Minnesota /James Madison Softball Get Raw Deal From NCAA
The field of 64 softball teams was announced for the 2017 NCAA Tournament on Sunday night, and as always, in every sport, there will some controversy.
The bottom line is that in any bracket, in any sport, you can pick apart something.
Nothing is perfect.
That being said, allow me to chastise the NCAA softball selection committee for what I perceive as two major mistakes; leaving off Minnesota and James Madison as host schools.
Let’s start with Minnesota, who had the best record in the country, at 54-3.
In case you missed that, their record, once again, is 54-3.
I get that they play in the Big Ten, which is far from a softball power conference, but they are 54-3!
The Golden Gophers had quality wins this season over LSU, California, Texas (twice), and Notre Dame, and of their three losses, two were by one run.
There is such a thing about quality losses as well, and Minnesota had them. All of their three losses were to teams ranked in the top 30 of the RPI, falling to Washington, twice, and Illinois.
Understand that this team plays in Minneapolis, Minnesota, so they have to travel all over the country, just to be able to play early on in the season, and because they play there, it’s virtually impossible to get quality teams from the south to come to their place.
The Golden Gophers played their first 33 games away from home, traveling to such place as Austin, Texas, Raleigh, North Carolina, Fresno, California, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Corvalis, Oregon, and Stockton, California.
It’s extremely difficult to be on the road as much as they were, playing the type of teams that they played, and go 21-2, before playing their Big Ten schedule, against quality programs like Illinois and Michigan, and go 54-3.
Minnesota did everything they could realistically do to be a host school, yet were denied. Really?
Moving on to James Madison, they went 50-6, with wins over Missouri, Oklahoma St., South Florida, and Auburn.
Like Minnesota, it’s really hard for the Dukes to get people to come to their place, so they have to play most of their non-conference games away from home. They played their first 30 games away from Harrisonburg, Virginia, and went 34-4 away from home this season.
Of teams ranked in the top 30 of the RPI poll, only Utah and BYU played fewer regular season home games than James Madison
Like the Gophers, James Madison did everything they could realistically do to host, and yet were denied.
Speaking of RPI, Minnesota and James Madison were ranked 13 and 14, respectively, in the final RPI of the regular season.
I know the RPI isn’t the be all and end all, but it is often used as a reason to keep teams like Minnesota and James Madison from hosting, so I’m going to use it as a reason to allow them to host.
James Madison did host last season. In fact, they hosted a Super Regional, before falling to LSU in three games. They deserved to host this year as well.
Teams like Minnesota and James Madison have so much to overcome, including having to play an insane amount of games away from home, and playing against a less than stellar conference schedule, that they should be rewarded when the opportunity arises.
This year, there are 8 SEC hosting, and yet the Minnesota and James Madison, two conference champions, with a combined 104-9 record get denied.
People will continue to bring up the schedule for these two teams, and lack of quality wins, but again, RPI is supposed to take that into account.
The RPI is strength of schedule. As a matter of fact, it’s 75% strength of schedule.
Both of these teams have players listed as Top 10 Finalists for Player of the Year, with Minnesota pitcher Sara Groenewegen and James Madison pitcher Megan Good both tabbed. The respective schedules were good enough for both of those young ladies to become one of ten finalists for the sport’s highest honor, but their respective schools schedules aren’t good enough to host one of 16 regionals, despite going a combined 104-9.
Look, I get that the power of softball is in the Pac-12, SEC, and Big XII as much as anybody. All things being equal, the schools in those conferences deserve the benefit of the doubt.
But all things aren’t equal. Both of those schools had the RPI, win-loss records, conference championships, and road success to host, but will have to travel instead.
I just think this sends the wrong message.
Softball has grown tremendously, overall. But how are fans outside of the SEC and Pac-12 supposed to develop a passion for a sport that denies these two host spots after having the type of year they had?
Again, being on a selection committee in any sport is a thankless job. No matter what you do, somebody is going to be unhappy.
Because of that, I make it a point to point out only the most severe of injustices.
Minnesota and James Madison not hosting one of 16 different regionals this weekend are severe injustices, in my opinion.