BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The interest is there. Just ask Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork.
“I don’t know what the future holds for scheduling, but I think if (Coach Bianco) feels like it makes sense, then absolutely. We want to come here as much as possible," Bjork said.
Or, ask Picayune native Matt Riser, head coach of Southeastern Louisiana.
“I think it’s the right size, the right venue, the right location for the Coast (and) for me personally," Riser said. "Any game we can get over that way, we definitely enjoy.”
Both the Rebels and the Lions have enjoyed previous midweek stops at MGM Park, as well as a number of other Division I baseball teams over the last few years, ranging from Mississippi State to Nicholls State. So then, why aren’t such games on the schedule in 2019?
For Overtime Sports owner Tim Bennett, it’s about prioritizing.
“(The Conference USA Tournament) is going to take priority for me over everything else we do, just because of the economic impact that it has on the city, and the national television coverage," Bennett said.
In the past, Overtime Sports oversaw the Conference USA Tournament, on top of bringing various other contests to MGM Park, collegiate or otherwise. But moving forward, Bennett said that responsibility will transition to the Biloxi Shuckers, allowing Overtime Sports to fully focus on bigger projects like the five-day tournament.
“We know that having the Shuckers here does have an impact on the community," Bennett said. "But boy, to have those teams come in from Florida, Texas and Carolina, and the families that travel from Memphis, Tennessee, it’s a definite economic impact. You’re putting heads in beds, people staying overnight. Last year we had over 40 million viewers (in the tournament’s) television audience that saw Biloxi, some for the first time.”
And business is booming. After two successful years of the tournament at MGM Park, the two sides agreed to pick up a third-year option to bring the week-long event back to the Coast in 2019. Plus, Bennett says a further extension is in the works, and could be announced as early as the end of this week.
“(Conference officials) said these have been the most equitable years for Conference USA," Bennett said. "They’ve made more money working with our organization hosting the tournament here than they ever have in the history of the tournament. We set an attendance record for single game and for tournament attendance two years ago.”
And money is a big reason why the tournament takes priority for Overtime Sports. Television contracts broadcast the C-USA Tournament through ESPN and CBS Sports, bringing in a large source of revenue those midweek games do not.
“But, does that mean we stop bringing (midweek Division I games)? Not at all," Bennett said. "We’ll do everything we can because that’s the reason the stadium was built for teams like that to be able to come in.”
For now, the only college baseball game that will be played at MGM Park outside of the Conference USA Tournament takes place Wednesday, March 20 between William Carey and Mississippi College.