Alexander McLeman joins us for the first time to educate us all on the College World Series. I for one, needed this. ^Tom
What do you get when you mix a 130-day, 64-team baseball tournament with metal bats and warm weather? Welcome to the NCAA College baseball championships.
Are you new to the sport? Do you require a little something to jog your memory? Below is, hopefully, a guide to the college baseball season and its postseason to get you ready for the looming action.
College baseball; it’s wild, it’s disorganised, it’s often difficult to understand, they play with metal bats (yes, really) rather than the usual wood in the MLB, it’s sometimes painful to watch, but once you enter into the madness you’ll never be able to take your eyes off it. College baseball is something akin to watching Sunday league soccer, if a Sunday soccer league had young players who could be the next face of an MLB franchise. You aren’t quite sure why you are watching but for some inexplicable reason you want nothing more than the blue team win.
You wouldn’t know it, but the NCAA college baseball season has been ongoing since early February. Without going too deep into advanced college baseball details, the concept is simple. There are 299 division one college baseball teams. Most of which, but not all, are not very good. Populated with middling players, none of whom will ever touch a major league dugout unless they are on a stadium tour, and a few can’t miss MLB talents. The teams are spread across 30 regional conferences, playing anything between 25-30 conference and non-conference regular season games each.
At the climax of the regular season all the teams play in their conference knock-out tournament (which is currently ongoing and can be watched on ESPN Watch from 11am GMT this week). The winners of these 30 conference tournaments earn an automatic bid to play in the NCAA college baseball tournament. The other 34 teams are selected by a committee, who weight up teams overall regular season records, winning and losing performances and various other criteria. The selection process is outdated and often times contentious, but that is for another time. The teams are then seeded, with some awarded a special seeding. Of the 64 teams, 16 receive regional seeding, meaning they get to host a first round match (more on this) with eight of these special 16 teams also earning a national seeding – home field advantage into the second round as well. These seedings are awarded to teams who had great regular season’s or were ranked in the top 16 throughout the season (a poll is released each week during the regular season ranking the 25 best teams in the country to that point, another contentious area).
Now unlike another NCAA tournament – college basketball’s March Madness – the college baseball tournament allows for home field advantage, similar to the MLB playoffs. Unlike in the basketball tournament where games are played at predetermined neutral sites, the opening two rounds of the baseball tournament are played at regional and national seeded team’s home field.
Another major difference to the MLB and NCAA basketball postseasons is the college baseball tournament is a double-elimination. Meaning teams have to lose twice in a row before their seasons officially end. The beauty of this is a team could lose three or four times throughout the postseason and still manage to win the national title.
Now that the tournament has been explained, here are the finer details of the format of the whole beautiful, messing thing.
Round 1: Regionals (Projected to start 1 June)
For the first round of action, the field is divided into 16 groups of four teams. Each group plays a round-robin double-elimination tournament, with the last team standing advancing to the next round. Teams are seeded one through four within each regional, with the host team usually, but not always, receiving the one-seed. Host teams are largely determined by merit, but the NCAA also considers a host’s ability to generate revenue (For example, Louisiana State University, LSU, AlexBox Stadium holds 10,326 or Mississippi State’s Dudy Noble Stadium with 13,000 which means larger opportunities to cash in on attendance, concessions etc). By the end of the regionals the field will have gone from 64 to 16 in just four days.
Round 2: Super Regionals (Projected 6-12 June)
At the beginning of the tournament, regionals are grouped together in super regional pairings, similar to the soccer World Cup where team’s and supporters know ahead of time who they might face if they advance from their group. The winners of a regional pair advance to play each other in a best-of-three showdown in a super regional. Super regionals are played on the home field of the national seeds, assuming they’ve advanced. If not, the two teams re-bid for the right to host. So if you’re bummed your chosen team or former School (Go Dawgs!) isn’t getting to host, there’s a chance it still could. Find the regional your team is paired with and root for the upsets.
Round 3: The College World Series (Projected 16-28 June)
The last eight surviving teams converge at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska for the wonder that is the College World Series. Think of it as a baseball fan’s idea of heaven. Sun shining, back-to-back-to-back games each day and no end of entertainment. Teams are divided into two brackets of four, where they essentially play a regional, round-robin format. The winners of each bracket then play a three-game series to determine a national champion.
For UK supporters, BT Sport/ESPN is scheduled to broadcast all the games from the College World Series. The regionals and super regionals will be available on the ESPN Watch App. If you are not signed up for it, new subscribers get a 7-day free trial.