MONTGOMERY, Ala. - If it were up to Tennessee coach Rod Delmonico, the Volunteers wouldn't have needed to win two of three games over the weekend to earn a spot in this week's Southeastern Conference baseball tournament.
"The players in the SEC, all 12 teams, the players deserve to play" in the tournament, Delmonico said Monday, two days before his eighth-seeded Vols take on top-seeded Arkansas in the first round.
"You gotta think about the kids," he said.
Of course, there are plenty of other reasons the SEC coaches voted to expand the tournament from eight teams to 12 - particularly a chance for more league teams to make a case for being invited to an NCAA regional.
The proposal will be on the agenda when SEC athletic directors meet next month in Destin, Fla.
"My feeling is we're shooting ourselves in the foot not to have all 12 teams there," said Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin, whose Commodores are seeded seventh.
The financial success of this year's tournament could affect how the ADs vote.
For the first time since Hoover became the tournament's annual site in 1998, the three closest schools - Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State - won't be participating. The three have combined to win eight of the last nine tournaments.
Ticket sales have been slightly behind last year's record pace but shouldn't fall off too much without the three "local" teams, said SEC spokesman Chuck Dunlap.
"It will not have near the impact that some people might think it will," Dunlap said.
If anything, the absence of those three traditional powers could open up the tournament.
Arkansas and Georgia tied for the regular-season crown with identical 19-11 records, but the Razorbacks won a tiebreaker to earn the No. 1 seed.
"We don't have a tremendous amount of professional-type talent, we just have kids that play hard and really want to win," said Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn.
Meanwhile, Georgia is just happy to be in the tournament after finishing 10-20 in SEC play a year ago. The Bulldogs won 14 of their final 16 league games to capture their second Eastern Division title in four years.
"Basically, we pulled a worst-to-first deal," said Georgia coach Dave Perno. "Going 13-2 in the second half of SEC play is probably as good as anyone's ever done."
The biggest reward for being the top seed might be that the Razorbacks wouldn't have to face third-seeded LSU until the championship game. The Tigers (18-12 SEC) have won the tournament six times, most recently in 2000, and have reached the title game three of the last four years.
LSU plays No. 6 Florida in the tournament's opening game. The other first-round matchups are: No. 7 Vanderbilt vs. No. 2 Georgia; No. 5 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Mississippi; and No. 8 Tennessee vs. No. 1 Arkansas.
The title game of the double-elimination tournament is scheduled for Sunday.
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