If you’re a college baseball fan who didn’t spend time Saturday staring at a screen, I applaud your choice — and envy you.
The ol' internet was an angry place to be. Twitter, while always bad, was worse than usual. Same for comments sections and message boards. Heck, I half-expected my email inbox to throw something at me when I opened my laptop. And what I read addressed to me there came pretty close.
All because NC State was forced out of the College World Series by COVID-19 cases.
It was a terrible development. I hate that it happened. I hate it for what is usually such a wonderfully low-key college sport and a great event in Omaha. I hate it for NC State’s team, which had played its way within one win of the championship series and was surely devastated.
I hate that the NCAA thought it was a good idea to announce this in the middle of the night and offer zero explanation on testing procedures or anything else, leaving way too many unanswered questions about how this came about. I hate it for Wolfpack fans who’d never experienced this kind of run and may not again.
And I hate it for Vanderbilt, which has experienced this type of success before.
Perhaps largely because of that success, the Commodores are being vilified as the team that was moved into the championship series opposite Mississippi State.
Vanderbilt may win the whole thing again. But try as it might, it won’t be able to exclude itself from this unfortunate narrative, even though it didn’t have anything to do with the Commodores beyond where they were placed in a bracket.
“It was North Carolina State's situation,” said Tim Corbin after Friday’s game. “It wasn't Vanderbilt's.”
Could have been any team. But it was Vanderbilt.
And Vanderbilt was already easy to despise.
Fair or not, Corbin’s program does have an Evil Empire kind of reputation, similar perhaps to Alabama football or Duke or Kentucky basketball in the past decade.
Everyone else thinks the Commodores, as a private school, enjoy an unfair advantage because of the scholarships. Everyone else is sick of hearing those whistles at games.
Everyone else is also tired of them winning. They have two national titles and are nearing a third in only their fifth CWS appearance – an absurd success rate in a tournament that's mighty difficult for most teams.
And so NC State's controversial expulsion created all kinds of wild conspiracy theories about politics and NCAA preference (please), spiteful insistence about expanded COVID-19 testing for Vanderbilt's players (as if that could bring NC State back) and calls for Vanderbilt to do “the right thing” and refuse to play again unless it is against NC State (as if any team could be expected to do that).
I have to wonder: Would it be the same if it was Stanford in this spot? Because it almost was. If Cardinal hadn't blown a lead – and then fired a game-losing wild pitch – after the Commodores were down to their final strike Wednesday night, Vanderbilt wouldn't be part of this discussion..
Gotta say that as CWS trips go, this so far hasn't been Vanderbilt's best effort.
It was extremely fortunate to survive Stanford. It had to come back to beat Arizona in the opener. It faced a badly depleted NC State on Friday and barely won. A meager total of three runs was enough, but it prolonged a lukewarm hitting display in Omaha.
But does that mean Vanderbilt should apologize for being gifted this opportunity?
The Commodores have been one of the top teams in college baseball all season. You’d have liked to see them have to beat a full-strength Wolfpack twice to advance to the finals, but regardless, they earned the right to be playing at this point in the season.
No one, including Vanderbilt's team, can like how this came about. The NCAA, per usual these days, handled a high-profile situation poorly.
It’ll be a stain on this College World Series and whoever wins it.
But in our society’s now-standard rush to blame someone or something for all that we don’t like, something about this shouldn't be forgotten.
This wasn’t Vanderbilt’s fault.
Follow Gentry Estes on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Vanderbilt shouldn't apologize for making College World Series finals