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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

A Grip on Sports: There was a surprise yesterday but the NCAA messing up a selection process wasn’t it

A GRIP ON SPORTS • We have a few thinks to talk about after the long holiday weekend, from the NBA to some baseball thoughts. The latter will be edited in some manner, though. Our real thoughts aren’t fit for a family newspaper’s website. Or even for a bar at 1 a.m.


• We start with what everyone knew would happen. After the Miami Heat lost game six of the Eastern Conference finals at the buzzer, the seventh game, in Boston, was bound to be a blowout. It was.

With Miami winning. Just like, well, nobody thought. Not us, that’s for sure. We also didn’t buy into the rout scenario either. Game sevens in an NBA series are not often routs. Not after six hard-fought battles. The teams have already shown they are evenly matched, so why should that change because there is just one game left?

But an injury, even a tweaked ankle, to the wrong person can change everything. Or an unexpected performance. Both happened Monday night in the Garden, the former to the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum, the latter by Miami’s Caleb Martin.

Of such things not just wins are made, but routs.

• Our use of bad language is usually minimal. It usually revolves around a game on TV – not an interview. But when NCAA baseball selection committee chairman, and Auburn athletic director, John Cohen went on ESPN2 Monday morning to defend the indefensible selections his group made to the field of 64, the cuss words flew fast and furious. And, yes, there were at least 10 of them.

We calmed down, of course. Sometime after dinner. Looked at the selections logically. And were still angry. Though we understood it.

College baseball is a money-losing, regionally skewed sport. That truism is why the balance of power has shifted toward the SEC the past two decades. The conference, encompassing the second-best high school baseball region in the nation (right behind Southern California/Arizona), is able to spend unmatched dollars on baseball – and its sister sport, softball.

Thanks to football, SEC schools are awash in money. Baseball benefits. The regional aspect comes into play, allowing even non-SEC schools in the South/Southwest to build outstanding programs. And those programs, including the low-income ones, benefit from being able to play each other, not just in conference games but the all-important midweek non-conference ones as well.

The West still has a great pipeline of players. The problem for the non-Pac-12 schools (and even for some of them), is it costs a lot to travel. More than any other sport except football.

When Cohen went on TV and ripped into baseball’s RPI as being flawed, then admitted the committee relied on it, that was upsetting enough. But then to use it as the main reason such schools as UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara were excluded, despite stellar records (and, in the Anteaters’ case, saying “they did everything the right way”) and record-setting seasons, it was maddening.

Yes, we have a personal bias here, having played at UCI. But it’s the idea “the one thing (Irvine) possibly could have had is just a little more of a sample size in the top 50” that’s flawed. That takes money. And, in the case of the West Coast, a little luck. Cohen and the committee knows that.

Gonzaga spent the money this year. Played at Oklahoma State. Got swept. Even if the Zags had won, and, say, finished second in the WCC, it wouldn’t have mattered. The conference had no RPI top-50 teams. There was no chance they would have been an at-large team.

Irvine scheduled almost 20 games against possible top 50 schools. Went 3-1 against the final top 50 and 9-5 in the next 15. Won eight of nine games against the Pac-12. Finished with a 38-17 record, had an NCAA-best 76% road-winning percentage – and its RPI is still 49. The metric doesn’t work.

Heck, UCSB played at Oregon. Swept the Pac-12 tournament champions in three games. Hosted Xavier. Took two of three from the Big East champions. Finished 35-20. RPI?  Fifty-six. Out.

Some schools don’t have the money to travel outside their region consistently. It’s not buying your way in. It’s buying a better opportunity. More margin of error. More chances to impress. And that seems unfair.


WSU: The answer to all your questions, as wise men say, is money, of course. At Washington State, the athletic administration uses what it has wisely – among the best in the conference according to Jon Wilner. … We also linked this Wilner column which includes WSU’s financial issues before but do it again in the S-R. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and the nation, there were three big surprises among the conference baseball selections. Washington, Oregon and Oregon State were not among those. … Neither was Stanford. … USC not making it? That was one. … If not USC, then Arizona State, right? Nope. … Arizona? Are you kidding me? Well, the Wildcats were the only Pac-12 school to defeat UC Irvine, so that seems like a key fact.

Indians: It’s pretty funny that a grand slam hit by a Spokane player made a fan $10,000. Funny in that the player who hit the home run may not make $10,000 this year. Garrett Cabeza has the story.

Mariners: The Yankees’ offense. Damn. Even Bryce Miller, who has been almost unhittable in his short major league career, couldn’t contain it. New York crushed the ball and the M’s 10-4 at T-Mobile. … We linked this Rick Rizz story before but do it again as it runs in the S-R. His prostate cancer treatment is going well. … Andres Munoz is finally starting his rehab assignment. … The M’s playoff road will be a tough one. We’ll touch on that in more depth soon. …The team has made ALS awareness a priority.

Seahawks: Cameron Young is just what the Hawks need. An athletic, big body in the middle of the defensive line.

Storm: It’s not a homecoming. Well, sort of. Breanna Stewart and her Liberty teammates are playing in Seattle tonight.

Auto racing: The Coca-Cola 600 was won by Ryan Blaney.

NHL: It will be Las Vegas facing Florida in the finals after the Knights topped Dallas 6-0 on Monday.


• There is some thought the NCAA will make changes after the uproar yesterday. We don’t believe that. It’s only baseball. Any change might cost money. The way it works now helps the SEC. And the response, though heated, was probably only followed by less than 5% of college sports fans. Apathy and ineptitude are hard to overcome. Until later …