July 30, 2013 2:07:29 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State University will delay hosting the Southeastern Conference softball tournament in order to buy more time to figure out how to upgrade its current facility.
The announcement, made on July 19 after a vote by the league's athletic directors earlier this month, was made by the SEC office to move the 2014 SEC tournament from MSU to the University of South Carolina.
"As a program we decided it was best to host the SEC softball tournament in 2016 rather than 2014," MSU coach Vann Stuedeman said. "This allows us the time to build a state-of-the-art facility that will be among the premier softball facilities not only in the SEC but in the country."
The facility in which Stuedeman is referring to is the new softball stadium she was told would be in the works by MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin when she accepted the job prior to the 2012 season but construction has yet to begin on the project.
"We have hired architects for a brand new stadium," Stuedeman told The Dispatch in Feb. 2012. "(Stricklin) is out right now all the time trying to find donors so that we can get a top-notch facility. "We will break ground on a new stadium after completion of the 2013 season. So, we are calling all donors. (Stricklin) has been very receptive to what we are trying to do to move this program forward."
Carolina Softball Stadium at Beckham Field, which opened to rave reviews in the spring of 2013, will be showcased nationally during one of the biggest weekends in the sport every year. All nine games of the SEC Tournament will be aired on the ESPN family of networks.
"I am so thrilled that the SEC Tournament is coming to South Carolina in 2014," said South Carolina coach Beverly Smith in the school's release. "The timing is perfect for South Carolina to be able to showcase our brand new stadium. The support that our administration is putting to softball will be evident when people see all the beautiful shots of the stadium. I love the fact that every single game of the SEC Tournament is on ESPN. And I'm excited for Gamecock fans to be able to come out and really show the other schools in the SEC what kind of support we get here in Columbia."
When asked why the tournament was moved from Starkville to Columbia, S.C., Stricklin responded to The Dispatch saying the move two years back gave the school more time to start construction on a facility that can adequately host such an event.
"We moved it back to 2016 so we can host with a new facility in place," Stricklin said.
Stricklin said Monday the reason for the delay in the construction of the new MSU softball tournament was simply a matter of economics for the school's athletic budget.
"It became a funding mechanism issue and we don't have the money to pay for the whole project and I'm not going to start a facilities project until I know we can fully pay for it," Stricklin said. "We have some announcements and things in place for the future that make us very confident that we'll have one of the nation's best stadiums in place to hold such an event."
MSU, who has made back-to-back NCAA Regional appearances under Stuedeman, was slated to host the four-day SEC tournament for the first time in 2014. The 10-team tournament rotates among the conference members but the Bulldogs administration has passed on the event every time their year comes up due to substandard facilities.
"The facility will be a benefit to everyone involved, including ESPN and the national exposure they will provide for us during the tournament," Stuedeman said. "Most importantly, the stadium will have as huge of an impact on the recruiting than anything this program has ever seen."
In 2012, Stricklin was quoted publicly saying the hiring of Stuedeman, an 11-year assistant at the University of Alabama where they have some of the nation's best facilities, went along with a renewed commitment to the sport of softball from the MSU administration.
"I am competitive," Stricklin said in Feb. 2012. "When we got into a market for a new coach, I wanted to find the best coach possible. To get the kind of coach we wanted, it takes a commitment. We have to do some things facilities-wise. Our No. 1 goal in all sports is to make the experience the best possible for the student-athletes and the coaches."
The Bulldogs presently play at the MSU Softball Field, The 2011 MSU Softball fan guide called it "one of the finest facilities in the nation." Play began there with the start of the 1997 season. The stadium includes seating for approximately 750 fans on aluminum bleachers and a eight-seat press box atop the stadium. In 2009, MSU added an indoor practice facility and locker rooms just outside the left field fence.
"Scott Stricklin and (assistant athletic director) Ann Carr, those are the people that sell this university," Stuedeman said. "We've got to sell our vision and our plan."