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SBC commissioner talks about this week's baseball tournament

SBC is rated 5th best league in the nation

May 24, 2010 · Athletic Communications

With Middle Tennessee hosting the Sun Belt Conference baseball tournament at Reese Smith, Jr. Field Wednesday through Saturday of this week, GoBlueRaiders.com sat down with SBC Commissioner Wright Waters for his thoughts on a number of topics related to the tournament, as well as to the SBC.

What factors would make fans want to attend the Sun Belt Conference baseball tournament?

That depends on what you are looking for as a fan. One of the great things about having the tournament in Murfreesboro is that if you are a fan of college baseball, the league is ranked 5th among all baseball-playing conferences in Division I. The league is very competitive. You've got top-ranked teams; you've got individual players who are nationally ranked and someday down the road will be playing in the majors. It's a great time to come and watch some very good college baseball. And there will be folks who will also want to come see what is around Murfreesboro, and all of the history that is there, the country music, the good restaurants. It's a great city with something for everybody.

Comment on Middle Tennessee as the host school.

Middle Tennessee will be hosting the baseball championship for the first time, but has always done a great job in hosting championships in other sports like indoor and outdoor track, volleyball, and men and women's basketball. You have a lot of people there that know how to help put them on, and with their staff working with our staff, it should be a grand and glorious show, and we all look forward to seeing the new stadium and showing it off.

Comment on the upswing in Sun Belt Conference baseball in terms of things such as RPI, teams in the NCAA and beating ranked teams.

I am not sure that I would characterize it as an upswing. This is kind of where we have been for a long time. I don't think we have been ranked outside the top ten conferences in 12-14 years, certainly not in the current configuration of the league. This is an area that we have become accustomed to in the Sun Belt Conference. I think our main challenge is to get back to Omaha (site of the annual College World Series). We've not had a team get to Omaha since ULL went in 2002. We've got to get back there and compete on that level. For the past 21 years, we have had multiple teams in the NCAA, and three teams in five of the last ten years. It is a good solid competitive league. We just have to break through that last ceiling and get back to Omaha.

Comment on the need for improved facilities in the league.

This is so important. We have talked to the schools about this. In Division I, you can't be a one-dimensional program. At one time, this league was a one or two dimensional league, but now we are improving and getting NCAA bids in virtually every sport we have. This is gratifying, and one of the keys to success is to have good facilities. You build teams by recruiting very good student athletes, and one of the things that draw these top student athletes is facilities. You have to have them.

Family Night activities on Tuesday have become a big part of the overall experience for the fans. Tell us about that.

This is the third year we have had this activity, and it's a credit to Rick Mello and our championship staff. It's an opportunity to get student athletes and fans together in a real family night activity. The big draw is the Home Run Derby contest among the teams, but it is more than that. It is a chance for everybody to meet the players on the other teams, guys that they may only see in the other dugout during the season. It has been very rewarding, and we plan to extend it into the future. We hope everyone will come out for it on Tuesday night.

How can we, as a conference, continue to enhance our national image?

We addressed that somewhat when we talked about Omaha and facilities, but that is so important. We are getting teams into the NCAA, but they are not advancing to the regionals or Omaha as often as we need them to be. Part of that is getting higher seeds in the first round, by playing and beating ranked teams or teams with high RPI's. This is the time of the year when every pitch counts. We need to not only get teams into the NCAA Tournament, but we need for teams to be there at the finish. I think we have the right group of coaches to get us there, I really do. I am very fond of our baseball coaches.

In regard to participation in the NCAA tournament, how many teams are likely to get in, and how many more might have a chance?

Commissioners don't need to speculate on that before the tournament, because we can get ourselves in a bunch of trouble. But we do need to get multiple teams in, and we need for them to be there for a while, to still be playing baseball until the middle of June. That's the important thing.

The Sun Belt Conference has several players/teams ranked highly in categories all across the board of NCAA stats. Comment on that.

That is going to make for a great tournament. You have guys like Bryce Brentz and Justin Guidry at Middle Tennessee, Garrett Wittels at FIU, Adam Bryant at Troy and many others that are going to be playing in the big leagues some day. It will be a real treat to watch them up close as they make their climb to the majors. But at the end of the day, it's going to be a real tribute to the guys who are coaching in our league. I don't know of another league in the country that has a better group of coaches than our guys. They are committed to young people; they are committed to the game of baseball.

We have made strides in getting our baseball games on TV, with a Game of the Week and also the telecasting of our tournament championship game here on Saturday. Where would you like to go next?

What we are tying to do is develop television on three levels, the national level, the regional level and local level. There has never been a definitive study that shows that TV hurts attendance, except for inclement weather. We are encouraging our schools to put our games on TV because I feel that the quality of our broadcasts is very good. And we are looking at the size of our regional packages getting 20-25 million homes within the footprint of our conference. That is pretty significant. I think we are broadcasting games on a level that is competitive with other leagues like us, so we feel pretty good about that.

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