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UK Baseball: When good is not good enough

By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer

Sometimes in life you hear someone try to explain a confusing situation and you have to stop, shake your head and say, “what, wait a minute, did they just really say that?”  That was my feeling while reading the statement made by NCAA Division 1 Selection Committee Chairman Ray Tanner as he tried to explain why the University of Kentucky Baseball Team was not selected for the NCAA Baseball Tournament.
The University of Kentucky team that was 16-16 against Top 50 teams. The same UK team that won weekend series against No. 8 Georgia, No.11 Texas Tech, No. 21 Auburn and No. 24 South Carolina and split with No. 25 U of L. That team.
The one that had a No. 30 RPI and had a road record of 15-13.  The one that plays baseball in the most difficult conference in the country — the SEC.

By the way the SEC placed 10 teams in the tournament and four of the top eight seeds are SEC schools. That means almost 20 percent of the teams playing in the NCAA Baseball Tournament are from the SEC.

Now for the head shaking, confusing part of this whole story. Ray Tanner — the Ray Tanner that is the former Baseball Coach and current Athletic Director at South Carolina — said that UK did not get selected as an at-large participant because they were 13-18 in the SEC. They had a losing record. Nothing about poor RPI, weak schedule, not enough wins against Top 50 schools or poor road record.
No, even though UK hit every metric one would think would be meaningful to judge a team’s overall performance by, he decided to pull out its SEC record as a final determining factor. A losing record in a league that has eight teams ranked in the Top 25, ten teams in the tournament and makes up almost 20 percent of the tournament field. And it’s not like Tanner is unfamiliar with the difficulty of an SEC baseball schedule. He used to coach there.

So what happened? Why would a group of otherwise intelligent committee members that know baseball – headed up by a former SEC baseball coach – come up with a boneheaded statement like this to explain why they would make such a poor decision.
The statement in question was, “So there were some things that weren’t perfect, (referring to UK’s overall resume) but the sub-.500 stood out to the committee, (not all of UK’s otherwise good attributes) and you know, had it been a game or two, it might not have made much difference but it ended up being in total four in the regular season and five if you include the tournament.” The logic here is incredible. It goes like this. “UK is a very good team. They had all the metrics. But they had a losing record in the SEC.”
OK. Doesn’t seem like a viable reason to leave them out but they are the committee and they get to decide. But then he says, “but the sub-.500 stood out to the committee, and you know, had it been a game or two, it might not have made much difference but it ended up being in total four in the regular season and five if you include the tournament.”
How is that logical? If you have a losing conference record then, ok, you have a losing record and you don’t get in but to go on and say if it was only a losing record by one or two games that is acceptable but it was four or five it’s not. Makes a person wonder if UK had only been three games under .500 do they get in? How does a team overcome that incredibly poor logic. If the committee has a standard – no conference losing records – then stick with it. Don’t say maybe only two games under .500 gets you in but not four or five under. 
 
Tanner also had this to say in reference to Northeastern, a team in the Colonial League, that was selected as an at-large team even though their record against Top 50 teams was 3-9. He said, “Well, there’s emphasis put on your overall body of work, and you know, Northeastern didn’t have the same opportunities or the same body of work maybe comparing them to an ACC or an SEC team but they won the regular season and they played in the conference championship.”  
What? How does that make sense. The logic here is that Northeastern got in because even though they had a worse RPI at 35 and performed poorly against tournament caliber competition at 3-9 and lost in their conference championship game to UNCW they had a winning record in the Colonial Conference so that trumped all of UK’s positive attributes. Really?
 
That argument didn’t hold water last year for Mt. Saint Mary’s when they were left out of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The logic of the basketball selection committee then was Mount Saint Mary’s overall and conference record was good but they didn’t have enough wins against Top 50 competition. The committee said they should have scheduled more difficult out-of-conference games.
But in a complete about face according to the baseball committee’s logic each team that plays in a weak conference but has a good record should get in because they play in a weak conference. The baseball committee is penalizing teams for playing a difficult schedule – and winning – because after all UK’s overall final record was 34-22. Northeastern’s overall record was 36-19 playing in the weak Colonial League. 
 
This just shows once again the wishy-washy logic the NCAA uses to make it’s selections for at-large tournament participants… in any sport. At some point the leadership of the NCAA needs to quit flip-flopping on every decision they make – from at-large selection criteria to sanctions against schools that violate the rules – and develop criteria for decision making that is both logical and consistent. Until then college sports fans will have to continue to suffer through head-scratching decisions like the one we saw on Monday.
 
 By the way Ray Tanner’s school – the South Carolina Gamecocks – received a three-seed in the East Carolina Regional. They finished the season with an RPI of 43. Thirteen places below UK. Their record against the Top 50 was 16-18. Go figure. 

2 comments

  1. I think you make some valid points Keith, but this UK baseball team sealed their doom by getting swept by Vandy in the last SEC series, and getting knocked out of the SEC tournament early. Their SEC record was certainly not stellar for sure. The injury bug bit them late. Frustrating to say the least after the start UK had. Many UK sports teams can never seem to rise to the occasion. It is hard to watch. I do think with a new baseball facility, and all UK baseball is rising. This slight should motivate them for next season.

  2. When they were good, they were very good and when they were bad, they were very bad. They should have learned from last year and realized that a sub 500 conference record will keep you out of the tournament! We kept players out to recover from injuries to be ready for the tournament and in hindsight it cost us post season play. I do not know if they could have played, but we now have a healthy team for the summer. oh well! , next year in a new stadium and the knowledge that conference games count the most. Looking forward to next season.

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