Clearly, Jim Rome paid off the selection committee to get UCSB a host. While Phil Knight slipped money into their other pocket to get the Ducks in.
< /sarcasm >
On Sunday night, as the "C" portion of the regional hosts came and went with no Corvallis, I found myself disappointed but understood. Then Lake Elsinore came up, and I got annoyed. And while waiting for the Witcher 3's way-too-long load screen every time I changed regions or (more likely) died, I found myself thinking. And like what normally happens when I get thinking, I started doing math once I got to work the next day. And then that turns into an article.
Obviously, the easy answer is Oregon State could have taken care of business themselves by not blowing three one-run games to the Ducks in agonizing fashion. They also could have not blown a 5-run lead at Washington, or that 5-2 lead they had in the 4th inning at UCLA. Any one of those five results might have been enough to make the difference, particularly than UCLA game. And if you leave it in the hands of the committee, you deserve what you get. But what's past is past, and ruing over mistakes made weeks ago don't make for an interesting article (or I'd still be writing "Why didn't you run the #%#@ ball, Pete?").
A good part of me acknowledges that and feels that way. And I'll be the first to admit the Beavers didn't make it obvious to the committee that they deserved to be a #1 seed and a regional host. So it's hard for me to proclaim them "screwed over", but I do think the committee made a poor decision with regards to what was good for the tournament itself. Let's examine, shall we?
Analyzing the Beavers and Gauchos on the field, UCSB does have an undeniable advantage in the RPI department. They are ranked 16th to Oregon State's 32. Yes, Oregon State finished second in the Pac-12 (#4 RPI conference), and UCSB finished 2nd in the Big West (#9), but the NCAA places a lot of importance on RPI. So, if all things were equal, I think UCSB would have gotten the #1 seed and the hosting nod, given the committee's history.
However, all things aren't equal.
Prior to this morning, I assumed that the Gauchos drew a couple thousand people to each game since their student population is about 3/4 that of OSU, they're in a much larger metropolitan area, and baseball is the one D1 sport that UCSB is traditionally good at. However, they only drew an average of 451 fans to their 34 home games this year. At no point did they sell out a game, and their largest attendance was 820 people for a key game against UC Irvine the second to the last weekend of the year. That high point was just over a third of what Oregon State's lowest attended game was (2,292 in a mid-week game vs. San Jose State).
Admittedly, NCAA tournaments are going to draw more people than standard games, as local fans tend to come out of the woodwork to support their team. UCSB's Caesar Useyaka Stadium just wasn't up to NCAA regional standards due to seating capacity, lighting, or some other technical aspect, so they had to submit a bid to host elsewhere, similar to what Purdue did a couple of years ago. The Gauchos made arrangements to host at the home field of the single A Lake Elsinore Storm, the Lake Elsinore Diamond, which I'm told is a very nice minor league ballpark. It comfortably seats 6,066 and can expand to over 8,000 -- numbers which dwarf Goss Stadium's permanent capacity of 3,248.
Seems reasonable until you realize that Lake Elsinore Diamond is 167 miles from Santa Barbara's campus (3 hours estimated drive time in good traffic). On top of that, much of that drive is going through the LA metropolitan area, where traffic is "good" from 3 to 3:10 am, so it might be the time equivalent of driving from Corvallis to Seattle for a game. That's not catering to the casual fan, of which there would have to be a lot of to make up for the 451 die-hards that attend every game.
It's certainly worth pointing out that USC is also in that regional. And the committee probably knew that was going to be an option ahead of time, so planned accordingly. USC's a powerhouse program from days of yore, they have literally twice as many College World Series titles (12) as the next best team (Texas & LSU, 6). They're only 90 minutes away in good traffic, maybe 2-2.5 hours in bad traffic. Are they going to bring a huge following to the regional, considering this is their first post-season appearance since 2005 (an appearance which Beaver fans might remember)? Unlikely. USC's average attendance at games at Dedeaux Field this year is only 801 people.
(Side note: what the hell, Trojan fans? You exist -- 14,688 went to a UCLA/USC game at Dodger Stadium this year, but you pull in barely 5% of that to home games?).
Out of curiosity, I went to the Lake Elsinore Diamond website, and looked around for tickets at 11AM Tuesday morning. I could pick up a full weekend 4-pack in any of the 100 level sections in no worse than Row F, and most were row D or E. Maybe this will fill up by this weekend, but we'll see; I'll definitely be curious to see the attendance at these games this weekend. As someone who tried to buy tickets to Corvallis regionals the last couple of years, I can attest that wouldn't be the case if the games were at Goss this weekend.
So the bottom line is the NCAA determined UCSB (#16 RPI) deserved a #1 seed over three other finalists -- Oregon State (#32 RPI), College of Charleston (#17 RPI), and Radford (#18 RPI). Believe it or not, I actually have no problem with this. I like OSU's resume better than UCSB's, but 1) it's close, 2) I really dislike the RPI, and 3) I'm biased. I'll admit it's debatable, and they spend more time with it than I do, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.
But did it really make sense to have them host? UCSB has a limited fanbase, and a terrible commute to a non-home ballpark. Out of curiosity, I looked at the two other schools to make the NCAA's short list.
College of Charleston is a much smaller school than OSU, but they certainly could have at least hosted on campus. The Cougars averaged 476 paid attendance in the regular season, but that jumped up to 1,087 when the conference tournament came to town. There's a reasonable chance that CofC Baseball Stadium at Patriot's Point might have filled up to the capacity of 2,000 if they hosted a regional (probably a guarantee as the committee would likely have put Clemson there). That's a reasonable option to host, particularly given there's no other hosts north of Florida on the eastern seaboard. Charleston was the regular season champ of the 13th best conference, which doesn't impress me much, but their RPI is 18th.
Radford is probably more akin to UCSB, because Radford Baseball Stadium has a capacity of 700 people, and they averaged only 392 fans a game. If they were seriously being considered as a host, I'm guessing they had a second site picked out, similar to UCSB. Virginia Tech is less than a half hour away, but English Field only seats 1,033 people, so it's not much better.
Considering the four final teams in consideration were 16th, 17th, 18th, and 32nd in RPI, it's clear that OSU's weak RPI was at least partially offset by it's strong finish, highly ranked conference, and possibly (?) attendance considerations. However, that wasn't enough to overcome an RPI deficit that was that big. It should be noted that RPI isn't always the governing factor -- Oregon (#62) got in over 16 teams ahead of them, notably North Carolina at #24 (!). Pundits have said that this year, more than most, RPI seemed to play a lesser role.
I don't think the committee made the right decision here, and I'm not alone.
I made it clear last night that I was surprised by UC Santa Barbara hosting a regional three hours away from campus, rather than College of Charleston or Oregon State. I think the second-place team in the Pac-12, which finished red-hot, deserved to host more than the second-place team in the two-bid Big West, a team that finished the season with a brutal series loss to a team outside the top 250. And College of Charleston should have hosted over either of them, which would have given this field a bit of needed geographic balance.
Baseball America, analyzing and quoting Committee Chair Dave Heeke
That said, the Gauchos did have some metrics on their side that undoubtedly went over well with the committee. Namely, they went 17-7 against the top 100 and 14-8 on the road. Their No. 20 RPI wasn’t ideal for a host but good enough. Beyond the numbers, the selection committee also relies on reports from what it calls "regional advisory committees," which provide evaluations of teams in their given areas. Given that Heeke specifically cited UCSB’s pitching staff, led by potential No. 1 overall pick Dillon Tate, in his reasoning behind the Gauchos’ selection, it sounds as though those reports on the Gauchos helped put them over the top, beating out fellow hosting aspirants Oregon State (the second-place team in a better league, the Pac-12) and College of Charleston (which had the No. 17 RPI).
"We take those 1-seeds very seriously," Heeke said. "UC Santa Barbara has had an outstanding season. They field a great pitching staff. . . . We have rankings across the country with our regional advisory committees. They consistently ranked very, very high in the West, among some other Western teams that you might think would be obviously in consideration. They were always among the top two in that regional advisory committee that includes a chair from this committee as well as coaches in the region."
Bottom line -- I think Corvallis or Charleston would have been a superior regional site to Lake Elsinore. Not because I believe UCSB is an inferior team, but because of the hosting situation. This article wouldn't exist if College of Charleston was the host. If UCSB was a #1 seed and going to Corvallis or Charleston, that would be fine, too. I've also got two other options I think might have been better.
If you want to keep them as local as possible, I think having UCSB as a #1 seed and the USC Trojans host them as a #2 would have worked better. Not only is it closer to both campuses, it's actually the home to one of the schools, and can host. They probably submitted a bid to do so. Dedaux Field is admittedly quite a bit smaller than Lake Elsinore Diamond, but the games would be far more likely to be a sellout, and they might even sell more tickets. USC sold out a game against UCLA, they'd likely do it again for a regional. Also, USC isn't an entirely unworthy host -- they actually have the second highest RPI in the Pac-12 at #25, and were part of the three-way tie for third.
If attendance is a significant factor, I don't think you can campaign for Oregon State without at least mentioning Arizona State. Oregon State is second in the Pac-12 in attendance, averaging 2,859 fans a game. Arizona State is first, although not by a huge margin at 3,014. However, Phoenix Municipal Stadium (the Sun Devils' home field) can seat up to 8,775. They drew 6,247 for a game against Arizona earlier this year, I have to imagine an NCAA regional would draw something well north of their average. Arizona State's #28 RPI is third in the Pac-12, and, like USC, they finished in the three way tie for second. They also beat OSU in a 3 game series this year.
(If you really want to go down the rabbit hole of college baseball attendance, there's 21 schools which have better average attendance than OSU as of the most current list I could find, which is two weeks old.)
Either of these options would have given the Pac-12 two host sites, which makes more sense for a 6-bid, #4 RPI league over the 2-bid, #9 RPI league.
As I said before, UCSB quite possibly deserved the #1 seed. But I don't think they were the right choice to host -- making them a #1 seed and sending them to Corvallis, Charleston, Los Angeles, or Tempe (in that order) would have made more sense.
Instead, Oregon State gets to go to Texas to play .... Texas. The Dallas Baptist Patriots have a nice, new ballpark that comfortably seats 2,000 people, and the Patriots averaged 570 fans per event this year. They broke 1,000 three times, so the fan base is there, just not consistent. However, every ticket that's not getting sold to a Patriot fan will likely end up with a Longhorn fan, and I have to imagine that Texas vs. Oregon State at 1:30 on a Friday afternoon isn't going to draw a lot of Patriot fans. I expect there to be about 1,900 Longhorn fans, 50 Beaver fans, 48 Patriot fans, and 2 Texas/VCU hybrid fans -- Shaka Smart and his wife.
However, other than the fact that this is a road game, Texas is actually a really appealing team to play. They're #92 in the RPI, #106 in Warren Nolan's NPI, and #62 in Boyd's ISR. They finished 5th in the Big 12, in a down year for that conference where the 3rd and 4th place teams didn't even make the tournament. They wouldn't have sniffed the tournament if they hadn't gotten hot and won the Big 12 tournament last weekend, and the Beavers would probably be playing Michigan State, a team they already beat once this year. Yes, Texas got hot at the right time, but 10 days ago, they were a .500 team. And being hot or cold one weekend doesn't always translate to the next -- UC Irvine had lost six in a row going into the tournament last year, and how did that work out?
So don't let the name fool you -- Texas this year isn't Texas every year. Oregon State's played road games this year in front of bigger crowds in Eugene, Tempe, Seattle, and LA. Dallas Baptist appears to be the bigger threat, so don't assume anything if the Beavers do win Friday, but I do like their chances a lot better than if they were travelling to one of the top six or so national seeds. At least the committee did them that favor.
Am I right? Am I wrong? I'd be curious how others feel now that the initial "we got screwed" knee-jerk reaction has passed. Or chime in if I got something wrong (and I probably did, considering the amount of numbers I crunched this morning). Finally, all of this talk of attendance has made me take another look at OSU's capacity, so I'd be curious to see your feelings on Goss' capacity in the poll and comments below.