The NCAA Division I baseball committee convenes Friday in Indianapolis and immediately will take care of the most important items on its agenda.
"We try to get all our food ordered for the weekend and decide who the vegetarians are and make sure there are enough plates," said UNC Greensboro coach Mike Gaski, the only coach on the committee. "We actually get after it pretty good on Friday night."
The 10-man committee, which has discussed the field in conference calls each Monday for the last three weeks, will start trying to figure out which teams will host regional-round games and which will receive the 34 at-large tournament bids. First, it must sort out the 16 regional host sites, which will be announced on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET, and then fill out the entire field. The process takes all weekend, with the committee watching conference tournament games and making changes as late as Monday morning prior to the bracket unveiling (ESPN, 12:30 p.m. ET).
That job gets harder following a season that's featured as much parity and fewer favorites than any other since the 64-team field era began in 1999.
"Without a doubt, there's more parity," said Mississippi State athletic director Larry Templeton, who's serving his first year as committee chairman. "There seems to be fewer teams that are at the top that clearly have defined themselves, as opposed to most years. There's just a clog of teams in the middle, and it's who plays who on what weekend.
"You always say it's the most difficult year. We will spend a lot of time trying to pick out the final 16 teams. Picking the first 16 is real easy."
The committee's methods for making those decisions are often questioned by teams left out of the field.
California went 34-23 (13-11 Pac-10) last year and missed out, while Pac-10 foe Stanford made it in with a 32-23 (12-12) mark. The Golden Bears had won their last three conference series, including wins against Stanford and at Arizona, a Top 25 team. UNC Wilmington (40-19, 21-3 Colonial) and Troy (37-21, 23-7 Sun Belt) both won regular-season conference titles but lost early in league tournaments and were left out. And Cal Poly posted the same overall
(36-20) and Big West Conference record (14-7) as Long Beach State. Long Beach State played host to a regional as a No. 1 seed; Cal Poly didn't make the tournament.
"I was devastated that Troy didn't get in, and Wilmington won their regular-season title and didn't get in," Gaski said. "If you're [coaches] Bobby Pierce or Mark Scalf, you ask, 'What else could I have done?' It breaks my heart as a coach in a smaller league. I fight that battle.
"The only thing I can tell you is the sentiment was that those [that got in ahead of them] were the most deserving teams."
The schools that felt jilted all featured a common trait: Ratings Percentage Index figures outside of the top 45. Critics felt RPI was the overriding factor in those decisions, that a mathematical equation exerted more influence than it should have.
"It's just one of tools which I use," Templeton said. "That's the feeling of the committee. Unlike basketball, where you get to see so many games, we rely on advisory committees in each part of the country to help members rank those teams. I've got the SEC, Atlantic Sun and Sun Belt. What coaches on the advisory committee tell me gets as much input as RPI. What some people confuse is not only does RPI rank the teams, but we look at how did they do head-to-head with some other team we're comparing -- road and home records, records against the RPI top 60, record in the last 10 games.
"This would be a simple assignment if we strictly used the RPI. We could walk in the room and finish quickly."
Templeton's own school, Mississippi State, should provide an interesting case study of this process. The Bulldogs finished fifth in the SEC West with a 12-17 record (32-17 overall). But a top-40 RPI and the fact that nine SEC teams have made the NCAA Tournament in each of the last two years give the team postseason hope. But an 8-16 finish, with losses in seven of the Bulldogs' final eight series and a 9-18 record against the RPI top 60 could dash that hope.
"If you're an SEC or ACC team this year, you better play well in the conference tournament," Gaski said. "This year, more than any other year, I would say making the NCAAs because you made the conference tournament is not a fait accompli."
If that viewpoint is held by the entire committee, it could represent a change in the makeup of the field. Teams from the ACC, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC earned 65 percent of the 34 at-large bids in 2004 and 2005 after meriting an average of 50 percent in the four previous seasons. In 2000, 20 teams from those conferences got bids to the tournament; in 2005, 26 teams from those leagues got in.
"The SEC and Big 12, and in the Pac-10 and ACC, baseball is really, really good and they invest a lot of money in their programs," Gaski said. "There's no power play. The committee is set up purposely to avoid that. It's too diverse for that. You've got a guy from the Ivy [Princeton senior associate athletic director Michael Cross], Big West [Cal State Fullerton AD Mike Quinn], I'm from the SoCon, a guy from Siena [AD John D'Argenio] from the Northeast Conference.
"But I'm after the growth of the sport. I'm after Elon and UNC Greensboro and College of Charleston recognizing that this is good for you [to spend money on the baseball program] and the investment is well worth it. That's where I think there's a real value to having more baseball coaches on the committee. We can do enough homework and be on the field to see Winthrop has really good pitching and Troy's got a closer who can pitch anywhere."
In the end, the selections come down to a numbers game.
"I don't know that we ever put the wrong team in," Gaski said. "Does it mean we've left out deserving teams? Yes. It's trying to get 55 teams in 34 spots."
It's great to be in the top eight
Since the NCAA Tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1999, 66 percent of the teams earning one of the top eight national seeds have reached Omaha.
• Sixty-four percent won or shared a regular-season conference title, a figure that rises to 69 percent when factoring out independents.
• Twenty-five percent won their conference tournaments, a figure that rises to 40 percent when factoring out conferences with no postseason tournaments.
• Sixteen percent won both the regular-season and conference tournament titles, a figure that rises to 28 percent when factoring out independents and leagues with no postseason tournaments.
• National seeds have won 86 percent of their regionals.
• Four national seeds were eliminated before the CWS in 2004, three of them in the regionals.
• Twelve of the 14 teams (86 percent) to play in the championship game were national seeds, as were five of the champions.
• Cal State Fullerton (2004) is the only No. 2 seed to win the CWS.
• Texas (2005) won as a No. 1 seed that wasn't a national seed.
• Arizona State (2004) is the only national seed to play a road game in regional or super-regional play (it lost in the regionals).
• Here's a look at how the major conferences compare and how their teams have fared once awarded national seeds. The Colonial Athletic Association has had one team that was a national seed, East Carolina in 2001. ECU is now a member of Conference USA. Miami reached Omaha four times (in four selections as a national seed) as an independent before joining the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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