The NCAA Baseball Tourney
Only a handful of college baseball programs experienced great joy when their school’s name flashed across the TV screen as Kyle Peterson and Ben MacDonald discussed the merits of being awarded a spot in the dance. Many more than “just a handful” were disappointed.
Several tickets to the dance are punched the few days before the selections show as conference tournaments wrap up on Saturday or Sunday (30/64). Of the 34 at-large teams, many programs will already know their postseason status - based on their overall record and/or RPI (really only 5-10 programs are on the bubble). A committee of individuals will ultimately decide the fate of players and coaches all across the country. Many (if not all) committee members have never experienced “Gameday” as a baseball coach. Note: The 2012 committee did not have a single current baseball coach on the committee. Larry Gallo was the only former baseball (Notre Dame).
Is this right and just? Is this process in the best interest for the sport of baseball? The most important question is – considering the landscape of college baseball, is the formula right? Should a committee play such a vital role in determining the fate of post-season participation? Is a committee necessary or can coach voting play a role? What is the most effective and fair makeup of a committee? Is there a major and distinct difference in the level of commitment between (some) northern programs and (some) southern programs?
Some thoughts to consider - in football, if you have 6 wins, you are bowl eligible. If you don’t win six games, you can’t play in a bowl – simple. Scholarship allotments for student-athletes in football are equal (all on full-rides) and they get paired with schools of equal success level for bowl games. The 64-team baseball field resembles a March Madness formula, however, in basketball, all NCAA teams have the same allotted number of scholarships (they are also on full rides). So automatic qualifiers in basketball, at the mid-major level, are being funded at the same level (scholarship wise) as schools in BCS conferences. They might not have the same history or past success, but they do have the same current commitment level. Many college basketball programs also have similar commitment levels from their administration (as even mid-major teams will charter to some games). And most importantly, college basketball has the NIT.
In baseball, the automatic qualifier, in some conferences, is being awarded to schools with half the scholarships and half the commitment as many BCS qualifying programs. Is this right? Should this be? Arguments and debates over the equity between northern and southern programs will never stop. And by the time June rolls around, northern programs are playing their best ball and their top 14 stacks evenly with southern teams. But the question arises – is the current format for the 64-team field right and just?
My answer is no, and my solution is to create two championships in Division I baseball. In essence, add a second championship at the Division I level (32-team bracket) that will enable two different classifications of programs to exist. Each group will compete separately for two different championships (all based on scholarship/budget commitment).
Here’s the deal: Both championships will be played in Omaha, at TD Ameritrade, but at different times (one just before the other). This will bring more revenue and exposure to Omaha and the city. It will also get more use out of the new stadium there. The first championship will play for the “Legends Trophy” and the second championship will play for the “Legacy Trophy.”
A 32-team field of teams will compete for the Legends trophy. They consist of mainly programs that are not fully funded and have limited budgets (institutional governed). A 64-team field of teams will compete for the Legacy Trophy (the current system that exists today – no change). This is the creation of two separate classifications of programs all within the philosophical classification of Division I athletic programs.
The 32-team field competes in eight four-team regionals with the winners advancing to Omaha two weeks prior to the current schedule and at the start of regional play for the “Legacy Trophy” tournament. These “Legend Trophy” leagues shorten their seasons by one weekend and open regional play when the “Legacy Trophy” leagues are in their conference tournaments.
Each conference is responsible to “self-classify” their baseball programs and declare which “Championship Trophy” their teams will compete for - two years in advance. This information is public and available to all coaches. In order to compete for the Legacy Trophy, 80% of the teams in the league must be fully funded in scholarships (by the NCAA standards 11.7) and have a university operations budget (not including scholarships and coaches salaries) exceeding 125,000.
An example of leagues in the Legends Championship Division (approx. 144 teams)
America East, A-10, Colonial, Great West, Independents, Ivy, Metro Atlantic, MAC, Mid-Eastern, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southland, SWAC, Summit, West Coast
An example of leagues in the Legacy Championship Division (approx. 150 teams)
ACC, A-Sun, Big Ten, Big 12, Conf. USA, Missouri Valley, Big East, Mountain West, Big South, Big West, Pac 12, SEC, Southern, Sunbelt, Western Athletic
Nothing changes to the current RPI structure – no penalties exist for playing teams in cross championships. Teams will be awarded NCAA post-season bids based on same criteria that currently exist in 2012. There would be 15 automatic qualifiers for each championship. For the Legends Championship there would be 17 at-large qualifiers picked by a committee and based off RPI, SOS, etc. For the Legacy Championship there would be 49 at-large qualifiers picked by a committee and based of current criteria.
The impact is simple to grasp: 15 additional at-large teams will be awarded spots in the Legacy Championship and all told 32 more programs achieve the dream to play in the post season. More programs will be able to host regionals at their schools – especially northern programs. And most importantly, the creation of a new championship would pair “like” programs with similar commitment levels against each other.
Every baseball coach wants (more) to compete at the highest level. Most administrators look at the bottom line and try and justify if a budget can be stretched or increased. School presidents must guard against potential academia vs. athletic balance issues. The NCAA has a very complicated system to amend rules and implement change. And positive change at the NCAA level, designed for the good of all (and it’s never good for all), usually doesn’t happen unless a major “problem” exists (for example, safety issues or poor graduation rates). Therefore, it will take great effort by many coaches and admistrators to make this change a reality.
With all this in mind, and the likely hood that scholarships and budgets will not be increasing anytime soon, a creative change like this is needed for college baseball. More players and coaches deserve to be rewarded with post-season opportunities for their effort and commitment. Coaches need to be rewarded for their hard work, and players need an opportunity to play in the post season against teams of similar commitment standards.
Nothing changes to the current 64-team field (Legacy Championship), except; more at-large teams will be rewarded from a smaller and more equal group of programs.
Budgets would not change for any program. The Legends Championship programs would be playing in their regional play the weekend they normally would be playing in conference tournaments. Budgets would actually be lowered for some programs.
Must Needed Action Steps (of course there are more):
1. Schools provide information on data for ’13-‘14 season to conference office.
2. Conference office officials collect data and announce which championship their conference will compete for starting the 2014 season.
3. Leagues participating in Legends Championship will schedule conference championship tournaments one week early. Coaches in those leagues will collectively decide league game format.
4. A new committee would be formed for the Legends Championship
5. The official schedule for Omaha – Legends championship would be created.
For the continued growth of the sport of college baseball, I hope a change like this becomes reality.