The NCAA Division I baseball committee may have the most thankless job in America, given that baseball is the most unpredictable of all college sports.
We give you Fresno State - which won the national title last year after going to a regional as a number four seed (that's out of four teams) - as the most recent example.
Need more? The committee seeds eight teams in the NCAA Tournament bracket so that they won't meet until the College World Series, supposedly giving the top teams in the country the best shot at reaching the sports' biggest stage. That said, no team in that top-eight group has won the national title since 2003 when Rice claimed top honors.
Only one time since the NCAA Tournament field was expanded to 64 teams has the No. 1 national seed gone all the way and won the championship. That was Miami in 1999. That stat doesn't bode well for Texas, this year's top national seed.
So, granted, baseball may be the toughest college bracket to assemble, without even factoring in geographical advantages. Kudos to those who have to do it.
That being said ...
In a couple of distinct areas, what were they thinking?
One of the annual goals is to balance the bracket, to try to fairly place similar teams in similar slots across the entire regional field. This goal, to put it bluntly, wasn't achieved.
There are a couple of murderous groupings - the kind that any of the four teams surviving to the Super Regional round wouldn't be a surprise - among the 13 regionals.
Wait ... 13 regionals? That's what you have, because it's embarrassing to call the fields in Austin, Baton Rouge and Houston regionals. They're more like exhibitions, something for Texas, LSU and Rice to occupy their weekend before the tournament actually begins.
The Longhorns get as their No. 2 seed a Texas State team that was an at-large team from the Southland Conference. They're not striking fear in anyone's hearts, especially when you look at the other number twos around the country. The other two teams in Austin, Boston College and Army, are barely thawed out, with BC making its first tournament appearance since 1967.
In Baton Rouge, a Minnesota team is the second seed out of a weak Big 10 Conference that shouldn't have three teams in the tournament. Third-seeded Baylor cratered down the stretch, and fourth-seeded Southern is staying in town and saving the NCAA's money.
The Owls' regional includes second-seeded Kansas State and third-seeded Xavier, neither of which has ever played an NCAA Tournament game, along with Sam Houston State.
Maybe the committee was protecting some of the better teams. If that's the case, though, explain Cal Irvine to me. UC Irvine is the number one ranked team in the nation in both the Collegiate Baseball and Baseball America magazine polls, but the Anteaters are in without question the nation's toughest regional.
Irvine will host Virginia, which won an ACC league that's right there with the SEC and Big 12 among baseball leagues this year, and a team that probably should have hosted a regional. The third seed at Irvine is San Diego State, with the nation's best pitcher and likely No. 1 overall draft pick in Stephen Strasburg. The number four seed? Fresno State, the defending national champion.
Who did the Anteaters tick off? All UC Irvine did was go 22-2 in a league that also included fourth-ranked Cal State Fullerton, which incidentally received a comparatively-easy regional grouping in Georgia Southern, Gonzaga - 28 years since its last tournament game - and a Utah team that had a losing record and hasn't been in the NCAA's since 1960.
Any time you hear someone talking about the committee balancing the bracket, call shenanigans in a hurry.
The other major area of concern in the tournament is a shift in the direction of the power conferences, something that the NCAA Division I men's basketball committee has done for too many years. In this year's field, 18 of the 30 automatic-bid conferences got only one team in, and 23 teams from the Big 12, SEC and ACC received bids. No other league had more than three selections.
Certainly, those three leagues deserved more teams than anyone else, but ... Oklahoma State? The Cowboys played 11 weekend series in the Big 12 this year and managed to lose nine of them. OSU didn't make its own conference tournament.
Meanwhile, some very good baseball teams from other leagues are sitting at home. Eastern Illinois went 36-14 and dominated the Ohio Valley only to lose to Tennessee Tech in the league tournament. Rhode Island (37-20) played the entire first half of its schedule on the road and regularly beat up on teams that wound up in the NCAA's.
New Mexico State (44-17) and San Jose State (41-20) were both worthy out of the WAC, a league that surprisingly got only defending champ Fresno into the field.
And Dallas Baptist (38-17) had a top-40 RPI after getting into the field last year and fielding perhaps a better team this season, beating several tournament teams including Texas A&M and Oral Roberts. Dallas Baptist likely gets overlooked due to its independent status, but the goal is to get the best 34 at-large teams and that may not have happened this year.
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