Mike Candrea witnessed the fanaticism of the Southeastern Conference while growing up in New Orleans. He remembers LSU football fans going gaga for games even against lowly Tulane. And the Tiger faithful were hardly the only over-the-top types in the SEC.
"It’s a different breed,” Candrea said. Thing is, that passion pays — most notably in victories and championships. "I said a long time ago that when the SEC got serious about something that they were going to do it right,” said Candrea, the longtime softball coach at Arizona. "I knew that once fast-pitch really caught on ... it was just a matter of time.” That time might be now. With Florida, Alabama and Georgia, the SEC has just as many teams in this week’s Women’s College World Series as the perennially powerful Pac-10. This is a league that managed only three total appearances in the WCWS before 2000. Now, the league has sent at least one team each of the last six years and has had two teams three of the past four years. The success in the SEC has snowballed. "Everybody is ultra competitive,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. "If you don’t catch up, if you don’t follow, you’re left as roadkill.” Search for the genesis for the SEC’s softball emergence, and the trail leads to Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide made its first WCWS appearance in 2000, and this week marks its sixth trip, more than any other team in the SEC. Search for the reason why Alabama leads the way in the conference, and that road would lead to the Crimson Tide’s softball complex. Completed in 2002, the stadium has private suites and covered seating while the clubhouse has a lounge area and a locker room with all the bells and whistles. But Murphy admits it’s no longer the best facility in the SEC — not after Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU each spent about $12 million on softball facilities during the past year. "It’s just like every other sport in the SEC,” Murphy said.