Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sun Belt Belts It Out Of The Park

Stanford was rated the 5th best team in the West in the final season rankings prior to the NCAA selection and Fresno State wasn't even on anyones radar, yet there they were this past weekend in Omaha, outscoring their opponents 31 to practically nothing that really mattered. Now the Cardinal did finally meet their match in a scrappy Georgia team last night. Two more sunbelt teams heating up Husker town again.

Which poses the question...If the NCAA has any dreams of this tourney approaching just a fraction of the hype and audience ratings that the Final Four have, then the seedings need to be a bit more fair and spread out like basketball. Was it really fair to have Stanford pitted up against ranked Pepperdine, upstart UC Davis, and then another highly ranked Cal State Fullerton, while North Carolina gets Mount St. Mary's (snooze), North Carolina Wilmington(snore) and Coastal Carolina(zzzzzzzz)?

Meanwhile, Stanford and Fresno State battled a who's who of college powers to get to Omaha. Fresno's road was even more ominous as they had to survive nationally ranked Long Beach State, San Diego and #3 Arizona State to earn a spot in Rosenblatt.

In an effort to try to even the playing field, all the NCAA did was stack the west against each other and pitted the Illinois-Chicago's of the world (don't they play 16inch softball up there) in the rest (southeast) of the country.

And in the end...you still have all of the sun-belt teams fighting for supremacy. Parity? No. The sunbelt teams still play the best baseball on this planet. The sunshine boys are just more polished because they grew up playing baseball year round. It has been and always will be that way. The NCAA can do whatever it wants to do to make it seem more like parity...but the bottom line is that the sunbelt and west coast teams will always be in Omaha evey year for the most part. But partly because of geography, the southeastern and Texas powers get the week Midwest and northeast teams and the tough west teams play more tough west teams. We just wish that they would have spread the west coast teams around a bit more.

Let's put it this way...they did put Arizona, the PAC 10's #4 team with a .500 conference record in the Ann Arbor Regional and the Wildcats breezed through in three straight. #11 UC Irvine does get rewarded for it high ranking and goes to Lincoln and does the same. But they put UCLA, the PAC 10' 3rd place team in with the nations #8 team in Cal State Fullerton. Why does Cal State Fullerton get UCLA from this tough PAC 10 conference? It turned out OK for them, except then, they had to face yet another PAC 10 juggernaut in Stanford.

Now, the west did get some patsies shipped to the Tempe, Stanford and Fullerton Regionals in Stony Brook, Arkansas and Rider. All were easily dispensed of early. However, in the Long Beach Regional, four very good teams in Long Beach State, San Diego, Cal and World Series darling Fresno State had real scratch your head regional pairing. Who's idea was this. Why can't two of these teams switch with Mt. St Mary's or North Carolina Wilmington?

Not to single out California, but Miami get's no reward for being #1, and draws Missouri and Mississippi while while the Tarheels get the equivalent of American Legion Post 38.

We would just like to see more California teams spread out just so that they can see different national competition than the same teams they have played all year. In a state of 37 million people, and hundreds of other eager baseball players from all over the country wanting to play there, there is an insane amount of talented baseball players playing in over 23 NCAA D-I Schools spread out across the state...and incredibly, they are all very competitive teams. The Big West Conference is the only major conference in the country in which all the schools are in one state.

And to make it even more difficult, most of not all of these teams play each other in non-conference play too. So, when they have to play each other yet again in the regionals, it takes the luster out of the tourney a bit. Listen to this line-up of teams that are in California alone...

Cal State Fullerton, Stanford, Cal, UC Irvine, San Diego, UCLA, Long Beach State, USC, Fresno State, Cal Poly, Pepperdine, San Diego State, UC Riverside, UC Davis, UC Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Cal State Northridge, Loyola Marymount, San Jose State, University of the Pacific, San Francisco (USF), St Mary’s, Sacramento State.

This group of teams have won 21 national championships and had 7 runner-ups. If you throw in the rest of the PAC 10 in there, there are a total of 31 championships in 60 years and 15 runner-ups in the western region of the US. Yet, where's the love guys? Give the west coast Elon, Lipscomb and Dallas Baptist. Let the rest of the country a chance to see the California teams play the East, South and Midwest in the regionals. I think it would translate into a much more exciting tourney and be a cause for some intense rivalries down the road...Then again, knowing how good these west coast teams really are...maybe not.

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