NCAA will pick teams before hosts
By John Manuel
The ramifications of the NCAA's changes to regional tournaments for sports such as baseball weren't even known to everyone in the NCAA office.
Just 11 days after sending out a memo detailing the order in which regional host sites and the 64-team regional field would be selected, the NCAA backtracked Wednesday, announcing that the 64-team field must be selected first, before the 16 host sites are picked.
The selection of host sites already had been pushed back a week from previous years, but the current change could have drastic consequences. Instead of picking regional sites first based primarily on merit and financial guarantees from the hosts), the Division I baseball committee will have to pick regional hosts that will keep the number of regional teams having to fly to a minimum.
"The change is intended to have one team flying instead of three to a regional; the impetus is to cut down significantly on the number of plane flights," said Jim Wright, the NCAA's director of statistics and College World Series media coordinator. "Money is not the issue here. Safety is the issue."
The different order means the geography of the field of 64 will dictate the placement of host sites more than merit or money. A team that qualifies for the NCAA tournament need only have a field with lights and a $35,000 bid--the minimum financial guarantee--to be a regional host.
However, the number of teams outside the Sun Belt and California that are capable of being a host and capable of earning a regional bid is small. Minnesota visits Ohio State this weekend, with the winner of the four-game series claiming the Big Ten regular-season title.
That also will likely bring a chance to be a regional host, and it's conceivable that both could be hosts, even though neither has an overwhelming record (Minnesota is 28-22, 16-8 in the Big Ten, with Ohio State at 30-16-1, 16-9).
The same could be true when Big East co-leaders Boston College and Notre Dame meet this weekend in South Bend, Ind. Both teams could be regional hosts, and one almost certainly will have to be to give Northeast teams a regional within the 400-mile guideline the NCAA uses to divide bus trips from plane trips.
For a hint of what the baseball regionals could look like, look no further than the softball regionals, which were selected Sunday and use 48-team, eight-regional format baseball had prior to 1999. No top seed was named as a host, to the extent that LSU earned a No. 1 seed but was sent down the road to Louisiana-Lafayette, the host and No. 3 seed.
Baseball will find out what these changes mean on May 27, when the 64-team field is announced on ESPN2 at 12:30 p.m. For more on the changes, check out Monday's story.
Bertman Joins Committee
Bertman, who replaces former Mississippi AD John Shafer, will help pick the 64-team regional field as well as the 16 regional hosts discussed above. He is one of four ADs on the 10-man committee, but certainly helps bring another coach's perspective to the group, which currently has just two coaches (Florida A&M's Joe Durant, Ohio State's Bob Todd).
"It's a real blessing for me to be on the committee," Bertman said Wednesday. "It helps keep me in touch with baseball. While I don't miss coaching so much, I miss talking about baseball. I don't get to do that too often, unless I go down to the field and talk with Smoke (Laval, who replaced him as LSU's coach).
"I'm very happy to be a part of it. It's a tough job. I definitely think I can bring a coach's viewpoint; it's been less than a year. We can have a good mix on the committee, because you've got to have some balance of coaches and administrators. There aren't many guys like (former committee members) Paul Fernandes and Dick Rockwell who are former coaches and then become ADs."
Bertman acknowledged the regional changes in place for this season could make the committee's job "very, very tough.
"Softball did surprise a lot of people," he said. "It's very tough to balance what the competitiveness of the event should be with the other responsibilities of the committee. You can't just send 'em anywhere. It will take a lot of effort."
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