NCAA baseball selection process shows warm-weather bias and little respect for Big Ten teams
Iowa and Rutgers both fail to make field of 64 teams
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Rick Heller’s emotional plea for the Iowa baseball team to make the NCAA Tournament apparently fell on deaf ears, and that hardly is a surprise.
Iowa didn’t make the field of 64 teams that was announced Monday, and less than 24 hours after Heller had said that leaving Iowa out of the tournament would be a “travesty.”
But if leaving an Iowa team with a 36-19 record out of the tournament is a travesty, then what would you call leaving out a Rutgers team that won a school record 45 games and had an RPI of 42?
Rutgers set a program record for most wins in a season, while Iowa finished 20-9 against Big Ten competition and hasn’t lost back-to-back games since mid-March, and yet neither were picked for the field of 64.
In fact, Iowa wasn’t even among the first four teams left out of the field, while Rutgers at least made that list.
Rutgers led the nation in runs scored and broke programs records for wins, runs, home runs, RBI and strikeouts.
You feel horrible for the players and coaches from both Iowa and Rutgers because a strong case could be made for both deserving to be in the field of 64.
Michigan (32-26) appears to have taken Rutgers’ spot in the field by winning the Big Ten Tournament as a No. 5 seed.
But for Maryland to be the Big Ten’s only at-large bid in the 64-team field points to a serious problem in which the Big Ten Conference and the NCAA selection committee both deserve part of the blame.
There is obviously a bias towards the warm-weather schools when picking teams for the NCAA Tournament.
The Big Ten Conference seems to get little respect and rarely gets the benefit of the doubt during the selection process.
And that’s probably due partly to the Big Ten not having a seat on the selection committee, which points to a lack of respect and fairness.
Division I college baseball caters to the warm-weather schools, from starting the season in February and from putting way too much emphasis on the RPI rankings.
Teams from the Midwest, and from northern states, play a big chunk of their nonconference schedule on the road, either down south or out West because it’s too cold to play games in February and early March in the Midwest.
But instead of moving the season back one month, or to April 1 as Heller has suggested, it’s business as usual with the warm-weather schools calling the shots.
Most of the warm-weather schools also refuse to play games up north because of the cold weather. They don’t want to leave their comfort zone or do anything that would give teams from the north any slight advantage.
And the NCAA just sits back and lets it happen.
Iowa’s RPI and its strength of schedule both proved costly in the selection process.
But how much of that is due to the warm-weather bias?
Maybe Iowa should consider playing tougher mid-week opponents, or maybe the Big Ten needs to reevaluate its mission and goals for baseball because what it’s doing right now isn’t working.
It certainly didn’t help that Iowa lost two mid-week games, including a 3-1 setback against Division III Loras College on March 1 at Duane Banks Field. If you’re looking for holes in Iowa’s case, the two mid-week losses would be among the biggest and most costly.
The results from Monday’s selection process would seem to suggest that a Big Ten team has to be close to dominant to be seriously considered for the field of 64, and that’s unfair and counterproductive for a sport that should want to expand its reach and popularity.
Maryland was picked to host a region, and deservedly so, after having set a program record with 45 wins this season and after winning the Big Ten regular-season title with an 18-5 record.
But were Rutgers and Iowa really that far behind Maryland?
The RIP would say yes, but the RPI also leaves much to be desired when ranking teams because it seems to take away from looking at each team on a case by case basis.
Iowa won 17 of its last 22 regular-season games and 20 of its last 27 games overall, which shows that it was peaking at the right time.
Iowa also has one of the best pitching staffs in college baseball from a statistical standpoint, and is finally healthy.
It’s just depressing and frustrating to think that a Big Ten team could have all of that, but still not be close to making the field of 64.
Heller just finished his ninth season as the Iowa head coach, and during that time he has turned Iowa into a legitimate Big Ten contender.
The next challegen for Heller is to make the NCAA Tournament on a somewhat regular basis, but the odds and the circumstances are stacked against Iowa, and against all the Big Ten teams as the selection process showed again on Monday.
Iowa hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2017, and now it seems to be getting harder for Iowa to meet that challenge.
The Big Ten has an image problem when it comes to baseball that only seems to be getting worse at the expense of its teams.