CALL COLUMBIA the NCAA baseball regional matchup that nobody wanted. South Carolina officials, coaches, players and fans did not want Clemson in this regional. Clemson officials, coaches, players and fans did not want to be in this regional.
Apparently, only a handful of the 10 NCAA tournament selection committee members believed it was a good idea to have USC as the host team and top seed in this regional with Clemson as the number-two seed for a second consecutive postseason.
“I think it’s kind of a fluky thing,” said Eric Hyman, the former USC athletics director and current Texas A&M athletics director who served on the selection committee for a second consecutive year. “I’m surprised they were matched up this year. I was surprised last year, too.”
So, how exactly did the committee decide to make unhappy two entire baseball communities?
Hyman dispelled any talk about the big money generated by such a well-attended regional being involved in the decision-making process. He also said ESPN, which will televise the entire tournament for the first time, had no say in determining matchups.
Rather, Hyman said it came down to the committee having no rule that prevents the pairing of rivals. Hyman also believed the committee members generally were not cognizant of the importance of a rivalry in a specific region of the country.
Finally, Hyman said, many regional brackets were drawn with geography as a high priority. If that was the case, though, why was Florida sent to Indiana instead of Florida State, and why was Coastal Carolina sent to Virginia Tech instead of Columbia?
As an athletics official in the SEC, Hyman was asked to leave the room both years during selection committee discussion involving league members. A year ago, he said he pleaded with the committee not to send Clemson to the Columbia Regional before leaving the room.
This year, Hyman said he and Larry Gallo, an executive associate athletics director at North Carolina and member of the selection committee, suggested to other committee members that pairing USC and Clemson was not the right thing to do.
“I’m sensitive to it in South Carolina, very sensitive to that issue and not wanting to do that because (the rivalry) was bigger than life,” Hyman said. “It would be the same if Texas and Texas A&M played. It would not be so much about the kids, but about all the other peripheral things.”
The six games of the 2011 Columbia Regional, which did not include Clemson, produced $201,191 in net receipts, according to the NCAA. With Clemson in the regional a year ago, the six games netted $255,198, most of which goes directly to the NCAA. But Hyman said possible revenue never was discussed by the committee.
The same, he said, was true of TV. He said a USC-Clemson pairing probably would not have any more appeal on ESPN nationally than any other matchup. But one has to believe ESPN officials like the idea of promoting a USC-Clemson rivalry over, say, a Virginia Tech-Oklahoma matchup. Also, ESPN knows rivalry games played in packed stadiums make for better TV.
Jack Leggett, Clemson’s coach, said any possible TV influence would question the integrity of the selection process.
“I would trust that is not the case,” Leggett said. “You can kind of think that. I can see how you could be thinking that. But I’m hoping that’s not the case.”
Leggett said the selection committee should treat rivalries as if the two teams are members of the same conference. The committee does not permit conference matchups at the regional round. Leggett said because the two programs play a three-game, regular-season series, they should not be paired in the opening round of the postseason.
Leggett and Chad Holbrook, USC’s coach, were asked at Thursday’s tournament news conference if the two programs should discontinue their regular-season meetings if they continued to be paired in the postseason.
Both coaches agreed that would not happen. Still, it seems like a threat to discontinue the regular-season series might force the NCAA selection committee to reconsider such pairings in the postseason.
Holbrook had another reason for disliking having his neighbors invade Columbia this weekend.
“I didn’t want them in our regional because it takes away from some of the other student-athletes and their accomplishments and their programs,” Holbrook said of the other two teams in the field.
In case you were wondering, that would be Liberty and Saint Louis.