KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey spent the weekend in Knoxville watching his league’s vision play out on the softball diamond.
A record 13 SEC teams earned invitations to the NCAA Softball Tournament on Sunday night, eight of them among the top 16 seeds, and thus hosting four-tam NCAA regionals this week.
“It’s a great representation of what we want in the Southeastern Conference,” Sankey told SEC Country on Saturday night, “and that’s excellence at the highest level.”
Softball is arguably the strongest of SEC sports, and getting all of the league’s teams in the field of 64 provides concrete evidence of such — particularly when one considers Missouri was the lowest-ranked team in the RPI, at No. 32.
“It’s a testament of our goal of being successful across the board in every sport, and equally a testament to the commitment to women’s sports in this league,” said Sankey, who has been with the SEC since 2002 and was named commissioner in March of 2015.
“We also had two of our women’s basketball teams playing in the Final Four,” Sankey said, noting the national championship game between South Carolina and Mississippi State. “Having 13 of the top 32 softball teams means we’ve shown we have the support and facilities that enable us to recruit nationally.
“Then Softball is a focus of the SEC Network, all of that makes for a foundation, and then our coaches and players go out and execute so well.”
Kentucky coach Rachel Lawson said the SEC’s fans and athletic directors have made that possible for the coaches and players.
“First of all, the fan bases in the SEC are the best in the country, so because of that they give tremendous support, in terms of coming to themes and watching on TV, and they also give tremendous financial support,” Lawson said, asked why the SEC has become the dominant softball conference in the nation.
Kentucky coach Rachel Lawson and players discuss pivotal 7-3 SEC Softball Tournament win over South Carolina
Posted by SEC Country on Wednesday, May 10, 2017
“In addition, I think we have the best ADs in the country, they treat women like athletes,” Lawson said. “Our ADs put in the funds, and they make us feel special. They build us incredible stadiums, they travel us well, and they treat us exactly as we’d like to be treated.”
Ole Miss won its first SEC Softball Tournament in 21 years last weekend in Knoxville with a 5-1 victory over LSU in the championship game.
The fact the No. 8-seeded Rebels won showed just how deep the league really is, as they beat No. 1-seed Florida in the second round.
The Gators have been ranked No. 1 throughout the season and are the NCAA tournament’s No. 1 seed, going after what would be their third national championship in the past four years.
An SEC team has played in the Women’s College World Series championship game each of the past six seasons. The SEC has won three national titles the past six years, including 2014, when Florida played Alabama in the title game.
The Pac-12, in 2007, is the only other league in history that has put all of its teams in the NCAA Softball Tournament.
Sankey has proven to be one of the more transparent conference commissioners in the nation, making himself available for access at all the events he attends, including a revealing impromptu Q&A prior to the College Football Playoff championship game in Tampa, Fla., earlier this year.