With the 2010 NCAA Baseball Tournament bracket being released, one thing is clear: The NCAA made a mistake and the Florida State Seminoles are the ones who received the brunt of the injustice.
Florida State (42-17, 18-12 ACC), one of the sixteen 1-seeds in the tournament field, has to travel some 1,200 miles to play at Dodd Stadium in Norwich, Conn. at a region hosted by the No. 2 seeded University of Connecticut Huskies. In making this decision, the NCAA and the NCAA Tournament selection committee has invalidated the season-long journey embarked on by teams towards the end goal of being a regional host.
All off this was done in pursuit of the almighty dollar.
Hosting a region should be a privilege reserved for the top 16 teams in the country and the University of Connecticut should have been in the last-hour discussions assigning the final hosting spots. The merits of hosting a region should be based on a team that has earned the right to play in front of their home fans and to avoid the added strain of travelling upwards of thousands of miles to the regional location.
With a 47-14 record, the No. 24 RPI in the country, and a No. 19 ranking in the ESPN/USA Today Top-25 Poll, the UConn Huskies were among the two dozen teams who had a legitimate claim at one of the 16 host spots. However, with their No. 2 seeding, it was made very clear by the selection committee that they were ultimately not one of the 16 best teams in the country.
Tim Weisner, the NCAA Baseball Committee Chairman, defended the committee’s decision to award UConn a region despite being a No. 2 seed during the selection show live on ESPN.
“If we have an opportunity – without sacrificing the competitive integrity of the tournament–to put a regional site in a location that historically hasn’t had one, I think that’s good for college baseball,” he said.
“Frankly the difference between Connecticut and some of the other teams that were competing for (the regional site) were very small.”
In the interview, Weisner also alluded to the fact that this practice of placing a top seed at a different site is not untested. The most recent example of the selection committee doing this is the 2008 NCAA Tournament. Michigan was granted a region in Ann Arbor, forcing No. 1 seed Arizona to travel the 2,000 miles from Tuscon to Ann Arbor to play in a region where they were the top seed. In that instance, Arizona survived to advance to the Super Regionals and any major controversy surrounding the decision was avoided.
The NCAA has done this with other sports in other postseason tournaments, and the results were beneficial for the NCAA’s bottom line, but more disastrous for the teams involved. The women’s basketball NCAA Tournament has a similar alignment with 16 teams hosting sub-regionals but, unlike the baseball tournament, these sites are determined well in advance of the season starting. As a result, the school whose site is hosting might not have a team that is among the top 16 teams in the country.
However, this did not stop the NCAA selection committee from awarding home-court advantage for the sake of ticket sales in 2009. The women’s NCAA Tournament had an East Lansing region and the Michigan State Spartans were placed by the selection committee as one of the four teams in the region. Michigan State was the 9-seed and after winning their first round game, they upset the No. 1 Duke Blue Devils to advance to the Sweet 16 fueled by a raucous home crowd. Duke was upset at having to play a road game in the second round of the tournament despite being chosen as one of the top four teams in the country after the regular season.
Will all sixteen No. 1-seeds win their region to advance to the Super Regionals? No. Regardless of where the games are being played, college baseball is a game that allows for the unpredictable (See: Fresno State’s winning the 2008 national championship) and it is just as likely, in fact, that all 16 No. 1 seeds don’t advance to the Super Regionals. However, if UConn is to advance out of the Norwich Region with wins over Florida State, it is entirely reasonable for anyone affiliated with the Seminoles to have a bone to pick with the NCAA.
Financially, does it make sense for the NCAA to have an opening round site in Norwich, Conn. with their plan to expand college baseball to a more national audience? Absolutely.
Of the 16 opening round sites, the rural Connecticut site of Norwich offers a unique site that the other 15 sites cannot offer. The Norwich Regional is approximately 300 miles further north than the second northern most site, hosted by the University of Louisville. It is entirely understandable how the striped suits in the NCAA must have watched with quelled excitement as UConn baseball quickly turned into one of the best stories in college baseball this season.
With dollar signs flashing before their eyes, an order from above was sent down to the selection committee to award Connecticut a region despite falling just outside being one of the nation’s top 16 teams. Florida State earned the right for themselves and their fans to be hosting a regional at Dick Howser Stadium, but instead they will make the trip north to try and extend their season in Connecticut.
Unfortunately for the Seminoles players, coaches and fans the message is clear: A season worth of work means nothing when put up against the NCAA’s vision to further increase revenue.