It has hosted one for six straight years, and with another big season in progress, the school submitted its bid to host again several weeks ago. But then came the April 27 tornado.
It gashed a hole through the heart of Tuscaloosa and passed not far from the softball complex. The two weeks that followed brought thousands of relief workers from around the area to Tuscaloosa, filling hotel rooms already seeing brisk business from hundreds of residents displaced by the twister.
The university still hopes to host the four-team tournament May 19-22 as well as the super-regional round May 26-29. Regional sites and pairings will be announced Sunday.
The school also placed a bid to host a baseball regional June 3-6.
“Athletics officials discussed the situation with hotel partners to gauge whether hosting such an event would be problematic in any way and have been assured that they will not,” UA spokesman Doug Walker said. “Alternatives for hotel rooms were explored and considered, but our hotel partners assured us that use of those hotel rooms would not pose a problem.”
Online searches for hotels on the weekend of the softball regional show rooms are in short supply. Most of the major chain hotels are completely sold out that weekend and most vacancies are located in motels on the outskirts of Tuscaloosa.
“I’m sure it’s going to be tough for hotel availability,” said Toby Wilson, the manager of the Hampton Inn Tuscaloosa located a long fly ball away from the Alabama softball complex.
Alabama Associate Athletics Director Marie Robbins said she was assured by the three hotel partners that visiting teams would have rooms. She said the program took a week to let the shock of the situation wear off before contacting hotels to double check.
“We wanted to give the hotels some time because we know they had displaced residents as well as first responders,” Robbins said.
The school reached out late last week and was assured the hotels would not displace any storm victims.
“We felt like the continuation of athletic events — in particular with softball and the success they’ve had — would provide an uplifting experience for our community,” Robbins said.
The lodging situation is much more favorable for the weekend of NCAA baseball regional tournament, but the Tide faces a challenge just qualifying for the postseason. Its 12-12 SEC record leaves the Tide tied for fifth in the league that invites the top eight to the conference tournament. Three teams are within a game of Alabama and Arkansas who share the West Division lead heading into the final two weeks of the season.
Alabama (30-20, 12-12 SEC) travels to Auburn (25-23, 11-13) for three games starting Friday and plays host to South Carolina (38-10, 18-6) the following weekend to close the regular season. Entering the Auburn series, Alabama ranks 31st in the Ratings Percentage Index that is factored heavily in selecting the NCAA tournament at-large teams.
The Alabama baseball team hasn’t played host to a regional since 2006, though it only missed the NCAA tournament once since then.
The Tide baseball program played host to the first athletic event in Tuscaloosa when it played a three-game series with LSU last weekend. The softball team cancelled a series with Kentucky scheduled to start just days after the tornado hit.
The No. 4 Alabama softball team (45-7) opens the SEC tournament at 6:30 p.m. today against Mississippi State (24-31) in Oxford, Miss.