The basics seem pretty simple, but it's obvious that not a lot of depth goes into NCAA Tournament selections, especially when compared to a sport like men's basketball.
Since I am always willing to confront my faults, I did some reading. I read a lot of Baseball America, and I read a lot of ESPN, hoping to learn more about the process before the selections were announced.
It seemed clear to me that the committee was likely to pass over potentially deserving mid-major teams in favor of helping the power conferences get more teams in the tournament.
I didn't even know the half of it.
When the pairings came out Monday, I was mortified to see Oklahoma State, a team not even good enough to make the eight-team Big 12 Tournament (the Big 12 has just ten teams for baseball, as Colorado and Iowa State choose not to participate, making OSU's failure all the more embarrassing), make the field. That immediately screwed a team like Rhode Island, Missouri State, or Eastern Illinois, teams that may play in weaker leagues, but at least beat some teams in non-conference play.
Making matters worse, Baylor also made the field. The Bears were swept by last-place Nebraska late in the season (Nebraska is a shell of their former Alex Gordon and Joba Chamberlain selves), and the bottom line is that they didn't play very well down the stretch. Yeah, they have a couple of wins over TCU, a regional top seed. That's great, but there's the matter of a not-so-sterling 0-9 record over the Bears' final nine regular-season conference games.
It's very difficult to compare teams like Oklahoma State and Baylor to the likes of Rhode Island. Yes, the Rams have a good record and did well in their conference. However, their league -- the Atlantic 10 -- is undeniably weaker than the Big 12.
What Rhode Island did do was use their non-conference slate to play anyone, anywhere, anytime. The Rams played 27 straight games on the road to start the season, and they picked up wins over Miami (the one in Florida, not Ohio) and Oklahoma State (hmm ...). For a team in a weaker conference, it sounds like the blueprint of how to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large.
Didn't work for Rhode Island. Also didn't work for Eastern Illinois or Missouri State, but their profiles are weaker than that of URI. The Rams simply should be in this field, and they would be if their name was, say, Texas Tech.
Aaron Fitt of Baseball America is much more scathing than I.
Indeed, the committee chairman is Big 12 deputy commissioner Tim Weiser struggled to explain the rationale for including Oklahoma State and Baylor in the field of 64.Fitt knows more than I, and his case is strong.
"Oklahoma State, no doubt, had some losses there in conference play that was a factor," Weiser said in a conference call with media this afternoon. "But we looked at the RPI issue, we looked at strength of schedule. We were aware of their conference success or failures, and all of that was compared to information we still had available."
Weiser repeatedly cited nonconference strength of schedule as a key factor in the committee’s deliberations—he even used it to justify Cal State Fullerton as the No. 2 national seed, even though it finished five games behind UC Irvine in the Big West and lost the head-to-head series against the Anteaters, who earned the No. 6 national seed (more on Irvine shortly). But the committee apparently did not place the same weight on the challenging nonconference slates put together by Rhode Island or Missouri State (which won a series at Oregon State in Portland, won a home series against inexplicable No. 2 regional seed Oral Roberts, and opened the year with a quality series at Middle Tennessee State, though it was swept there). And the Rams and Bears actually finished at or near the top of their conferences. But bad losses cost those mid-majors.
"I think our committee certainly considered those teams," Weiser said. "Twelve of the losses Rhode Island had were to teams rated above 100 in the RPI. Those are significant issues. Talking about Rhode Island, Missouri State, Eastern Illinois or Duke, those are all things we consider."
It's maddening to me that the NCAA allows such things to happen. The criteria need to be more clearly laid out, because as it is set up right now, the message for teams is conflicting. You can't tell teams to schedule tougher, than only reward some teams for it. Things simply don't work that way in the real world.
If you have interest in college baseball, I'd highly recommend Fitt's piece. It's an eye-opener to a painfully flawed process.