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Peace in Our Time? Part II: The West

Publication Date: September 12, 2000


Last week I began a series that I have agreed to do trying to compile a fairly comprehensive exploration of the evidence for the various sides in the never-ending debate over regional supremacy within the college baseball ranks. This week I begin by looking at the case for Western dominance.

By my definition, the West includes teams from California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, and Nevada. In making these definitions, I'm trying to be both fair and accurate; as a general rule, I'm following both common scheduling practice and conference boundaries, except in cases like the WAC where that leads to ridiculous results. As of the 2000 season, this region includes 31 teams. You could make a case for including the 2 New Mexico teams and the 3 Utah teams; all of those teams are pretty close to average, so including them doesn't change the picture much.


Historically, there is (and has been) no debate that this area has produced the best baseball. By decades, here's the breakdown of national champions:

Decade   West    Southeast   Southwest    Other

1940's     2         0           1          0
1950's     2         1           4          3
1960's     6         0           0          4
1970's     9         0           1          0
1980's     6         2           2          0
1990's     3         6           1          0
2000's     0         1           0          0

Clearly, from about 1965-1989, the national championship belonged to the West. Moreso, based on all evidence that we have from that time, that situation was an accurate reflection of the state of the game at the time; the best ball was being played on the West Coast. USC won the lion's share of those titles (they have twelve titles over all, the most of any team), but they were far from the only good team the region had to offer; most years most of the top five would be Western teams.

The LSU Factor

Obviously, the years 1990-2000 present a problem for those trying to make the case for Western dominance. The region won only three of the eleven titles during that stretch. While there were really only a couple of completely down years in 1991 and 1996, the bulk of the titles did move to the Southeast.

The usual counter to this is that essentially the Southeast has been a one-team region, as LSU has won five of the seven titles to come from the Southeast during that time. Supporters of this position claim that the creation of one super-program does not change the overall shape of the situation. In support of this, they note that three of LSU's titles have been won over non-Southeastern runners-up, although only one of those was Western.

Another facet to this is the claim that the current post-season setup has been shaped, possibly inadvertantly, to favor those who already have significant post-season experience, which means that LSU's string of past championships makes it easier for them to repeat as champions as the selection commitee sends an embarassing string of powderpuffs into Baton Rouge any time LSU has even a top 10 quality team.

Breadth of Quality

Another claim made by Western enthusiasts is that the raw number of championship caliber teams is greater, and that this reflects a stronger overall depth of talent. Even during the 1990-2000 period, three West Coast teams won the title while only two Southeastern teams did. This claim is hard to judge because the number of teams is greatly disparate between the West and the Southeast, but there may be some validity to it.

Related to this claim is the fact that there are basically no really weak programs in the West. Of the thirty-one teams in the region, none of them finished in the bottom half of the ISR's last year, for example; the weakest Western team appears to have been St. Mary's, who finished just above the halfway mark. There is something of a drafting effect at work here, as teams like St. Mary's and Hawaii-Hilo benefit from essentially having to play a tougher schedule than someone like Memphis, probably a pretty good comp for them, but it's still impressive.

The main reason for this, I think, is that Western baseball is seen by school administrators as more of a financial drain than it is in the East, so marginal programs are eliminated or not started. As more and more Eastern teams have moved into Division I or struggled to maintain their teams, their Western equivalents in size and budget stay in NAIA ball or drop the program. Whether this is a plus overall on the field is something that I'm unsure of.

Mistreatment by the NCAA

The final argument that I have read for the West is that, even if the teams are just holding their own on the field, they're so mistreated by the NCAA that it's a miracle that they're doing that well. Again, there is at least some truth to this, and a downside that goes with it.

The RPI's do terrible things to Western teams. The reasons why are a whole separate column, and I honestly think it's more a crime of ignorance than malice by the selection committee, but as a result of the misranking of Western teams by the RPI's and the resulting underestimation of their quality by the selection committee, every year deserving Western teams are left out of the tournament.

Obviously, this has a negative effect, since the nature of baseball is that any team that's actually in the tournament has a chance to advance. It also has a mildly positive effect on the perception of Western post-season success, since marginal teams aren't in the tournament to go 0-2 in the first place.

The claim has also been made that some NCAA rulings on conference automatic qualifying and makeup have been aimed specifically at Western leagues; I don't see any evidence that that's actually true, but the case is made that the Southern and Northern divisions of the Pac-10 should have been allowed to remain separate, despite the North's increasing non-viability. There were a couple of case where Western conferences had to play play-in games that shouldn't have been required, but that was an RPI problem again.

That, as best as I can make it, is the case for the West. Please let me know what I missed.

Boyd's World-> Breadcrumbs Back to Omaha-> Peace in Our Time? Part II: The West About the author, Boyd Nation