Baseball team jilted by NCAA selection process

Ben Goessling

Minnesota baseball coach John Anderson still has a high opinion of his team, even though it didn’t qualify for the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years.

His view of the tournament selection process, however, is another story.

Anderson lobbed heavy criticism at the NCAA on Monday after finding out Minnesota, despite winning the Big Ten regular season title, would not be invited to the NCAA tournament after finishing second to Ohio State last weekend at the Big Ten tournament.

The Buckeyes (36-18-1) defeated the Gophers 6-3 Saturday night to win the tournament title and earned an automatic bid to the national tournament. Ohio State will be the lone Big Ten representative.

Anderson said the fact Minnesota (32-26) was excluded despite its regular season title cites a fundamental flaw in the NCAA’s Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), which is used to select the field for the tournament.

“They use a system comparable to basketball,” Anderson said. “You can’t use the same system because there isn’t a sport affected by weather as much as baseball.”

More than 50 of the 64 teams selected for the tournament hail from the South, including seven from the Southeastern Conference. According to Anderson, the NCAA’s bias toward Southern teams produces a field that rewards schools undeserving of a bid.

“Miami (FL) got in and they’re 30-26,” he said. “If you’re Miami and you’re 30-26, you shouldn’t get in because you’ve got all the advantages.”

Formulas that mimic the RPI had the Hurricanes, winners of two of the last three national championships, ranked 19th in the country despite their average record. The Gophers were ranked 84th.

Miami played 41 of their 56 games at home and left Florida for only nine games. By comparison, the Gophers played 37 of their 58 games at home and left Minnesota for 21 games.

“When schools like Miami play that many home games and you use the RPI system, there’s no way it can be fair,” Anderson said.

Georgia, who talked extensively with Anderson about its coaching vacancy last spring, received a NCAA bid at 30-27 despite finishing sixth in the SEC.

“One of the reasons I looked at the job last year was because of this competition issue,” he said. “I’ve tried without success to get people to level the playing field. At some point you say, ‘If you can’t beat them, do you join them?'”

Senior outfielder Jason Kennedy placed the majority of the blame on the team. Minnesota hosted the Big Ten tournament and received a first-round bye, but immediately slid into the loser’s bracket after dropping its first game.

“I came in today hoping we’d be in, but it was a long shot,” Kennedy said. “It shows you the importance of every game. If we want to get in (the NCAAs), we have to win that tournament.”

Sixth-seeded Northwestern stunned Minnesota 5-2 in its first game of the Big Ten tournament Thursday night.

The defeat sent Minnesota on a dizzying climb back to Saturday night’s championship game in which they played three games in two days.

The 6-3 loss against the Buckeyes simply came down to Minnesota being too tired to hang with Ohio State.

Anderson said Saturday night Minnesota was more deserving of a tournament bid than a fifth- or sixth-place team from another conference, but saw five teams who finished fifth or worse in their conference picked instead of Minnesota.

“You look at all of the geographical factors,” he said, “and we’re on an island out here in the middle of nowhere.”

Ben Goessling welcomes comments at [email protected]