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What If?

Publication Date: February 13, 2001

An Alternate Universe

There are obscenities that you just sort of learn to live with, as bad as they are, because accepting them is part of getting to stay with something you love. Those of you who have been here from the beginning know that's how I feel about the current postseason format, especially the insanity of a one-game championship in baseball, of all sports, and know what I would replace it with.

In 1988, succumbing to the promise of larger (or at least less small) amounts of TV money from CBS, the NCAA agreed that the CWS would be played in a new format, one that ended in a single game for all the marbles. The previous format hadn't been perfect, but at least the odds of the best team winning the tournament had been a bit better than they are now, where essentially the odds come down to so close to 50% each that we might as well flip a coin. The current format has produced some memorable moments -- Warren Morris' home run being the canonical example -- but it hasn't produced convincing champions very often.

Rather than dwell on the problems with the current schedule, though, I want to do some imagining this week. I want to imagine a world in which all thirteen coin tosses went the other way. This doesn't require any changes in team quality over the years; even the most die-hard proponent of the ridiculous theory that the best team always win on a given day will grant that any single game can come out differently. By looking at this, I want to point out how thin some of our current assumptions about the state of the game are.

The Runners-up

Here's the list of second place teams since 1988:

1988 Arizona State
1989 Texas
1990 Oklahoma State
1991 Wichita State
1992 Cal State Fullerton
1993 Wichita State
1994 Georgia Tech
1995 Southern California
1996 Miami, Florida
1997 Alabama
1998 Arizona State
1999 Florida State
2000 Stanford

Here are the highlights of recent history in our alternate universe, with a bit of contrast with the one we actually live in:

The biggest change, of course, is that the LSU dynasty, and with it the impression that the SEC is far ahead of the rest of the pack, is gone. LSU has five runners-up in this place, and Skip Bertman has taken over Mike Martin's mantle of carrying the reputation of being unable to win the big one. The SEC's only national championship ever came in 1997 when Alabama managed to win it, and they only won by beating another SEC team.

Quite a few teams lose a title and gain a title, keeping their reputations about the same. Southern California, Miami, Cal State Fullerton, and Stanford all do this. Only Stanford's title and runner-up are far enough apart that their reputation will change significantly; the 2000 title probably cements the Cardinal's reputation as the reigning dynasty coming into the 2001 season.

The current Big 12 looks a lot better in the early years, as Texas and Oklahoma State win back to back titles. The middle of the country really looks impressive, as added to that are Wichita State's two titles in the early '90's, meaning that the Southwest and Midwest combined for four titles in five years. This will tend to change the neverending debate from a binary Southeast-versus-West discussion to a trinary debate, which is probably too many options to keep it going (OK, maybe I'm dreaming there, but, hey, I'm the one making up the universe).

Arizona State picks up two titles, eliminating some of the troubles they've had getting into the tournament in recent years and boosting the Pac-10's reputation quite a bit.

On the other hand, most of the ground lost reputation-wise by the SEC is picked up by the ACC, as they have two titles, with Georgia Tech finally breaking the almost 40-year drought in 1994.

Andy Lopez may not have made it to a major conference job.

Mike Martin finally got his title in 1999 and retired after the season.

The Disclaimer

As usual, I'm not trying to diminish what anyone has done on the field. LSU is considered the dynasty of the '90's and beyond because they did win five titles, and nothing imaginary is going to change that. That's great, and they deserve all the credit they get for it. What I'm trying to do here is show why I place relatively little stock in postseason success, especially in any given year, preferring to look at the whole season. I catch a good bit of flack for that (which is certainly part of the "job"); I want you to think about how changing those thirteen coin tosses would change your whole perspective on the game.

Boyd's World-> Breadcrumbs Back to Omaha-> What If? About the author, Boyd Nation