I’ve been following college baseball since 1989, about as long as I’ve followed the other major sports. There have been a few changes since then, and this year it seems a complication has developed. I’ll start with a little bit of background.
In the current system, there are 16 regional sites (which generally go to the best 16 teams in the tournament) with four teams at each site. The 16 winners then go to 8 super-regional sites–there is one for each of the national seeds.
I’ll just give one example from this year.
(national #2) LSU, Baton Rouge regional host
#1 Houston, Houston regional host
#4 Houston Baptist
If LSU wins the Baton Rouge regional, LSU will be the super-regional host against the winner of the other region. If Houston wins and LSU doesn’t, Houston will be the super-regional host. If neither wins, the better team between the two regional champions will host, assuming they have the right facilities available. If not, they can arrange for alternate facilities (for instance, the stadium of a local professional team) or allow the other team to host.
In the previous system, there were 8 regionals of 6 teams apiece, and the 8 winners went directly to the College World Series. It was not unusual, however, for a host of a regional to be the #2 seed in that regional. For instance, LSU (at least since the 1990s) has consistently been the best college baseball site, so there were some years where LSU was a #2 seed in their region and still hosted the regional.
With twice the number of regional sites, the fact that some of them won’t exactly be packed hasn’t seemed to be as big of a deal, so it has since become expected that regardless of who they are, the best teams will play at home or somewhere near home.
This year, there were four SEC teams that were routinely considered among the best in the country: LSU, Florida, Vanderbilt, and Texas A&M. Every major ranking system had at least three in the top 8 at the end of the season, and some had all four in the top 8… except for the one that counts, the NCAA committee. Only LSU (regular-season SEC champions) and Florida (SEC tournament champions, who had only the 4th-best SEC record) made the top 7. Rather than making Texas A&M or Vanderbilt #8, the committee picked the Missouri St. Bears.
The committee tends to be a little bit more egalitarian as far as teams from less-accomplished areas and conferences, and I honestly do not have a problem with that. I want more people to enjoy college baseball, so even if they don’t pick the best teams in my opinion, I don’t mind that. If they picked someone who was clearly less deserving from the Pac-12 or Big XII, I wouldn’t be as happy, but I wouldn’t be making a blog post about it. I don’t think it would result in many people calling for some kind of change to the system.
The real problem is Missouri St. can’t host a super-regional. What the committee did was pair them with the closest site hosted by an unseeded team, which was Stillwater, home of the Oklahoma St. Cowboys. They’re not even in the top 10 of any major rankings, but they’re basically the de facto #8 national seed now since they would host the regional if they win.
To be fair, I don’t consider this is completely outrageous. I understand that the committee doesn’t want to punish Missouri St. for its inability to host by making them travel far, but there should have been some kind of alternative site for the super regional. For instance, I can’t imagine there isn’t a baseball field in or near Tulsa where this could be played. That’s roughly between Stillwater and Springfield, MO (in the Southwestern part of the state), where the Bears normally play. If Arkansas upsets Oklahoma St. to win the Stillwater regional, then Fayetteville would just be a few miles away from Springfield if that is where the super-regional is played. I also understand that the committee probably wasn’t primarily considering super-regional sites and was probably looking at the fair seeding of the tournament as a whole.
I do agree with the people who are complaining about this that Missouri St. should have been paired with either Texas A&M or Vanderbilt, neither of which is ridiculously far away. This doesn’t solve all future scenarios though. What if the 9th and 10th teams are on the other side of the country? What if instead of being a #8 national seed who can’t host, it’s one of the very top teams?
One “solution” that has been suggested is to seed teams #1-16. That would have solved the problem this year, but it doesn’t answer either of the questions I just posed. I also don’t agree with it. What if Oregon St. is #8 and Miami is #9? (These are both good teams of recent years, so this is a realistic scenario.) I don’t think Miami should have to travel to Corvallis when it could have been a very close choice between the two for #8. I’d much rather leave #9-16 more flexible. I’d rather Miami have a super-regional with Florida or Florida St. even if the Gators or Seminoles are in the top 4. I think most teams would rather play close to home than play a team a spot or two lower when there’s no guarantee those teams will be easier to beat anyway.
I think a good solution would be to have eight regional sites sort of like at one time the NCAA basketball tournament named regions after the cities they fed into. So you could still have Missouri St. be a #8 seed, but you could have had a Tulsa, College Station, or Nashville Super Regional. Of course, if the relevant team were to lose, you can always find a new super regional site, but it would work in making up the bracket more fairly.
It should also be made clear to teams that they’ll be treated like they’re not in the top 8 if they can’t host a super-regional, and they’ll be treated like they’re not in the top 16 if they can’t host a regional. That way teams can just say they’re not hosting at all, or like UC-Santa Barbara did in their regional (which is being played in Lake Elsinore, CA), they can pick a site somewhere else.
The committee can still pick the top 8 teams who are available as super-regional hosts and the top 16 teams who are available as regional hosts. I don’t think had the system been in place as I described it that the committee would have declared Stillwater to be a super-regional host. It’s also possible that Missouri St. could have come up with another suggestion or committed to come up with other arrangements should the need arise.
An example of a team surprisingly having to host a super-regional happened last year. Texas Tech was not selected as a regional host, but when both #1 seeds in that part of the bracket (Florida and Miami) lost, they ended up hosting the super-regional. Texas also hosted a super-regional after not hosting the regional (#1s LSU and Rice had both lost). They’re a more traditional power, so it was less of a shock, but it still strengthens the point that these scenarios do happen.
I’ve been meaning to post about various LSU sports, but I keep delaying it and then having too many other things to do. I’ll probably just combine it all into one blog once baseball is over.