TCU baseball closed out their "regular" season with their first two loss succession in over a year. The last time this happened--not in the College World Series--was to Oklahoma State...last March. Not a bad stat to hang above your bed tonight. And speaking of beds: the team will get to sleep in their own beds for an entire week before they have to play another baseball game.
Getting to enjoy their Memorial Day, may in turn, be the best thing for this team that's had a brilliant season thus far.
Editors Note: The latter conversation took place before TCU's loss to Tech this morning.
Get Rid of Conference Tournaments (Sort of, and if you’re in the Big 12)
I said this during basketball season, but I still don’t get why the Big 12 has Conference Tournaments. The Big 12 is unique in that everyone plays everyone every year. A tournament just seems redundant, doesn’t it? Kansas and whoever finishes second in the Big 12 in basketball really shouldn’t have to play a pre-Tournament before an actual tournament begins. They’ve earned their post-season spot and shouldn’t have to risk injuries or a higher national seed for a Conference Tournament.
Now let’s look at this from a baseball standpoint: The Big 12 only has 9 baseball teams, so that gives the regular season a pass for the tournament. So what’s to play for if you’re 2-9? Well, either seeding implications or just getting a chance to play in the postseason. Bubble teams this year like Oklahoma, or teams that have a chance to win it all, but not doing so would likely see their Tournament absence like Texas and Tech need this tournament. This first place team doesn’t. Last year, in addition to their brilliant April and May run, TCU got a National Seed because they won the Big 12 Tournament as the No. 2 seed by beating No. 1 Oklahoma State.
Conversely, what’s a tournament title without being able to beat the No. 1 seed? I understand that argument completely. But in the scope of the Big 12, is that any more insane than forcing 9 teams in a divisionless league to play a redundant tournament?
This is all subjective, of course. Again: last year it helped TCU because they had a dynamite April and May, and despite Oklahoma State winning the regular season, all the momentum in the 2014 Tournament was in TCU’s favor. And given the state of the Big 12 last year--three, nearly four teams made it to Omaha--in a 9 team tournament, the Conference Tournament more or less became a playoff between Texas, Texas Tech, TCU, and Oklahoma State for a National Seed. Plus, a chance for a team like Kansas, who also made the postseason, a chance to impress and get a higher seeding. What could end up hurting TCU is the strength of the Big 12, not their performance in the Big 12’s silly tournament. The Big 12 went from putting three teams in Omaha (nearly 4), and 5 teams total in 2014’s tournament. This year, they’ll have at most 2, possibly 3 if a team like Texas wins the Tournament.
Ironically, the SEC’s continued cannibalization will help TCU. In no way should you bet your house on this statement, but there won’t be more than 2 National Seeds from the SEC. LSU and Florida are the likely choices, but where it could get tricky is if A&M ends up making a run. So, root against the Aggies--something I know that’s not really a challenge for people in Texas. So as long as Texas A&M doesn’t finish 1st or 2nd in the SEC Tournament, I think TCU still has a good shot.
In the end, I don’t think the committee will judge or put TCU on the chopping block for two bad games in less than 24 hours when they played brilliantly for three months prior.
So Went Wrong...
Well, obviously conference tournaments are the worst and we should eliminate them immediately to make sure that this never happens again. Right guys? Okay, okay, the truth is that I personally love the Big XII tournament. One of my favorite memories of TCU Baseball was back in the 2013 tournament. TCU was a seven-seed and we were taking on the second-seeded OSU Cowboys. We were down 4-2 in the top of the ninth and absolutely caught fire, going on to score 6 runs in that frame and win the game 8-4. Back then, we were in a similar situation to the one that Baylor found themselves in today. It had been a tough season. I don’t remember what our exact record was but that 2013 season was pretty much a dumpster fire and we all remember that it was really, really disappointing. At that time we needed that victory and someday, hopefully a long time from now, we will be in that situation again where we are playing the role of the spoiler. I wouldn’t trade that for the world.
The other reason that I really like the Big XII tournament is that unlike the other major conference tournaments, it is set up almost exactly like the College World Series. Each team essentially plays a regional format, double-elimination tournament, with the winners meeting to play in the championship. The only difference is that the Big XII tournament championship is only one game and the College World Series championship is a best of three series. To me, this is great practice for both the regionals and the College World Series. Who knows, maybe we lose the first game of the College World Series and the team looks back on this and says, "Hey, we’ve been in this situation before and we know how to handle it." All we can do now is hope that this loss motivates this team and pushes them onward to the larger goal we all know that they have for themselves.
Today was undeniably disappointing, but to be honest, a small little part of me kind of saw it coming. You hear about it a lot in basketball - it’s really hard to beat the same team 3/4/5 times in a row. And like the great Chuck LaMendola said on the radio, you see this a lot come tournament time in any sport - a desperate bottom seed fighting for their post-season lives against a top seed that knows they are in the dance regardless of the result of these seemingly meaningless games. Baylor has no chance of making the regional round without winning the Big 12 tourney outright; we see this all the time in March with the smaller schools "stealing bids" from the major players when they win tournaments they shouldn’t. Felts basically wrote a dissertation on it in regards to our Frog Hooper’s hopes for the NIT. The Frogs are likely a national seed as long as they don’t embarrass themselves this week, and one opening game loss (albeit a terrible one) doesn’t destroy that dream. I think our boys, having accepted the conference trophy pregame and maybe reading a few too many press clippings, bought in to their own hype just a bit, and maybe this is the "good loss" that wakes them up and sends them on another exceptional run - like the K-State series did earlier this season. Plus, if Riley was going to pick a game in the postseason to be, well, really bad, this isn’t the worst one to pick. We live to play another day, with a little more pressure of course, but if we play until the last day, we are in good shape to be back playing at Lupton with the real prize on the line. But geez… Baylor?! Vomit.
As far as conference tournaments go, and the thought of eliminating them, as the perpetual fan of the underdog - but aren’t we all as long time Frog fans? - I kind of like them. One year ago, it was TCU’s run in this very same tournament that set up the magical World Series run. Had the Frogs not won the Big 12 tourney, they probably aren’t a national seed, and a lot of those one run games (oh and 22 inning Woo Bird inspiring ones) at home possibly end a different way. I hate that we lost the opening game. I detest that it was to Baylor. But I wouldn't eliminate them all together. Sometimes, the best team wins. And sometimes, a team that a lot of people think has no business being there shocks the world… see: TCU Football in the Rose Bowl, or painfully, Ohio State Football this year. I think it’s true in baseball, too… to a point. Ron Washington used to say, "that’s the way baseball go". One gem, or one disaster, can totally change a team’s fortunes. That pressure is fun, and it creates greatness. I hope, in a month or so from now, we are looking back on this laughing as we celebrate a World Series Championship, saying, "man - this all started when we lost to Baylor. Ha! Baylor!". But, if Baylor somehow rises up and wins this thing… let’s make sure there are no co-champs in baseball, mmkay? ;)
I’m glad we’re having this discussion because every postseason for college baseball and basketball, I make the same argument: get rid of postseason conference tournaments. I’ll preface my rant (I don’t like using the word rant, but I guess that’s what this is) by saying that as a general college sports fan, I love to watch the tournaments. Anybody that knows me knows how much I love Championship Week for college basketball. It is literally 14 hours of hoops per day for an entire week. It is heaven for college basketball fans like myself. However, I’m going to play devil’s advocate and point out several fundamental flaws in postseason conference tournaments.
Let’s start by going to the very root of the issue. What is the point of postseason conference tournaments? Yeah, they are exciting to watch and are a huge revenue generator for the athletic conferences and television networks, but from an on-the-field perspective, what are we going to learn during a four-five day span that we didn’t learn over the course of a 50-game regular season? Because of the pervasiveness of conference tournaments, the regular season for the majority of college baseball and basketball teams basically boils down to determining one’s seed for the postseason conference tournament. Of course, for the upper echelon of teams, the regular season is crucial toward seed placement in the NCAA Tournament, but for everyone else, the regular season becomes devalued.
Here’s my next problem with postseason conference tournaments: if the NCAA is going to grant an automatic bid to each of the postseason conference tournament champions, then mandate that every team must participate in these tournaments. Let’s take the Big 12 Baseball Tournament, for example. Only the top eight teams in the Conference qualify for the Tournament. If #8 Baylor can get hot and earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament (*vomits*), why are you not providing the same opportunity to Kansas (who was the 9th place team in the Big 12)? Once again, the regular season is reduced to an exercise in determining seeing for the conference tournaments. Does Baylor have any business in the NCAA Tournament based on their 21-30 regular season record? Absolutely not. So why would four days in the middle of May be valued higher than 51 days over the span of three months? A phrase that comes up over and over again in both the NCAA basketball and baseball (and now football) selection process is "body of work." After a 51-game regular season, it is blatantly clear that a 21-30 Baylor team shouldn’t have the same opportunities as a 43-9 TCU team, but that’s exactly what conference tournaments allow. Regular season champions should be earning the automatic bids, not the conference tournament champions.
This is definitely becoming rant-ish, so I’m going to wrap it up… my last problem with these tournaments is that they do not reflect what is required of teams during the regular season or during the NCAA Tournament. Again, let’s use the Big 12 Baseball Tournament as an example. TCU (and Texas Tech and Oklahoma and West Virginia) would need to win five games in four days to win the Tournament. At no other point in the season would a team be required to achieve this feat. This concept is heightened in college basketball. Over the course of the regular season, a team usually plays two games in any given week. However, come conference tournament time, teams are required to win up to five games in five days. Even in the NCAA Basketball Tournament, the most a team would have to play to advance is two games in four days. Conference tournaments do not reflect the expectations of the rest of the season.
I’m not even going to mention the potential cannibalization that can occur in conferences that are top-heavy (*cough...2015 Big 12 Baseball...cough*). I’m afraid that I have come off as very "get off my lawn"-ish, and for that I apologize. Like I said earlier, these tournaments make for exciting television, and they are definitely fun to watch. And as a TCU alum and die-hard Kansas City sports fan, I love the role of the underdog. Getting to play spoiler is one of the many great things about sports. But conference tournaments are like using penalty kicks at the end of a soccer game. All of a sudden at the very end, a different set of rules are implemented and a different set of expectations are required, completely independent of the rules and regulations leading up to that point. Conference tournaments are fundamentally flawed, and need to be done away with, in my opinion.