This story ran yesterday in the Birmingham News. While it’s painful to read, unfortunately it’s accurate. SEC baseball has become big business and Auburn is in danger of being left behind. The current search for a new coach is one of the most critical in Auburn’s history…
Dear Auburn Baseball,
Greetings from Hoover, where you missed another week of intense, sometimes flawed, but always compelling SEC baseball. LSU returned as king. Your chief rival, Alabama, made a run to the semifinals. Top prospects showed their stuff for the scouts. Large crowds, lots of them, cheered them on. And once again, Auburn, you were MIA.
It’s been five years since you last played at the SEC Tournament at Regions Park. My bad. You probably still know it as The Met. Since you last played here, every SEC team has reached the conference tournament at least twice. You’re the only one that hasn’t been here over the last two years, let alone five.
Where have you gone, Auburn?
You’re the program that produced Frank Thomas, Bo Jackson, Tim Hudson and Gregg Olson.
You’re the school with the best college ballpark in the state. You were one of only four SEC teams to reach the SEC Tournament every year between 1997 and 2003, something not even Alabama did.
You’ve tried hiring from the Hal Baird family. Steve Renfroe didn’t do well enough. Tom Slater fared even worse. As an admission of how much the sport has passed you by, you’ve resigned yourself to using a search firm to find your next coach. With the right hire, you can be here again. But here’s the danger, Auburn: No one is going to relinquish his spot for you. College baseball has exploded.
Did you watch the SEC Tournament in high-definition? If you were traveling to find a coach, Auburn, did you listen to the games on XM Radio?
Omaha just received an unprecedented 20-year agreement from the NCAA to keep the College World Series in a new stadium built specifically for the event. There is money to be made now.
“I think baseball will be a huge part of the new Southeastern Conference television package,” said outgoing Mississippi State Athletics Director Larry Templeton, the chairman of the NCAA selection committee. “There’s interest. Everybody is now video streaming if you’re not on TV.”
Five years ago, Auburn, your beautiful ballpark was voted the best in college baseball by Baseball America. Plainsman Park remains a charming facility. But you’re not alone in fine ballparks. Next year, LSU and South Carolina will open ballparks they poured millions into.
The passion and expectations for SEC baseball teams is growing. Had you been in Hoover this week, you would have had a tough time matching the turnout and noise from Ole Miss fans.
Yes, Auburn, they sing “Hotty Toddy” in Hoover now. The SEC Tournament no longer relies solely on the big four: you, Alabama, LSU and Mississippi State. Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, who have two of the three worst winning percentages in SEC history and well behind your .536 clip, are part of the gang now.
You know Vanderbilt, right? You tried to hire its coach, Tim Corbin, and failed. He’s taken Vanderbilt to at least the SEC Tournament semifinals in four of the last five years. Now, Auburn, you’re regrouping in a different climate. The letters “APR” make coaches cringe. New scholarship guidelines mean your next coach better select his players wisely.
It’s a brave, new world, Auburn. And it’s not going back.
You’re welcome to join any year now.