SEC Baseball Tournament in Hoover through 2022, but could it be headed to Oklahoma City in the future?

Tommy Deas
The Tuscaloosa News

The SEC Baseball Tournament will be played at the Hoover Met in 2022, but the event's location after next season is up in the air.

The SEC's deal to hold the conference tournament at the former minor league stadium in Hoover, Alabama, was extended for two years in 2019 to take it through 2021. That would have made the tournament in May of this year the final one under the current deal, but the league added a year because no event was held in 2020 due to the season being halted by COVID-19.

Oklahoma City may have an interest in luring the tournament from Hoover when Oklahoma and Texas join the SEC. The SEC voted 14-0 this week to invite the current Big 12 Conference members into the league, and both accepted Friday. Both schools informed the Big 12 that they will not renew their current grant-of-rights deals (which allow the conference to negotiate television and other media deals involving their contests), which run through 2025.

Fans sitting behind the right field fence get a view of the Oklahoma City Dodgers game against the Sacramento River Cats on May 13 at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. It was the Dodgers' first game at the ballpark since Sept. 2, 2019.

As things stand, Texas and Oklahoma would join the SEC for the 2025-26 collegiate athletic year, but the schools could buy their way out of their current Big 12 rights deal and join earlier.

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Oklahoma City has hosted all but three Big 12 baseball tournaments since 1997 (with no tournament in 2020), but the conference tournament moves to Arlington, Texas, for three years starting in 2022. No future sites have been announced beyond that, making Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, home of the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers, available to host an SEC event.

Texas A&M and Florida played before an announced 8,352 fans in this year’s SEC Tournament championship game at the Hoover Met. The tournament drew a record 150,064 fans this year.

Nashville, New Orleans, Memphis and Jacksonville, Fla., all bid in 2016 to lure the SEC Tournament from Hoover, its home since 1998 (and in two prior years, with most previous tournaments held at campus sites). The city spent some $80 in improvements to keep the tournament.

"Our members have been pleased with Hoover, especially the expansion they've done," SEC spokesman Herb Vincent said, citing the creation of the Finley Center fan fair space and adjacent ballfields for teams to practice as a "baseball campus" for the tournament.

The current contract with the Alabama Sports Council to host the event in Hoover was awarded through an open bidding process. Vincent indicated that the process to determine a home for the baseball tournament beyond 2022 has not begun.

Gene Hallman, president of the Alabama Sports Council, had planned to sit down with SEC commissioner Greg Sankey this summer to talk about making Hoover the long-term home for the baseball tournament like Atlanta has been for the SEC football championship game and Nashville is for the men's basketball tournament, which will be held at Bridgestone Arena every year from 2023-2035.

"We certainly want to keep it in Hoover," Hall man said. "We have such a great tradition to say, 'Are you going to make it to Hoover this year?' for the tournament. Hoover and SEC baseball has become a hashtag. That takes a long time to develop, and we've done that.

"We have a vision for the future that bodes well."

Hallman said the city has plans to invest further in the stadium and facilities.

Sue Hollenbeck, former sports business director at the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau and now now special projects manager with the City of Oklahoma City, encourages her city to pursue the baseball tournament.

"I think the general answer is yes, go for what you can," she said.

Oklahoma City could also have a future interest in the SEC Softball Tournament, which has rotated among campus sites since 2004, with previous events held at neutral sites in Columbus, Ga., Chattanooga, Tenn., and Plant City, Fla. The 2021 tournament was held in Tuscaloosa.

Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City is home to the Women's College World Series, collegiate softball's Division I championship event. It has also hosted the Big 12 Tournament since 1996, although the conference did not hold a tournament from 2011-2016.

"I personally think the best one (to pursue) would be softball," Hollenbeck said.

Future SEC Softball Tournament scheduled campus sites are Florida (2022), Arkansas (2023), Georgia (2024), Auburn (2025), Kentucky (2026), LSU (2027), Missouri (2028) and Ole Miss (2029).

Other SEC championships could also eventually migrate to Texas and Oklahoma with the league's new members.

"With several schools west of the Mississippi, the SEC will have to have some championships (in that area)," Hollenbeck said.

Jenni Carlson contributed to this report.

Georgia base runner Garrett Blaylock (24) touches home plate as the plate umpire points to it after he slid home but missed touching the plate as LSU catcher Alex Milazzo (20) picks up the ball too late to make a play during the SEC Tournament Tuesday, May 25, 2021, in the Hoover Met in Hoover, Alabama. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]