Over at Rock Chalk Talk , one of our sister blogs, James Quinn posted a story questioning the SEC's lofty placement in the tournament, with its two national seeds and its 9 invitations.
To be sure, at the time this entry was published, the SEC had not lived up to expectations in this tournament. National #8 seed had lost to lowly Lipscomb. Arkansas had been 2-and-out, and only 3 SEC teams were playing from the winner's bracket, out of the 9 who qualified. It can be argued that the SEC underachieved as a whole, but before drawing that conclusion I would recommend checking out Purple Reign's FanPost on the issue.
But I digress. This post is not to praise or criticize Quinn's central thesis that the SEC got too much credit. Instead, I'm going to nitpick one small point he makes.
Charlestown and Missouri State had as good a case as any of the others on that list and were left at home. Invitations to these "mid-major" schools would have at least shaken up this year’s dance card a little bit and helped the committee accomplish one of it’s publicly stated goals, to promote the growth of the college baseball on a national level.
I could not disagree with this statement more.
Granted, I am a newcomer to the world of college baseball. Or rather, I stopped paying attention to it for a long time, and only recently returned to it. So, if you think that does not give me the right to discuss the business of growth of college baseball, you may be right.
On the other hand, perhaps the opposite is true. Perhaps my status as a non-dedicated college baseball observer gives me unusually keen insight into what makes fans come and go from the sport.
Simply put, I think most fans of college sports will pay attention to pretty much anything as long as their own team is having success. Or at least, the average college sports fan's attention to a particular sport is directly correlated and directly proportional to his team's success in the sport. This is so obvious to me that I see no need to attempt to justify my assumption that it is true.
Alright, if we start from that assumption, what is the best way to draw fans to the sport of baseball? Simple. Have the schools with the most fans to draw interest from also be the schools with the most success.
Now here is where I think Quinn has it wrong. Getting the mid-majors more involved will not help college baseball at this point. If college baseball wishes to grow from the minor sport it is now to something more akin to basketball, or at least basketball-lite, the key will be to get the teams with the biggest fanbases to have the greatest success. That isn't Rice, and that isn't Coastal Carolina. Those teams being near the top of the heap right now is a hinderance to the growth of college baseball.
If college baseball wants to grow, then Texas, USC, Florida, Michigan, Ohio State, UCLA, and other schools with big fan bases need to get their programs back on track and cut Tulane, Southern Miss, Rice, and other mid-majors out of the equation, at least until the sport gets bigger.
Yes, I know that the NCAA Basketball Tournament thrives on minor teams pulling upsets, but that's only in the early rounds. When the tournament gets to the end, the fans don't want those teams to still be around. The NCAA learned this lesson starkly when George Mason made the Final Four and the ratings tanked.
I don't know how high college baseball's ceiling is, but it can't reach its potential with the big schools piddling about doing not much of much. It needs those schools to have success to draw their considerable fan bases in.
Once that happens, of course, college baseball will have to deal with the perception that the best 18-22 year old baseball are playing in the minor league's rather than in college, but we have to start somewhere.