Smaller schools challenge the college establishment

Vanderbilt has been voted to the top spot in college baseball.

LSU of the same Southeastern Conference has been voted to the No. 2 position in all the polls that give their attention to baseball.

Sitting atop the voter’s polls may get a school a Regional host role and then right back at home in a Super Regional.

LSU will take a 52-9 overall record and the SEC championship to one of the Regionals it will host in the NCAA tournament.

LSU will take a 52-9 overall record and the SEC championship to one of the Regionals it will host in the NCAA tournament.

But votes don’t equate to wins on the field. The 64 teams that were announced into this year’s NCAA Division I tournament field won’t get any extra runs or extra outs because of where they landed in the polls.

All of them must win it on the field in order to reach the College World Series in Omaha. And only eight of them will get that far.

College baseball is no longer dominated by the schools with the full compliment of 11.67 scholarships or the fair weather of the deep South, Arizona, California, and Texas.

For every Vanderbilt, Louisiana State and UCLA in this year’s field there are three or four schools that at one time would have been considered interlopers.

Columbia of the Ivy League. Army of the Patriot League. Connecticut of the now-crumbled Big East. And then there are the dozens of conference champions with automatic bids like South Dakota State, Bryant, Sam Houston State and Valparaiso.

Few are there outside their home jurisdictions that expect fireworks from Saint Louis, UNC-Wilmington, Towson, Binghamton or Canisius.

If such teams like Cal Poly, Texas-San Antonio, San Francisco, Central Arkansas or Mercer reached all the way to the College World Series it would be their first apperarance in Omaha for the eight-school World Series.

William & Mary, Liberty, Bowling Green, Troy and Savannah State would shock the college baseball world if any of them made it through a four-team Regional and then won the needed two games in a Super Regional to qualify for Omaha.

The College World Series is the Holy Grail.

Every coach collects his athletes inside some fieldhouse in January and tells them the games are not won in the polls, not won on paper . . . but are won on the field by players who put their pants on one leg at a time just like they do.

Those coaches will point at East Tennessee State, Elon, Austin Peay and Jackson State next January as prime examples of how the little guys with few scholarships have risen to the top of their respective leagues.

However, none of those little guys will be hosting a Regional tournament. None will host a Super Region should they get through the other three teams in their Regional.

Expectations will be in order for the likes of UCLA, Arizona State and Oregon State.

Virginia, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Oregon won’t consider their seasons as complete successes if they don’t play in Omaha in late June.

Don’t tell the players at North Carolina, N.C. State, Virginia, Miami, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Georgia Tech or Florida State that a team from their Atlantic Coast Conference has not won the College World Series since Wake Forest did it in 1955.

It’s true that Ron Frazier at Miami won several national championships, but the Hurricanes were not members of the ACC in any of the years they conquered the college baseball world.

Florida State first qualified for the College World Series in 1957 and was back in Nebraska again last season . . . but the Seminoles have never won a national title for coaches Danny Litwhiler, Fred Hatfield, Jack Stallings, Woody Woodward or Mike Martin (now in his 34th season).

Those who regularly attend the World Series remember being chastised by Coach Martin because they weren’t rooting for his Seminoles, and they let Martin know that Florida State had been to Omaha 21 times without ever returning to Tallahassee with a championship. Zero and 21. You can’t tip your hat to a record like that.

All 16 Regionals have four teams and all are double elimination events.

Next weekend, the field will be down to 16 teams and there will be eight Super Regionals.

Vanderbilt celebrates a win. The Commodores will be the No. 1 ranked team in the country when it also hosta a NCAA Regional tournament.

Vanderbilt celebrates a win. The Commodores will be the No. 1 ranked team in the country when it also hosta a NCAA Regional tournament.

None of the schools from the little-known conferences will host a Super Regional. It’s unlikely that any of them will win a Regional, but in 2012 Stony Brook was not only a Regional winner but also prevailed on the road in a Super Regional and made it to the College World Series.

The history of the World Series took an oblique turn when Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium became obsolete in the administrative minds of the NCAA. There weren’t enough luxury boxes and big-money corporate loges at the 24,000-seat structure.

A new place was built. It was more friendly to the corporations and their entertainment needs.

Night games at the World Series are still sellouts.

Several of the years-long powers have fallen back in the last several seasons. Coach Augie Garrido, now at Texas, and his 1,875-plus wins failed to qualify for even the Big 12 Conference tournament this season. Eight of the nine teams in the league were in the conference tournament. But Texas wasn’t there.

The University of Georgia, a one-time national champion, accepted the coach’s resignation after a dozen years in Athens town. Auburn just fired its baseball coach.

Southern California once dominated college baseball. The Trojans of Coach Rod Dedeaux won five straight national championships. But in recent times, USC has been eclipsed in its own geographical area by UCLA and Cal Poly.

There may never be another clear-cut favorite to win a national championship.

The schools in the deep South with the full compliment of scholarships are still in the lead. But Oregon State has two recent championships. And now in-state rival, Oregon, has joined the national chase for championships.

Florida State and Coach Mike Martin may not ever win a championship.

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