By Joe Santilli, Executive Director of Baseball at Triple Crown Sports
College baseball comes to an exciting climax every year in June at the College World Series in Omaha, as the final eight teams compete for the NCAA Division I National Championship. These teams begin their journey to Omaha in the NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament as part of the original field of 64 teams (31 conference champions along with 33 teams selected by committee). It is the avid baseball fan’s version of March Madness as every step towards the College World Series draws more attention and a larger fan base to these programs.
For the other 291 Division 1 programs, the season is over and summer begins. College baseball does not currently offer an alternative postseason tournament for those not selected into the field of 64, like it does for many other sports. Basketball has the Men’s NIT and WNIT, and starting in 2017, new postseason events have become available for fastpitch softball and volleyball with the National Invitational Softball Championships and the National Invitational Volleyball Championships (coming in December 2017). These tournaments offer the opportunity for additional programs to extend their seasons and reap the many rewards of postseason play.
The reasons why baseball does not offer an alternative postseason tournament are complex, but ultimately come down to the current NCAA legislation that would count any games played in a postseason event (other than the current 64- team tournament) toward the maximum number of baseball contests allowed for a season. These other sports (men’s and women’s basketball, fastpitch softball and volleyball) have specific legislation in place that allows for an exception.
In 2016 there were at least four notable baseball programs that received quite a bit of publicity for not making it into the eld of 64: North Carolina (34-21), Oregon State (35-19), West Virginia (36-21), and Kent State (44-14). All four of these programs have been to the College World Series and definitely would have been exciting to see in postseason action. Besides catering to this type of team, an alternative postseason tournament would also offer a seasonal goal for those programs that rarely make it into the field of 64.
Assuming that the NCAA members can eventually push forward legislation change, there would still be important logistics to consider. One of the most obvious challenges would be the cost of keeping student-athletes on campus after the semester ends, but this can be managed through creative formatting of the event. The schedule would also need to make financial sense for host institutions, ensuring that the games have every opportunity to draw in their fan base. Like other sports, an alternative postseason baseball tournament would need to complement the NCAA tournament with minimum interference in the scheduling of games.
Triple Crown Sports, based in Fort Collins, Colorado, has a long history of producing the WNIT and now also produces the NISC and NIVC events mentioned above. They are currently communicating and working with NCAA conferences to get the legislation change needed to support another postseason baseball event. This is how the postseason alternative tournament would look for NCAA Division I Baseball in 2019.
Below is the current NCAA legislation regarding postseason contests currently excluded from maximum:
18.104.22.168 Annual Exemptions. The maximum number of baseball contests shall exclude the following: (Revised: 1/9/96 effective 8/1/96, 9/6/00, 2/24/03)
(a) Conference Championship. Competition in one conference championship tournament in baseball (or the tournament used to determine the conference’s automatic entry in an NCAA baseball championship);
(b) Conference Playoff. Competition involving member institutions that tie for a conference baseball championship. Such teams may participate in a single-elimination playoff to determine the conference’s automatic entry in an NCAA baseball championship without the game(s) being counted as a postseason tournament;
(c) Season-Ending Tournaments.
(1) NCAA Championship. Competition in the NCAA Division I Baseball Championship;
(2) NAIA Championship. Competition in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) baseball championship;
(d) NCAA Championship Play-In Competition. Competition in play-in contests conducted before NCAA championships;
CURRENT NCAA LEGISLATION THAT ALLOWS EXCEPTION FOR NISC AND NIVC:
17.1.8 General Regulations for Computing Playing Seasons Applicable to All Sports. (Adopted: 1/10/92, Revised: 1/16/93, 1/11/94, 8/11/98, 4/26/01, 4/29/04 effective 8/1/04, 10/28/10)
(f) Non-NCAA Postseason Championships Participation. Practice and/or competition in non-NCAA (or non-NAIA) postseason championships (e.g., an invitational tournament scheduled after a conference championship) must be counted against the institution’s declared playing-season limitation; except that practice and competition for one postseason championship in each non-NCAA championship sport used for sports sponsorship purposes pursuant to Bylaw 22.214.171.124.1, practice and competition for one recognized national intercollegiate championship event
in an emerging sport for women pursuant to Bylaw 20.02.4 and practice and competition for the National Invitational Softball Championship, for the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) Women’s Lightweight Rowing Championship, the National Invitational Volleyball Championship and the USA Gymnastics Collegiate National Championship are exempt from the institution’s declared playing-season limitations in those sports.