The National Collegiate Athletic Association should be embarrassed for leaving the Nevada Wolf Pack baseball team out of its 64-team regional field.
A total of 25 teams won 40 or more games in Division I college baseball this season. The Wolf Pack, which finished 41-15 and won the Mountain West regular season championship, was one of them. Just four of those 40-win teams were not selected to play in the NCAA Regionals. The Wolf Pack, we found out on Black Monday, was also one of them.
We should have known. As soon as the Wolf Pack lost its first two games in the Mountain West tournament this past weekend at Peccole Park, we should have known the NCAA was going to sweep them under the carpet. After all, it’s not like the NCAA hasn’t snubbed the Pack before. It happened in 1992 when the Pack went 43-11 and won all 27 of its home games. It happened in 1995 when the Pack went 35-18 and 12-9 in the Big West, one of the toughest conferences in the nation, the conference, by the way, that produced the College World Series champion Cal State Fullerton Titans that very same year. It happened in 1998 when the Pack went 31-22 and 17-10 in the Big West and won 13 of its last 17 games.
The NCAA, it seems, loves to stick it to the Pack. Or, at the very least, simply ignore them. So, yes, we should not be surprised that the Wolf Pack season is suddenly over. It turns out we should have seen it coming after the 14-4 loss to New Mexico and the 9-7 loss to San Diego State last weekend. At home. Against teams the Pack dominated in the regular season. It gave the NCAA a reason to ignore a terrific 41-win season.
But we simply gave the NCAA selection committee too much credit.
How could they determine that the Wolf Pack was not one of the best 64 teams in the nation? How could the NCAA sit back and say to itself that the regional field is better without the Nevada Wolf Pack? Did they not know that the Pack won 41 of 56 games? Did they not know that the Pack started the season 12-1 and had four separate winning streaks of five games or longer? Did the NCAA not notice that the Pack won 17 of its first 18 games at home? Did they not know that the Pack swept three-game conference series on the road at San Diego State, New Mexico and UNLV, as well as a two-game set at Creighton, the home of the College World Series? Did they not know that the Pack played 15 series this year of two games or longer and lost just one of them? Did they not know that the Wolf Pack had the fourth best team batting average (.317) in the nation, the fifth most runs scored overall (447) and fourth most per game (8.0) as well as the third best slugging percentage (.491) and on base percentage (.418)? Did they not know that the Pack’s Ryan Howell was tied for second in the nation with 17 home runs and that Austin Byler was third in on base percentage (.507) and fourth runs scored (69)?
How could the NCAA simply ignore all of those fancy numbers and accomplishments? The NCAA hands out football bowl bids and postseason basketball bids to every team with a pulse. In baseball, the Pack found out on Monday, you can put together a historically great season and the NCAA treats you like you don’t exist.
How good, really, was this year’s Wolf Pack baseball team? Well, there are probably a dozen teams out of the 64 in this year’s regional that can say with a straight face that they are better than the Wolf Pack. No question. Those dozen or so super teams are as accomplished on the field as the Pack and they played in a tougher league against a tougher schedule. There are also maybe another dozen or so teams in the regionals that can say they are just as good as the Pack. That leaves 35-40 teams in this year’s regional field that the Pack would destroy in a three-game series. The Pack knows it. Those 35-40 teams know it. The NCAA selection committee members would also admit it if they were in church or under oath.
Unfortunately, though, they don’t pick the tournament field in a church or under oath.
We are not saying that this Pack team was without flaws. The starting pitching was shaky all year long. The infield defense was average on its good days. The bullpen, understandably, seemed to wear down as the season progressed. The schedule was incredibly soft. The Pack lost just 15 games all year long but about half of them (San Francisco, twice to San Jose State, St. Mary’s, Santa Clara, UC Davis, for example) left you shaking your head. The NCAA will blame the Pack’s weak schedule for keeping it out of the regionals. It was also a down year for the Mountain West, a year when traditionally solid and powerful teams like UNLV, New Mexico and Fresno State were average at best. That didn’t help the Pack. Oh, it helped the Pack win the Mountain West regular season title. But a Mountain West regular season title and four bucks will only get you a cup of caramel macchiato at Starbucks. And no regional bid.
Don’t believe the NCAA’s excuses. A system that does not reward a 41-win team is a flawed system.
No question about it.
The NCAA baseball selection committees have always been biased against the west coast teams not in the Pac-12. All of the other west coast conferences — West Coast, Mountain West, Big West, Western Athletic Conference — have to make it impossible for the NCAA to ignore them. This year those four conferences combined to get just one at-large bid (in addition to their four automatic bids) to the regionals — UC Santa Barbara of the Big West. The Pac-12 got five at-large bids all by itself: Oregon State, Oregon, USC, Cal, Arizona State. None of those five teams won 40 games like the Wolf Pack. And all of them lost more games than the Pack. Would it have been such a crime for the NCAA to give one of the five at-large bids it gave the Pac-12 to the Mountain West champion Wolf Pack?
The NCAA’s love affair with the SEC is also getting ridiculous. The SEC has seven teams in the regionals. We have no problem, of course, with SEC powerhouses Vanderbilt, Florida, Texas A&M and LSU getting in. But did Auburn, which went 13-17 in league play this year on top of a 35-24 overall record, deserve an at-large bid? What about Mississippi, which went 30-26, 15-14, and Arkansas (35-22, 17-12)? Surely the Pack could have replaced Auburn, Arkansas or Mississippi.
The Atlantic Coast Conference also got seven bids. The questionable at large selections were Notre Dame (36-21), Clemson (32-27), North Carolina State (34-21) and Virginia (34-22). The Big 10 also got four at-large bids, an overrated group which included Indiana and its 34-22 overall record and 12-10 league mark.
If you win 40 games you should be in the regionals. In football, you only have to win half your games to get a bowl game. In baseball you can win over 70 percent of your games (40-of-56) and not get in. Just four teams in the country fall into that unfortunate category this morning. In addition to the Pack, the other members of the 40-win club sitting home right now are North Florida (44-15), Southeastern Louisiana (42-17) and Winthrop (40-19). Those four teams combined for an average record of 42-16. In case you are wondering, just 10 of the 33 teams that received an at large bid won as many games (41) as the Wolf Pack this year. Seven of those 10 teams came from either the ACC, SEC, Big 10 or Big 12. The other three came from the Colonial (College of Charleston), Missouri Valley (Dallas Baptist), and American Athletic (Houston). That’s right. The Mountain West is an inferior baseball conference in the NCAA’s eyes to the Colonial, Missouri Valley and American Athletic.
The Wolf Pack has to be nearly perfect to get to the baseball regionals. Like Pack coach Jay Johnson said going into the conference tournament, the Pack has to leave no doubt. Unfortunately, the Pack only created more doubts by going 0-2 last week. The NCAA is always looking for doubts from west coast teams not in the Pac-12 who have not been in the regionals for 15 years. The Pack learned that you can’t go 17-1 at home to start the year and then finish 5-5 in your last 10 home games. You can’t host a conference tournament after winning the regular season title and then lose your first two games. You can’t fill your schedule with cupcakes (Abilene Christian, Pacific, Cincinnati, Sacramento State, San Jose State, etc.) and expect anyone to respect you on Memorial Day.
Don’t blame the players or the coaches. The men in uniform were certainly heroes this season. They became all that they could be. And then some. The Wolf Pack is not in the regionals this morning because of anything that happened on the field this year. The Pack is not in the regionals this week because of what took place off the field.
It shouldn’t be that way but it’s nothing new in college baseball.
If nothing else, this reminds us once again how special the 1994, 1997, 1999 and 2000 Wolf Pack teams truly were. Those teams, which were filled with future major leaguers and a Wolf Pack Hall of Fame coach, got to the regionals out of an extremely tough Big West Conference. Those four teams are still the top four teams in Wolf Pack Division I baseball history because those four teams were able to overcome all of the NCAA politics and get to the postseason.
And, that, as this year’s team found out the hard way, is the toughest challenge of all.