Upon learning that his defending NCAA champion baseball team was not invited back to the tournament this year, University of Arizona baseball head coach Andy Lopez said, “In the SEC you’re rewarded for mediocrity, in the Pac-12 you’re punished.”
Such were Lopez’s thoughts after he heard nine SEC squads and eight ACC teams were selected to play for the championship but only four from the Pac-12.
In college baseball it is particularly difficult to separate the mediocre of one conference from another because there are not as many cross-conference games as a means of comparison as there are in college basketball. Therefore, it is more difficult to determine whether the Pac-12’s No. 5 team is better than the SEC’s No. 9. For example, Florida snuck in with a 29-28 overall record, including a 14-16 SEC mark, but competed well against top 50 teams with a 14-18 record there.
Arizona, on the other hand, finished with a 15-15 conference record but went just 5-12 against the top 50 for an overall RPI of No. 58 that was well below Florida’s No. 35 standing.
At some point you are just making a gut call between two profiles with different strengths, yet this brings me back to the study we read in Statistics class about bias in the NCAA Basketball Tournament:
The article entitled “Evidence of Bias in NCAA Tournament Selection and Seeding” — which was published in March 2010 by Coleman, DuMond and Lynch — analyzed the 10 NCAA Tournaments between 1999-2008 and found “substantial evidence of bias” in both how the Committee selected the field and how it seeded it.
Per Javier Morales at WildAboutAZCats.net, six of the 10 committee members came from the east and south, regions the ACC and SEC represent, including a member each from both of those respective conferences:
They include South Alabama athletic director Joel Erdmann, North Carolina athletic director Larry Gallo, Colonial Athletic Association senior associate commissioner Robert Goodman, Rice athletic director Richard Greenspan, Texas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman and Binghamton associate athletic director for student services Ed Scott.
The four members from the western and midwestern region of the U.S. include Big West commissioner Dennis Farrell (the chairman of the committee), Washington State senior athletic director Randy Buhr, Central Michigan athletic director David Heek and Valparaiso athletic director Mark LaBarbera.
Of course, the economic incentives that define the NCAA Tournament are not exactly the same in college baseball, as each game a conference team plays in the Big Dance means about $40K for the conference, a number that is steadily rising each year.
Perhaps the SEC and ACC were that dominant this season and that you are splitting hairs when comparing mediocre teams from conferences across the country with few similar opponents.
Yet the way the NCAA Baseball Tournament was selected does little to make me believe that bias in college baseball is any different than bias in March Madness pairings.