Stony Brook reaching the College World Series is the baseball equivalent of discovering life on Mars.
Until the Seawolves did it, this kind of thing was only possible in sci-fi books or northeasterners' imaginations. A cold-weather team from a bottom-feeder league doesn't make it to Omaha. Just doesn't happen.
Even the cold-weather teams from the power leagues believe they have no chance. Ask the Big Ten, which hasn't placed a team in the CWS since 1984 and whines incessantly about the deck being stacked against schools outside the Sun Belt. Time to get a new excuse.
Last time we had such a geographic and conference-alignment outlier was 1986, when Maine crashed the CWS – but that's when the regionals truly were regional. Maine beat other schools from the northeast, whereas Stony Brook rolled through regionals hosted by traditional super-powers Miami and LSU on its way to Omaha.
Will Kimmey has covered college baseball for more than a decade for Baseball America and ESPN. By his application of the basketball math to baseball seeding, Stony Brook is similar to a 13-to-16 seed in the NCAA hoops tournament. LSU would have been a No. 2 seed. And the games were not at neutral sites.
"[Baton Rouge] is probably the toughest place in the history of college baseball to play," Kimmey said. "Guys go in there and wet their pants."
Pants dry, Stony Brook went in there and outhit the Tigers 50-15 over three games. The Seawolves didn't just win the series; they dominated the series.
So today we're all Martians. Or Seawolves.
Today, Butler, VCU and George Mason – the darlings of March Madnesses past – can identify with the Stony Brook story. Underdogs everywhere can unite behind the heroes of the mighty America East Conference.
And if the exclusionary kingpins in college football are paying attention, they'll see another example of why they made a grave mistake in shutting off all access for the little guy to the national title.
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A four-team playoff is coming, and while that's better than the BCS, it doesn't go anywhere near far enough to be considered a national tournament. It's supposed to be enough to stop the "drumbeat of criticism," as Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany put it last week, and it certainly will tone down the drums for a while.
But a four-team deal certainly presents no opportunity to the Stony Brooks of college football. The champions of the Sun Belt, Mid-American Conference, Conference USA and Western Athletic Conference (should it survive) never will make that cut. The Mountain West and even the Big East would be long shots.
Football, greedy and decentralized, doesn't care.
Meanwhile, the rest of college sports give the little guys a chance to do it on the field. It gives life to the overachiever stories that are a large part of what makes sports compelling.
Football could find a way. All it would take is for the Haves to become more flexible and generous – which is precisely why it never will happen. But creating the structure wouldn't be terribly difficult.
The power brokers want to "preserve the integrity of the regular season." Fine. That can be done while still having an inclusive NCAA football tournament.
There are 11 conferences. Take the champions of each and add one at-large team. You don't think that would still put a premium on the regular season? That wouldn't make winning a conference championship important?
A selection committee chooses the at-large teams and seeds the field. The top four seeds get a first-round bye. Seeds 9-12 play on the road against seeds 5-8 in the first round, then the top four hosts the winners of those games in quarterfinals.
Say you end up with No. 12 seed Florida International at No. 5 Michigan in the first round. And say FIU wins. The impact would be Stony Brook on steroids.
How about if No. 8 seed Marshall beats No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa in the quarterfinals? The ghost of Bear wouldn't like it, but the ghost of Butler sure would.
The semifinals would be best at campus sites, but they could be played in bowl games. That's the direction they're going with the four-team playoff, so that's fine. Then the title game is bid out, just like it figures to be when the new model is unveiled.
It would take four weekends to play the tournament, five if you give the final twosome two weeks to rest and prepare, like the NFL. If that's too long for the coaches and academicians to handle, there is a solution. Dump conference championship games and free up the first weekend of December.
That's certainly a non-starter, given the revenue they produce, but if I were czar of NCAA football – and let's face it, I should be – it would happen.
It would be problematic given the super-sizing of conferences because it would be harder to crown a true champion. But, hey, that's the price of expansion. If the members squawk, go to nine or 10 league games.
Or we could dial back the season to 11 games, which it was for a long time. Athletic directors would faint over the lost home-game revenue, which would be a deal-killer. My response would be that they wouldn't need the extra home-game revenue if they'd been responsible with their expenditures on palatial facilities and skyrocketing coaching salaries – but that's just me.
Like I said, it never will happen. And football never will have its Stony Brook or Butler. Thankfully, there are other college sports that know how to end a season correctly and give the little guy a chance.
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