Tuesday, June 01, 2010

College Baseball Still Facing Issues as Popularity Rises

Maybe it's just an opinion, but it seems college baseball has gained a bit in popularity.

Every year, more games are on national and regional sports networks, and the sport draws better crowds in more areas.

One major problem, however, is that the NCAA Tournament selection process is still stuck in the dark ages.

As technology improves, those who want to be are keenly aware of the strengths and weaknesses of each at-large candidate, along with each of the candidates to host one of the 16 regionals. This puts more pressure on the selection committee to be armed with easy-to-understand criteria and make sound decisions.

Every year, though, things happen that defy common sense. The committee continues to punish teams for their conference affiliation, as if a school can just snap its fingers and get into the Big 12. The committee continues to forget about the importance of road games, since only Creighton could ever win a national championship in its backyard (the College World Series is contested in Creighton's hometown of Omaha, Neb.).

For all they do right -- attempting to gain geographic diversity in the regional host process, setting a start date for the sport so southern-based teams don't have such an advantage, and allowing mid-major schools decent access to at-large bids -- there is still a major flaw in the selection process.

The ACC, SEC, and Big 12 all have 12 teams in their leagues for baseball. None of them invite all members to their league tournament, instead choosing to only send eight.

Every year, at least one team rises from the ashes of missing their league tournament to make the field of 64.


I get that not all leagues are equal. And if a "must make conference tournament to make NCAAs" rule was instituted, leagues would just invite all their members so they'd still have a crack at nine or ten teams in the national field.

This all makes sense.

But if a league is so easily going to change their league tournament format, why not make them do it? Don't let them pussyfoot around the lame rules that already exist. If a league wants to get around the rule, they can make the investment required to house four more teams at the site of the league tourney.

The NCAA should not be in the business of rewarding mediocrity.

Furthermore, they should not be in the business of rewarding a team guilty of fraidy-cat scheduling. Arizona is one of them.

The Wildcats played 55 games this season. Of those 55, an incomprehensible 40 of them were at home.

Only one of their 15 road games was played against a team outside their conference (Gonzaga).


So the Wildcats went 33-22 while playing 40 of 55 games at home, and the committee rewards them over, say, Florida Gulf Coast?

Stick your neck out and play some road games. Wow.

In the end, the committee largely did a good job selecting and seeding the field. They try to create at least some diversity in hosting sites, and did that this year by selecting Connecticut as a regional host.

There are still a few issues to clean up, but the sport is undeniably growing, and the Road to Omaha should be an enjoyable one.

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