After Monday afternoon’s NCAA baseball bracket was revelead and the 64-team field was announced on ESPN, it was clear the message being sent by the 10-member selection committee sent to college programs across the nation:
- In 2011, it was much better received to finish how in your conference with a respectable RPI ranking instead of finishing near the bottom of your league with a high RPI number.
It was also clear this policy was going to directly negatively affect teams in the Southeastern Conference.
“In this year’s deliberations, yes, I would say that as a committee, we probably didn’t use the RPI as the hammer that maybe it’s been perceived as being in previous years,” NCAA selection committee chai
said afterward in a teleconference with reporters.
The case that obviously fully defines this debate is the candidancy of St. John’s versus LSU that played out with the final at-large selections. Here’s the numbers for each program.
St. John’s (selected as a 3-seed in Charlottesville Regional)
- Record: 35-20, 18-8 in Big East Conference
- RPI: 54
- Record versus RPI Top 50: 1-6 (a 13-3 victory over Georgia Tech on Feb. 27)
- Record versus RPI Top 100: 9-16
LSU (not selected for only fourth time since 1985)
- Record: 36-20, 13-17 in Southeastern Conference (didn’t qualify for the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala.)
- RPI: 26 (Only team in Top 30 left out)
- Record versus RPI Top 50: 11-17
- Record versus RPI Top 100: 18-18
“In the end, what that discussion centered on for a number of our committee members is that a second place finish in the Big East (13th rated conference) was more important than a ninth place finish in the (top-rated) SEC,” Weiser said. “In these committees, it depends on your perspective as to how you answer that. We had a lively debate about it. In the end we got the seven votes done by blind ballot and that put (St. John’s) in the field.”
Another potential factor that the Baseball America duo of Manuel and Fitt pointed out was five members of the 10-person committee being affiliated with schools that received NCAA bids including St. John’s director of athletics Chris Monasch.
“Three years ago we said after the last year of (former Mississippi State athletics director) Larry Templeton’s tenure as committee chairman, we speculated that perhaps there was some politicking among the teams he had connections to doing well,” Fitt said. “St. John’s get in and they’ve got a representative on the committee. That has to be said.”
In their Monday afternoon podcast, Baseball America national writers John Manuel and Aaron Fitt speculated that Weiser did not ultimately agree with the group decision made by his committee when the bracket was completed.
“I don’t think Tim Weiser agreed with St. John’s getting into the field over LSU,” Manuel said. “My sense was he was on the losing side of that debate.”
Three teams in the Top 40 of the Ratings Percentage Index were left out of the field (LSU, East Tennessee State and Ole Miss).
When all 64 teams had been assigned and bracketed, Mississippi State head coach John Cohen’s thoughts went straight to LSU’s team room instead of the jubilation and scouting that would follow in his office.
“I can’t even imagine what the LSU kids are going through right now,” Cohen said. “I’m still shocked about that because there’s no doubt LSU deserves to be in the NCAA Tournament. No doubt about it.”
Manuel applauded the committee for having a consistent theme of conference finish meaning more than the RPI number.
“It speaks well of Tim Weiser that if he was on the losing end of that argument is that he allowed that argument to be heared and win the day,” Manuel said. “You could disagree with the reasoning but it was consistent.”
Manuel then pointed out that LSU had a better argument to making the NCAA Tournament over Mississippi State (34-23) after taking two out of three in Starkville to conclude the regular season.
“In my mind, the case for LSU puts them in the field at the expense of either Dallas Baptist or Mississippi State,” Manuel said.
LSU (36-20, 13-17 in Southeastern Conference play) did not receive an invitation due mostly to failing to make the conference tournament but feeling confident about their NCAA at-large chances leaving Starkville after a 6-3 victory over Mississippi State.
“This team clearly deserved to be in the NCAA Tournament, and I’m so disappointed for the kids that they don’t get the opportunity to do so,” LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said. “The disappointment of today will be a very strong motivator for our team as we go forward. I know we don’t want to feel like this ever again. I don’t think we should be feeling like this, quite frankly, but we left the decision in the hands of people.”
The other committee debate that is bringing a lot of attention to the bracket is the argument the committee made to award Pac-10 champion UCLA (33-22) with a regional host spot instead of Arkansas (38-20) despite the fact the Razorbacks have a much better venue and RPI ranking.
“(Weiser) mentioned the fact Arkansas isn’t hosting is they won just four of their 10 weekend series and I thought that was something that mattered to (Baseball America) and not to the committee,” Fitt said. “Should Arkansas have hosted over UCLA? Maybe. I’m not going to get indignient over that when you go 15-15 in your league.”
Weiser confirmed in the media teleconference Monday that the committee doesn’t see the financial information as far as regional hosting bids and those decisions were strictly based on who the committee deemed was the best 16 schools in the country for the first time in the last three or four years ago.
Therefore UCLA is allowed to host with a 1,250-seat Jackie Robinson Stadium that is the smallest capacity facility in the Pac-10 Conference.
“The biggest problem I have to UCLA hosting is Jackie Robinson Stadium isn’t up to snuff to host,” Manuel said. “On the field, you win the Pac-10 – you should host. I agree with that 100 percent of the time.”
Weiser was also very aware to say publicly Monday that a precedent wasn’t an accurate way to describe the way the 2011 selection committee did their job as compared to future committees. This unfortuanately gives college head coaches and programs a difficult task of trying to figure out what the points of emphasis will be before Memorial Day weekend every season.
“I think that may be a bit of a reach,” Weiser said. “We try to not box ourselves into, okay, this is what we did last year so we have to do it again this year.”
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