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A World Upside Down

Publication Date: May 14, 2002


I had this really cool column lined up for this week. I had done a nice little piece of research to show how much it helped for the second-best team in a four-team regional to get to host it (short answer: not much, if any at all; maybe I'll still run that out during a slow week this summer). All of a sudden, the world has been turned upside down, and I need to write about some changes that I haven't fully digested yet.

The news has been covered well by Baseball America in these two articles: here and here, so I'll just recap here. Back in February, the NCAA announced that they were planning to emphasize geography over accomplishment in distributing the postseason fields for the spring sports this year in response to the events of 9/11. This week they dropped the other shoe; more details were released about the rules, and the fields were announced for some of the sports. The new setup has already raised significant controversy in the golf and softball communities, as all the #1 seeds in softball were sent on the road and the top four ranked golf teams are all in the same regional.

The changes, in a nutshell, are that the restrictions on conference opponents meeting in a regional have been relaxed so that they can be in the same regional but can't meet in the first round, and regionals will be designed in order to minimize the number of teams needing plane travel rather than to evenly distribute quality. Since the explicit goal of the tournament is no longer to design the field to choose the best team but to minimize the amount of travel, the odds of the best team winning have dropped significantly. I'll deal more with the moral overtones of this decision later, but what does it actually mean?

The Fallout

As an experiment, I took last year's field and this year's travel rules and designed a regional layout. I'm making a couple of assumptions there, that the committee will have the integrity to at least not change the selection of the 16 #1 seeds or the 64 teams in the field. Here are the things I learned during that exercise, good and bad:

The Quick Opinion

There are some actions that are so obviously wrong that it's not worth a whole lot of breath condemning them, but I'll close this part with a few relevant quotes:

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. -- Benjamin Franklin
I ask you to live your lives and hug your children. I know many citizens have fears tonight, and I ask you to be calm and resolute, even in the face of a continuing threat.
I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy. Terrorists attacked a symbol of American prosperity; they did not touch its source. -- George W. Bush
Money is not the issue here. Safety is the issue. -- Jim Wright, NCAA Director of Statistics

The Other Stuff

Many thanks to Erin Breed and the gang at KZNE in College Station for having me on Monday night. For those of you in the Wichita area, I'll be talking with Phil Stephenson on KQAM on Thursday afternoon, May 16, at 4:30.

Next week, I'll do a last look at who's likely to get into the tournament and who's not. I'll try to get that out on Tuesday so that you can take a look at it before the conference tournaments start so you'll know who needs to do what.

Pitch Count Watch

Rather than keep returning to the subject of pitch counts and pitcher usage in general too often for my main theme, I'm just going to run a standard feature down here where I point out potential problems; feel free to stop reading above this if the subject doesn't interest you. This will just be a quick listing of questionable starts that have caught my eye or, on the other hand, starts where pitchers were pulled according to plan early despite pitching extremely well in close games.

Date Team Pitcher Opponent IP H R ER BB SO AB BF Pitches
May 8 Harvard Ben Crockett Brown 9.0 6 1 1 0 16 34 35 152 (*)
May 8 Brown Jonathan Stern Harvard 8.2 6 2 0 1 14 33 35 147 (*)
May 11 Florida Alex Hart Louisiana State 8.2 5 3 2 4 9 31 36 143
May 12 Louisiana State Bo Pettit Florida 8.0 4 1 1 6 5 27 33 149

(*) Pitch count is estimated.

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