Shallow end of pool play
HOOVER, Ala. – The Big 12 has been a hot topic of conversation recently for the wrong reasons.
Off the baseball diamond, there have been rumors running rampant the past few weeks about institutions such as Texas and Texas A&M bolting from the Big 12 to the Pac-10 and SEC, respectively.
On the diamond, the Big 12 isn’t dealing with measly rumors. The conference is in the spotlight because of its pool play at the league tournament. And it’s not being cast in a good light.
To set the stage, Baylor and Texas A&M opened with two wins each at the tournament. As a result of those wins and other happenings, the Bears and Aggies clinched the spots in the title game on Friday.
The only problem? There were four games on Saturday at Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City. Games between Texas and Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas State and Baylor and Kansas meant nothing.
By comparison, the SEC tournament’s Saturday games featured semifinal contests between LSU and Mississippi and Alabama and Florida. Those games resulted in LSU and Alabama earning spots in the tourney title game. Saturday is usually the best attendance day for every tournament.
“We don’t want there to ever be a point in our tournament where the games at any time don’t mean anything,” SEC tournament director Craig Mattox said. “As a conference, we feel like this is the best format for the tournament. It matches what the NCAA is doing and avoids confusing fans with the pool format.”
The SEC plays the standard double-elimination format that you see in NCAA regionals, College World Series and many other conference tournaments.
Leagues using the pool play format are the Big 12 (since 2006), ACC (since 2007) and Conference USA (this season). The Missouri Valley tested the format last season, but moved back to double elimination.
It’s time to abandon pool play. Leaving fans and players with nothing to see or play for on Saturday is a disgrace.
The Big 12 has its fair share of critics, but Texas A&M coach Rob Childress sees both sides of the debate.
“With the roster rules we’re dealing with, the double elimination format really stresses your pitching staff. Because you’re limited with what you’ve got, you just have to hope to remain healthy the entire season to remain in a double elimination tourney,” Childress. “It does allow teams on the bubble the guarantee of three games to help their RPI.”
Childress, though, also sees the argument on the opposite side of the spectrum, too.
“On the other side of the coin, you’re not preparing for the following week’s double elimination tourney [NCAA regional] with a pool play format. I’m just not sure on whether the pool play is a positive or negative at this point,” he said. “I’m still kind of indifferent about the whole issue. I used to take pride [previously at Nebraska] that we were deep enough to get through the loser’s bracket and make the tourney title game.”
Childress believes Saturday’s games at the Big 12 tournament weren’t without meaning. The Aggies recorded a dominating 9-3 win over rival Texas to improve to 3-0 in tourney action.
“I don’t think it means nothing. The fact that teams have three games and some of those games are very important for some teams. I think it would be an untrue statement to say those games mean nothing to everyone,” he said. “There are some teams out there that could really use three games in a conference tournament.”
The attitude in the SEC certainly differs.
Last year, the SEC coaches voted unanimously against changing the SEC tourney to round-robin format.
Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said he remained neutral about the issue but sees both sides of the debate. LSU coach Paul Mainieri, though, was steadfast in his support of the double-elimination format.
“I asked some of my friends in the ACC about the pool play and I heard what their opinion was. Let’s just say it’s not good that some teams know entering Saturday they can’t be in the tournament title game,” he said. “I think in the SEC tournament you run the risk of playing six games like we did last year. But you know what, it forces you to use kids that maybe you wouldn’t have used before. It gives them a great experience and helps them develop. Perhaps you would see something you didn’t see before.”
The SEC continues to see big crowds, and brought in extra bleachers for the crowd on Saturday with Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss in action. The Big 12, meanwhile, had plenty of room available for Saturday’s games.
The SEC delivered a Saturday of exciting win-or-go-home baseball. The Big 12 gave fans a reason to stay away from the ballpark.
Perhaps it’s one more reason teams want to leave the Big 12 and the SEC remains a destination.