BILOXI -- The Conference USA baseball tournament is set to be held at MGM Park in Biloxi from 2017-18 with an option for a third year in 2019, and there's hope that the event will find a home on the Coast for longer than three years.
Tim Bennett, owner of Overtime Sports and part-owner of the Biloxi Shuckers, announced the news Wednesday in a press conference at the Biloxi Visitors Center. He was surrounded by a group of dignitaries that included Biloxi mayor FoFo Gilich, Southern Miss athletic director Bill McGillis and former major leaguer and Biloxian Barry Lyons.
Bennett said there's hope that Biloxi becomes the C-USA Tournament's long-term home much like Hoover, Ala., has served as the SEC tournament's home for the last two decades.
Newly-minted C-USA commissioner Judy MacLeod said Wednesday that Bennett's long-term plan is a realistic one.
"I think we're very open to it," MacLeod said Wednesday in a phone interview. "We've seen the College World Series in Omaha. That's a different animal, but we've seen how you can keep a baseball tournament in one place and it can grow over the years and become something special. There's a lot of work that will have to go into that, but we're very open to it."
The third year of the deal
The C-USA tournament will be held in Hattiesburg for the second consecutive year this season and by the time the 2019 tournament arrives, the event will have been held in Mississippi eight times in a 10-year stretch.
Why does the tournament keep coming back to the Magnolia State?
Hospitality at work
"The hospitality of Mississippi, people in the conference know about," McGillis said. "I think the Southern Miss support of the event is also important. Others in the league know that people in Mississippi like baseball, support baseball."
The tournament should draw fans from programs like Rice, UAB and Middle Tennessee, but community engagement on the Coast will be key to making sure the tournament doesn't end after three years.
"My goal is to get the entire Gulf Coast community involved," Bennett said. "We realize that the time of the year is a busy. This is a regional tournament. We have to get the entire southern region of Mississippi involved."
This marks the second time that Bennett has convinced C-USA to bring its baseball tournament to Mississippi. He led the effort to attract the Double-A Mississippi Braves to Trustmark Park in Pearl, which served as home of the C-USA Tournament in 2011-12.
Bennett again led the charge to construct MGM Park in Biloxi, bringing the Milwaukee Brewers' Double-A affiliate, the Biloxi Shuckers, to the Coast.
Again, the C-USA Tournament follows Bennett.
"He's been very thorough and has backed up everything that he said," MacLeod said of Bennett. "We're just so excited about the community support down there. We felt like it was a super opportunity for us."
The C-USA Tournament, which is held in late May, features an eight-team, double-elimination format.
Southern Miss coach Scott Berry's team will again have the home field advantage in Biloxi and his team is scheduled to play two games at MGM Park on March 2 against South Alabama and March 22 against Tulane.
He has yet to attend a game at MGM Park, but Berry likes what he sees.
"I had the chance to tour the stadium and it's a great facility," he said Wednesday.
McGillis believes the C-USA tournament can be an event that stands with some of the Coast's biggest annual celebrations.
Fun for all
"I know that the players are going to have a great time here. It's a great destination and the ballpark is fantastic.
"I don't see any reason why this can't become a really signature event like "Cruising the Coast" or some other events. I think this can be an annual staple in South Mississippi and on the Coast. I'm anticipating it will be very well received."