Economics, geography shape pairings
The Texas and TCU baseball teams traded shots across the bow last weekend.
In Fort Worth, the Horned Frogs cruised with victories over Lamar (16-3), Arizona (11-5) and Baylor (9-0) to win the regional as the host.
And in a tougher Austin Regional, the Longhorns zipped Rider (11-0) before disposing of Louisiana-Lafayette (4-2) and Rice (4-1).
Only one of these dominant teams will qualify to play at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb., for this year's College World Series. Whether it's would-be first-timer TCU or CWS veteran Texas will be decided this weekend.
But who's to say both TCU and Texas don't belong in the CWS? Baylor coach Steve Smith considered the issue in his postgame press conference following the Fort Worth Regional.
"The thing that's not right about this regional has nothing to do with Baylor or TCU; it has everything to do with the No. 2 seed in the country being matched up with probably what would have been a No. 9 or 10 seed, which would never happen in [NCAA tournament] basketball," Smith said.
Smith's beef is with the NCAA baseball committee. Chairman Tim Weiser said after the announcement of the bracket Thursday that he views all eight regional hosts who aren't in the national top eight as "ninth seeds."
TCU was widely considered to be a candidate for a national top-eight seed, along with Cal State Fullerton and South Carolina. Georgia Tech claimed the final spot, so that left those three teams to whatever matchup best fit the committee's geographical whims.
In TCU's case that meant national No. 2 seed Texas, which eliminated the Frogs in a Super Regional series last year.
"Since we don't seed this tournament past eight, you have basically a regional bias," Smith said.
The NCAA has moved the start of the college baseball season back in recent years to fight criticisms from Northeastern schools about playing in harsh conditions at the beginning of the season. Smith said that now Southern and Western regional hosts are at a disadvantage in the postseason when they fight heat such as the triple-digit temperatures in Fort Worth over the weekend.
The selection committee has awarded regionals to hosts in areas of the country fighting to expand their profile.
They opted to allow Connecticut to host a regional despite being a two seed. Top seed Florida State never had to play the hosts, as Oregon beat the Huskies twice. No harm, no foul. At least until a two seed doesn't enjoy their break from the heat like the Seminoles did.
But the common thought is that the NCAA can't afford to send teams across country several times for postseason play.
"I don't know what the economy is and I don't know all the things that athletic directors or presidents know, but I think our sport has grown enough to where the best teams should end up in Omaha," TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. "The best teams that earn their way through the regular season should have the best opportunity to get there."
Smith thinks he can put the economics of the NCAA baseball tournament in perspective.
"[The NCAA baseball tournament] is only about two percent [of the NCAA's] budget, because the men's basketball tournament is 98 percent, but the baseball tournament is the second-largest revenue producer for the NCAA," Smith said. "I think our kids got T-shirts."
However, TCU athletic director Christopher Del Conte said there are examples of what the additional exposure can do to an atmosphere lacking college baseball fans to continue to build the sports popularity (and deliver a new financial market).
"Oregon State is a great example," Del Conte said. "They took the regional to Oregon State, they got a chance to go to Omaha and next thing you know, they've built up the program into two-time national champions.
"For the good of baseball you need to go north, and the reality is, there's more northern schools than southern schools. It's a hard, delicate balance."
In the meantime, chances are some great teams such as Texas or TCU won't be planning a trip to Omaha.
Smith has seen more than he'd have like to of both teams. Texas swept the Bears this year, and the Frogs had just eliminated Baylor from the Fort Worth Regional in emphatic fashion with their 9-0 win.
"Probably, TCU and Texas will be better than somebody that makes it to Omaha, but they can't both go because they're both in the state of Texas," Smith said. "The same thing can be said in California and probably Florida."
Josh Davis is an ESPNDallas.com intern and a writer for TCU's student newspaper, the Daily Skiff.