The NCAA has recently explored two different options to tweak the current NCAA tournament format. The current format consists of 16 four-team, double elimination regional rounds, then a best of three super regional to reach the College World Series.
The first option would be to make the regional round a best-of-three series, then the super regional a four-team, double elimination round. The second option would add another week to the playoffs, and create three best-of-three rounds to get to the College World Series. Both options would keep the College World Series format the same.
The NCAA needs to adopt one of these new formats. Both of them are better than the current one. Both expand the amount of sites used in the first round from 16 to 32. Since baseball regionals are home sites, having twice as many sites would be a great way to increase exposure. The first option also should increase the level of interest in the super regional round.
Ideally, most of the lower seeds that got in by winning the weaker conferences will be eliminated, giving the super regional round four teams that all have a legitimate chance of moving on. There usually isn’t a big difference between No. 1 and some No. 2 seeds, or No. 2 and some No. 3 seeds, but No. 4 seeds are usually a more significant drop-off. With the super regional round, there will be almost all No. 1’s, and a split of No. 2’s and No. 3’s to make for a very interesting four-team tournament.
This format could provide for some weak regional matchups in the No. 1 vs. No. 4 games. However given there will be 32 matchups in the regional round, no one will be able to watch all of them anyway and ESPN certainly wouldn’t be televising them. Most likely they will be showing the three or four of the most intriguing No. 2 vs. No. 3 matchups, so there will be more than enough interest. When a No. 4 forces a third game against a No. 1, you will get the interest you get now in the basketball tournament when a 14-seed or a 15-seed takes a No. 2 or No. 3 down to the wire.
The second option is still the best one in my opinion. College baseball is structured around a three-game series. Teams play them every weekend and most teams’ pitching rotations are set for a three-man rotation. This way you are playing the postseason like you are playing the regular reason.
In a four-team, double elimination tournament, a team may need to play doubleheaders and/or five games in four days. In these situations, teams are playing elimination games using pitchers who might not have started more than a handful of games all year.
This option also adds a whole new week to the playoffs, which will increase the game’s exposure. Some argue against college football playoffs in regards to extra games being required, but this option does not require more games. They are just more spread out. Given these games are in May and June, school is already out. If they weren’t playing college games, the athletes would be playing summer or pro ball.
As well as making a change to the format of the NCAA tournament, college baseball also could use a spark to the beginning of the season. Football has a Kickoff Classic; Basketball has the Maui Invitational and Preseason NIT, amongst many others. Baseball needs something to get its season started with a bang. Sure, there are several Classics and Invitations now but nothing that gets even a college baseball fan too excited.
Let’s start the season with the Preseason College World Series with eight of the premier teams in the country. Create two brackets of four teams, and then have a round robin within the division on Wednesday through Saturday. Each team plays three days and has one day off. That also allows for three games at the location instead of trying to fit in four. Then on Sunday, you have a championship game with the winner of each bracket.
To add even more interest to the event, precede the championship game with a Home Run Derby where each team that didn’t make the championship game has one player to represent them.
The Atlanta Braves spring training home at the Disney Wide World of Sports seems to be perfect venue for the event. Use Disney to get ESPN involved and to get the games televised on ESPNU. With schools like Texas and LSU that travel well and home schools like Florida, Florida State and Miami to boost attendance, this seems like a great way to start out a college baseball season.