Talked to MSU baseball coach Jake Boss a little bit ago. Rather, I got him riled up on an otherwise relaxing Memorial Day when I informed him that the Spartans were the first team left out of the NCAA tournament.
NCAA selection committee chairman Dennis Farrell said during a teleconference earlier this afternoon that the 43-16 Mercer Bears were the final team to get into the 64-team field, earning the last of 30 at-large bids over the 33-17 Spartans.
“As we looked at Mercer and Michigan State, we kind of zeroed in on nonconference strength of schedule and nonconference RPIs,” Farrell said. “Mercer had just a little bit of an advantage over Michigan State in those.”
I read that quote back to the fifth-year MSU coach. The explanation didn’t sit well with Boss, a member of the Midwest advisory committee who made sure to applaud the Bears’ strong season.
“If he wants to add $100,000 to my budget, I’ll be happy to go anywhere in the country to play whatever the nonconference strength of schedule he thinks needs to get us in there,” Boss said of Farrell. “That’s ridiculous, and that’s part of the problem with baseball in the north and the perception of baseball in the north. Honestly, I’m a little offended by that, because I think we did as much as we could to schedule who we could schedule early on.
“Again, if he wants us to miss class time, tell me what the NCAA’s mission is then. Because if it’s to miss class time in order to play a nonconference schedule and to spend the money that we need to spend to play a nonconference schedule that will satisfy him to get us into the tournament – if that’s the message that their sending, then I don’t know what to tell you.”
Changes to give more weight to road games in the RPI formula still don’t address many of the iniquities. It begs the age-old chicken/egg question of college baseball: How do northern schools schedule better nonconference opponents when there are so few within a close proximity?
Cold-weather schools always struggle to put together a strong schedule once they return from their early-season trips to start the season in the warmer southern and western climates during the late winter months. Taking a midweek flight is both expensive for nonrevenue sports in already-stretched athletic departments and difficult for athletes with their studies, as Boss alludes. And getting a southern school to travel north is almost unheard of. Why would they spend the money when they have strong competition within a bus ride of their campuses? Coaches in this region are caught in that catch-22 trying to bolster their strength of schedule and RPIs.
It’s all moot now, though. MSU ends its spring with a 33-17 overall record, its fourth straight season with 30-or-more wins. The Spartans, who missed the Big Ten Tournament with a 12-9 seventh-place conference record, hoped to receive a second straight at-large bid after making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1979.
Farrell, the Big West Conference commissioner, said MSU missing the Big Ten Tournament was discussed some, but that the committee also took into account that only six teams made that field.
“All those numbers aside,” Boss said, “I think there’s obviously a human element to it as well. And that’s the one thing you just can’t predict.”