Memphis (Commercial Appeal) - It appears Memphis will square off against five other cities for the right to host the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament for 2012 and beyond.
With one year left on the SEC's contract with its Hoover (Ala.) Metropolitan Stadium site, where the tourney has been since 1998, the league decided to open bidding. The deadline to submit bids to the SEC is today, though a decision probably won't be made until December by the athletic directors of the 12 league schools.
Memphis, with Kevin Kane, president of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, spearheading the effort, put in a bid for the '12 tournament to be held at AutoZone Park, as well as a bid to host the SEC's 2015 men's basketball tournament at FedExForum.
The other cities bidding on the baseball tourney are Hoover; Duluth, Ga.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Montgomery, Ala.; and Pearl, Miss., a Jackson suburb.
Other cities bidding on the basketball tournament are Orlando, Tampa, Atlanta (where the tournament has been played most in recent years at the Georgia Dome) and New Orleans. A site decision may come in just a few weeks, following a meeting of the league's athletic directors in Orlando.
The SEC prefers to stage its baseball tournament in stadiums with 10,000 or more seats. AutoZone has the most seats of any applicant, with a capacity of 14,320. Capacities at the other applicants' stadiums include Hoover at 10,800, though crowds of 12,000 or more have been stuffed into the facility; Duluth and Jacksonville at 10,000 each; Pearl at 8,480; and Montgomery at 7,080.
League officials visited AutoZone Park and FedExForum in May, and were impressed with both facilities.
Memphis probably has a better chance to win the basketball tournament bid for the third time (the previous two tourneys were in The Pyramid) than baseball, simply because the league has been more willing to move the basketball tourney site to different cities.
Hoover will host the baseball tourney for the 14th straight year next May. And despite traffic jams this year getting into the stadium that plagued the first day of the tourney, it's a problem the SEC doesn't mind having to solve. This year's tournament drew 126,000, the second-largest total ever, with four of eight sessions each totaling 11,000 or more fans.
"You like to have a nice facility, but coaches tell us the facility doesn't matter unless you have fans in the stands," said Mark Womack, SEC executive associate commissioner. "Coaches prefer a good atmosphere."
Most of the SEC's baseball coaches, who have sway with their athletic directors over site selection, have never played in AutoZone Park. They enjoy the familiarity and large crowds at Hoover.
But several of the league's men's basketball coaches have played in FedExForum, and they are allies in the Memphis bid, especially former UofM coach John Calipari, now at Kentucky, and Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl.
"It's a great arena and I enjoy it every time we play there," Pearl said this summer at the league's annual business meetings. "The Memphis bid has lot of support from our (SEC) coaches."