When the bracket came out on Monday it likely didn’t shock many following the college baseball season closely that Kansas State was left out. That’s not to say they deserved to be left out, they didn’t, but the writing was on the wall for the Wildcats. The reliance on the RPI for college baseball has been controversial for a while, and Kansas State was its latest victim. While an Oklahoma team that they swept, went further than in the Big 12 Tournament and finished with a better Big 12 record than, got in because of their good RPI.
The controversy wasn’t limited to Big 12 schools either, as the SEC landed eight regional host sites, meaning that Kentucky who finished as the eighth seed in the 14-team league will host an NCAA Regional.
To make matters worse due to country concerts in town, Kentucky doesn’t have enough hotels and will be charging teams over $90 a night to stay in empty dorm rooms.
Now before I defend Kansas State, they certainly have some blame for themselves missing the tournament as well. After a 4-0 start they lost five straight including single-game losses to Lamar, Sam Houston State, and Omaha. Midweek losses also plagued them as they dropped games to St. Thomas, Air Force, Nebraska, and two to Wichita State. In conference play they were solid, finishing with a 13-11 record, but also lost a series to Baylor, who didn’t even make it to Arlington. Their finish in conference play was especially rough as they were routed by Oklahoma State back-to-back days, and lost four of five in a week to TCU.
In the end, Kansas State rightfully entered Arlington on the bubble, and despite beating both Kansas and Texas, losing two games to TCU put them in a rough position. Now Oklahoma’s resume wasn’t far off Kansas State’s, they also dropped two to Wichita State and lost to some bad teams, including a series loss to Baylor. Oklahoma also had a rough Big 12 Tournament as they went 1-2, splitting with Oklahoma State, and losing to Texas Tech. Oklahoma was also swept by Kansas State and supported a 31-26 overall record, and 11-13 in the Big 12.
At the end of the day Oklahoma got in because of a superior RPI, which was helped by a four-game split against Stanford, and midweek wins such as Dallas Baptist and a win over Miss State, which may not seem impressive, but due to the RPI, it is. The RPI benefits strength of schedule too much, a win over Miss State really shouldn’t be a boost, but since they got beat up by SEC teams all year it was. Oklahoma can play midweeks against schools like Dallas Baptist, and Houston easily, but because of Kansas State’s relative isolation they’re forced to schedule in state schools, and schools from Nebraska that just aren’t that good. Even Texas Tech struggles with this some, as they often play ACU and New Mexico schools. Due to the strength of schedule aspect Oklahoma ended with their RPI at 40, while Kansas State sat at 55. In the end, the resume wasn’t enough for Kansas State to jump Oklahoma.
Unlike in football, where the SEC is extremely top-heavy, in baseball, the SEC has an amazing conference from top to bottom. This was exemplified by the last two National Champions, also being the two schools to miss out on the 12-team SEC Tournament. However, eight teams from one conference hosting a Regional is absolutely absurd. I don’t really have issues with them getting ten teams in. In my mind they all deserve it, and there are some legitimate threats to win the whole thing from this conference.
The top eight national seeds from the SEC, and automatic Super Regional hosts, should they get there, are Florida, Arkansas, LSU, and Vanderbilt. The last four is where it gets tricky as Kentucky, Auburn, South Carolina, and Alabama were all given National Seeds. According to D1Baseball’s RPI, only two teams who were ranked in the top 16 missed out on hosting. Those being mid-majors Campbell, and Dallas Baptist, while Oklahoma State was given a spot at 17 in the RPI. The controversy from this is from Auburn, who despite being behind Boston College at 19, was named as the number 13 national seed. Adding to this controversy the head of the selection committee, John Cohen also just happens to be the AD at Auburn.
It doesn’t quite end there, as Florida fans also have some reason to feel aggrieved. Number two Florida drew UCONN at the two whose RPI sits at 23, and Texas Tech at the three whose RPI sits at 41, but boasts a scary lineup. Auburn according to the RPI has it a bit tougher with Southern Miss (21 RPI) at the two, but Samford at the three whose RPI checks in at 62. It’s pretty clear Auburn got the most to break their way on Monday when the bracket came out.
My biggest issue with the host sites however isn’t Auburn, it’s with Kentucky. Kentucky boasts a great RPI as theirs sits at #2, despite finishing outside the top half of their own league. This is a Kentucky team that’s won one weekend series in nearly two months. They finished a sweep over Missouri on April 2nd, then they were beaten by Georgia, LSU, and A&M, and swept by Vanderbilt. They finally rebounded by sweeping South Carolina, who was a surprise host, before losing to Tennessee, and Florida, then going 0-1 in the SEC Tournament. The reason that Kentucky hosts is because of a computer metric that has vaulted the eighth-place team in the SEC to #2 in the nation, above all seven SEC teams that are seeded ahead of them. Other than having no hotels and being forced to pay overpriced rates to stay in dorm rooms, West Virginia fans should love this draw.
The RPI Is Broken
In basketball the NET is flawed, but it’s not this flawed. The RPI can’t take into account midweeks where mid-majors may pitch their ace against a team’s fourth-best starter. The RPI can’t take into account the team’s travel budgets and regional ability to play difficult midweeks. It can’t take into account that the Texas and Oklahoma schools often get to play three SEC teams in a weekend to start the season off, while Kansas State struggles with that. Kentucky being number two in the nation while being eighth in the SEC would be like the FPI putting 2022 Oklahoma football as the top team in the Big 12, and everyone going along with it and letting them play in a New Year’s Six Bowl.
I’m not arguing that any of the ten SEC teams in the field don’t deserve to be there, and I’m not really going to argue against Oklahoma being in. However, Kansas State missing out on their second tournament in three years, a bottom-half SEC team getting to host, and the RPI only being discarded when it benefited Auburn, whose AD is the head of the committee, shows how broken this system is.