The University of Houston-Victoria announced today it will host the first-ever tournament that will allow nonconference-member baseball teams a clear path to the national championship in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
Baseball fans can watch the Association of Independent Institutions (AII) 2009 Baseball Championship Tournament April 29 to May 2 in Riverside Stadium.
"We're truly bringing a 'first,' a historic event, to Victoria with this event," UHV Athletic Director Ashley Walyuchow said.
The tournament is part of a major restructuring in the championship paths of the NAIA, he said. Under the new structure, the winners of the conference tournaments will go directly to the national playoffs. The AII tournament will serve as a conference championship for independent teams.
Previously, conference members competed for a set number of bids to the regional tournaments, while independent teams had to hope for one of the smaller number of at-large bids, Walyuchow said.
"A strong season didn't always mean a postseason opportunity and the recognition that comes with it," he said.
Seven teams from around the country will compete for four bids to the AII championship from independent raters. The winner will advance to the opening round of the NAIA World Series. As host, UHV is guaranteed a slot in the Victoria tournament.
If UHV doesn't win the AII championship, the Jaguars could still receive an at-large bid to the NAIA World Series if the team is nationally ranked.
Competing for the three remaining slots in the AII tournament will be:
- LSU-Alexandria (Alexandria, La.)
- Thomas University (Thomasville, Ga.)
- Crichton College (Memphis, Tenn.)
- Voorhees College (Denmark, S.C.)
- Indiana University Northwest (Gary, Ind.)
- Morris College (Sumter, S.C.)
"With the strong showing our baseball team made last year and with our unmatched fan support, we could be serious competitors at the national championship this coming season," Walyuchow said.
News of the competition coming to Victoria brought congratulations and praise from local and AII leaders.
"I want to thank UHV, the Victoria Chamber of Commerce and the City of Victoria for putting together an outstanding bid to host the first AII Baseball Tournament next spring," AII Commissioner Ted Breidenthal said. "It will be a memorable experience for our student-athletes, coaches and all our fans who will travel to Victoria."
UHV leaders said it was something they were glad to do for the community and for college sports, and that it wouldn't have been possible without strong teamwork with the community.
"Hosting this championship tournament in Victoria will give baseball fans a unique opportunity to experience the college playoff atmosphere," head baseball coach Terry Puhl said.
The 2009 Jaguars baseball team will give fans another exciting season, he added.
"On behalf of UHV, I would like to thank all of our supporters and partners, the 'team' that worked so hard to make this bid successful," UHV President Tim Hudson said. "College athletics continues to enliven our students' experiences and help demonstrate to our community the value of a hometown university. People around the country are clearly taking notice of our growth and development."
Local leaders who helped bring the event to Victoria expressed similar thoughts.
"This is a fantastic opportunity to showcase all the wonderful things Victoria has to offer to a national audience," said Randy Vivian, president and chief executive officer of the Victoria Chamber of Commerce. "It will bring people here from across the country who normally wouldn't come to Victoria."
Vivian added he is a huge Jaguars baseball fan and plans to attend as many of the games as he can.
"This proves that the partnership that renovated Rosebud Stadium the Friends of Victoria Baseball, UHV and the City of Victoria will reap great benefits in the future for our community and region," Victoria Mayor Will Armstrong said. "Victoria has always had a close relationship with baseball, and this could be just the beginning of many special baseball events in our city."
Major baseball supporters also rejoiced at the news.
"This is great news for Victoria," said Claud Jacobs, a major financial contributor to Jaguars baseball. "It will create national attention for Victoria. It will give the people of Victoria the opportunity to see some great baseball."
The event also will likely bring major league scouts to the city, he noted.