With his men's basketball team pursuing history, USC Aiken athletic director Randy Warrick recently put in a bid to hold the South Atlantic Regional.
The Pacers are ranked second behind rival Augusta State in the latest region poll, released Wednesday afternoon. The top team will play host to the regional, the first three rounds of the Division II tournament.
The region's top seed will not be finalized until the evening of March 9, following the conclusion of the Peach Belt Conference Tournament. But even if the Pacers (19-2) can leapfrog the Jaguars and take the top spot, they still will not be able to play host to the event in their new convocation center.
The Lipizzaner Stallions already are booked for March 15 and 16, the first two days of the regional, which concludes March 18. Convocation center general manager Jennifer Kelly said ticket sales are brisk, meaning there's little chance the event will cancel. She added that Global Spectrum, which manages the convocation center for USC Aiken, decided to block those dates with the blessing of the university.
Warrick is quick to put the blame on himself for not earlier blocking the dates. But who can blame him? USC Aiken entered this season with seven consecutive losing campaigns.
"I guess you can say I didn't have the foresight a year ago to block the dates," he said. "Last summer, who would've predicted that our basketball team that was 9-22 last year would be 19-2 this year? We're just in an unusual position where we share the facility with another entity."
To Warrick's credit, the first region poll came out just three weeks ago. By then, the Lipizzaner Stallions had been booked.
"I'm disappointed for our players and our coaches," he said. "But I also understand the side with Global Spectrum."
Warrick has sought out other venues. He said the Colonial Center and Carolina Coliseum, both in Columbia, have scheduling conflicts. He said there's no sense playing the regional at James Brown Arena in Augusta. And Aiken High School's gym does not meet NCAA requirements.
The next option: the Pacers need to pull for Augusta State. If the Jaguars finish atop the region or second behind USC Aiken, they will play host to the regional at Christenberry Fieldhouse.
While it would give Augusta State home-court advantage, USC Aiken's players and coaches would be able to sleep in their own beds and make a short drive, instead of traveling to North Carolina, Tennessee or Virginia.
"I certainly see a lot of benefits with Augusta and Aiken finishing one-two in whatever order," Warrick said. "It certainly makes it easier for our fan base."
Next season, USC Aiken will return 14 of 15 players, including standouts Chris Commons and Jeremy Fears.
Warrick has already made reservations for the regional.
"I've already blocked the dates for next year," he said.
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or email@example.com.
SOUTH ATLANTIC REGION
1. Augusta State 17-3 17-3
2. USC Aiken 19-2 19-1
3. Lenoir-Rhyne 17-3 16-3
4. Wingate 15-4 13-4
5. Carson-Newman 16-2 16-2
6. Elizabeth City State 14-4 14-4
7. Virginia Union 16-5 14-5
8. Bowie State 14-7 14-7
9. Saint Augustine's 12-6 12-6
10. Georgia College 12-6 12-6
1. Columbus State 14-6 14-6
2. Francis Marion 15-4 15-4
3. Clayton State 14-7 14-5
4. Wingate 15-6 15-5
5. North Georgia 14-7 14-7
6. Augusta State 14-6 14-6
7. Tusculum 17-3 14-3
8. Johnson C. Smith 14-6 14-6
9. USC Aiken 13-6 12-6
10. Bowie State 13-4 13-4