NCAA Tournament Seeding To Expand

The NCAA Tournament is undergoing a small, but significant, change in format. Beginning in 2018, the selection committee will seed the top 16 seeds instead of the top eight, as it has done since 1999 when the tournament expanded to its current 64-team form.

Baseball committee chairman Scott Sidwell, the San Francisco athletic director, pushed for the change and hinted in June at the College World Series that it could be coming soon.

“It’s something that gets talked about regularly,” he said in Omaha. “I think the baseball committee is getting ready to make a recommendation to the next level of approval.”

That recommendation was made and, at its meeting last week, the NCAA’s Division I competition oversight committee approved the change. The move was announced Friday to enthusiastic approval from the sport’s coaches.

“I think it’s absolutely fantastic,” Florida State coach Mike Martin said. “It’s just something that I wish would have transpired before now, but I’m ecstatic that it’s now in place.”

Under the previous system, the top eight seeds were seeded, but they were generally matched up for super regionals with regionals hosted by teams in a similar geographic region, but from a different conference. That led to super regional matchups such as Florida-Florida State, Texas A&M-Texas Christian and Cal State Fullerton-UCLA regularly taking place.

Now, instead of allowing travel costs to govern the super regional matchups, the bracket will now have more competitive balance. The move stops short of seeding all 64 teams, which some in the game believe should be the next change. That step is unlikely to come any time soon, however, as most NCAA Tournaments use the regional format and do not seed all the way through the way basketball does.

In fact, baseball’s tournament is now more in line with the other sports than before. Baseball was the only tournament with at least 64 teams that did not seed at least the top 25 percent of the bracket.

“This is not setting a precedent,” Martin said. “This has been done for many, many moons in other sports.”

As an example of how the tournament’s new seeding structure could change future tournaments, let’s examine last year’s top 16 teams. The committee’s eight national seeds were

  1. Oregon State
  2. North Carolina
  3. Florida
  4. Louisiana State
  5. Texas Tech
  6. TCU
  7. Louisville
  8. Stanford

The other eight hosts were (alphabetically) Arkansas, Clemson, Florida State, Houston, Kentucky, Long Beach State, Southern Mississippi and Wake Forest.

The committee matched them up thusly:

Oregon State – Clemson
North Carolina – Houston
Florida – Wake Forest
LSU – Southern Miss
Texas Tech – Florida State
TCU – Arkansas
Louisville – Kentucky
Stanford – Long Beach

Had it not been for Florida and Florida State being matched up the two previous years, the two Sunshine State rivals likely would have faced off again in super regionals. But the committee tried to avoid having the same super regional matchups three years in a row. Louisville and Kentucky were clearly paired together for geographic purposes, and LSU-Southern Miss and Stanford-Long Beach are also examples of typical regional pairings.

Now, let’s examine how the committee might have seeded those teams if the rule changes had gone into effect a year earlier.

  1. Kentucky
  2. Southern Miss
  3. Florida State
  4. Long Beach
  5. Arkansas
  6. Wake Forest
  7. Houston
  8. Clemson

It’s not easy to get back to the mindset we had on Memorial Day Weekend, but Kentucky and Southern Miss were the two teams vying for the final national seeds. Florida State’s strong finishing kick pushed its RPI to No. 10 on Selection Monday, and, combined with its Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament title, that gives it the edge over Big West Conference champion Long Beach. Arkansas and Wake Forest had similar resumes, with Arkansas holding the edge in RPI and Top 100 wins. Houston, the American Athletic Conference Tournament winners, pushes ahead of Clemson, the committee’s surprise choice to host a regional over Virginia.

Those seedings would have yielded these super regional matchups:

Oregon State – Clemson
North Carolina – Houston
Florida – Wake Forest
LSU – Arkansas
Texas Tech – Long Beach
TCU – Florida State
Louisville – Southern Miss
Stanford – Kentucky

As it turns out, three of the super regionals wouldn’t change. The committee may have already been eyeing a better competitive balance when it paired Clemson and Oregon State and, especially, Houston with North Carolina. Houston easily could have been linked with LSU, Texas Tech (as our final Field of 64 projection did) or TCU, all of which would have been better regional fits than North Carolina.

The rest of the pairings, however, are all different. LSU-Arkansas would have set up a Southeastern Conference West Division showdown, the kind of super regional that the old system was designed to avoid. Kentucky being paired with Stanford would have answered the cries of West Coast fans to send an SEC team across the country like Big West or Pac-12 Conference teams often are. (Of course, because Vanderbilt won the Clemson Regional, 2017 provided that anyway.) The other three matchups are prime examples of fun, interregional matchups that make for compelling viewing.

If our mock 2017 bracket is any indication of what future NCAA Tournaments have in store, it’s easy to see how expansion of seeding will be beneficial to the tournament.

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