting a bit that, ‘Hey, we’ll be in the tournament and if we are in the tournament both years we will make money just because we don’t have to send a team to Florida for a week.’… If you don’t go either year, then, yeah, you are probably going to struggle to make any money and, yeah, you hope that you just kind of cut losses as much as you can. Then you hope it also represents your school well and attracts people to your campus as a good event for Nashville, kind of raises your profile in terms of being a player in the athletic arena in Nashville.”
• MTSU sprinter takes two: Middle Tennessee State sprinter Noah Akwu captured two individual championships at the Sun Belt Conference meet on Saturday at MTSU.
That propelled him to earn the conference’s co-Trackman of the Year honors. The native of Nigeria ran a time of 21.16 seconds to win the 200-meter dash. His time of 47.93 was good enough for first in the 400-meter dash. Teammate Steven Palmer, an Atlanta native, placed second with a time of 48.09.
The MTSU men’s team placed sixth while the women finished fifth.
• Making money: A couple of former Middle Tennessee State football standouts have signed contracts to play professionally.
Running back Phillip Tanner, MTSU’s leading rusher and scorer in 2010, has signed with the Hartford (Conn.) Colonials of the United Football League. Chris McClover, who played wide receiver and helped guide the Blue Raiders to a New Orleans Bowl victory in 2009, signed with the BC Lions (Vancouver) in the Canadian Football League.
• Title reign ends: The Cumberland baseball team was knocked out of the opening round of the NAIA Championship on Sunday in Paducah, Ky.
The fifth-ranked Bulldogs — the defending national champs — lost in the championship game of the opening round, losing 9-2 to Tennessee Wesleyan, which advances to the NAIA World Series.
Both of Cumberland’s losses in the tournament came to Wesleyan (40-19). After losing its second game of the tournament, the Bulldogs (46-16) defeated William Jewell (Mo.) to set up a rematch with Wesleyan. Cumberland won 19-10 to force a second game but didn’t score after the first inning and had just five hits.