By John Manuel, Associate Editor
Every summer, college baseball coaches wait for the fax to come into their offices, usually by way of sports information personnel.
It's the Starr Report of college baseball: the annual release of the Ratings Percentage Index, or RPI, the magic formula that helps determine who's in and who's out come regional time. The 1999 regionals had more teams in than ever. The expansion of the field to 64 teams from 48 was hailed in all quarters as a major step forward for the sport.
So how did two powerhouse programs from powerhouse conferences--Georgia Tech from the Atlantic Coast Conference and Arizona State from the Pacific-10 Conference--get left out?
The RPI provides the answer in Arizona State's case, at least. Whatever your feelings on the RPI, it's plain to see why Pat Murphy's Sun Devils didn't make the regional field in 1999. Arizona State ranked 71st in RPI. Of the at-large selections to regional play, Northeast Louisiana had the lowest RPI at No. 67. Baseball America never considered ASU (39-21) the 71st-best team in the country last year.
Frankly, all the proof I need that the RPI is a flawed mechanism comes from the fact the Pac-10 was ranked as the No. 6 conference in the country. The top five: Southeastern, ACC, Colonial, Big 12 and Missouri Valley.
Anyone who knows anything about college baseball knows how completely wrong that ranking is, although the Big 12 is right where it should be at No. 4. Not to take away anything from the CAA or MVC, but neither of those leagues has the Pac-10's talent or track record. The Pac-10 consistently ranks with the SEC and the ACC as the best leagues in America in terms of talent, depth of quality teams, national championship winners and Omaha contenders.
The last CAA team to even make it to Omaha was James Madison in 1983. The MVC has Wichita State, where Gene Stephenson has built one of the nation's elite programs. It's an underappreciated league, but the last non-Wichita team to make it to Omaha was hometown Creighton in 1991. Before that, go back to 1986 with Indiana State.
Meanwhile, Omaha wouldn't be Omaha with at least one Pac-10 team--current Pac-10 members have won 24 national championships, far and away the most of any conference. In 1998, Murphy's Sun Devils had to play Southern California for the seventh time in the national championship game. Also, the Pac-10 that year produced the Freshman, Coach and Player of the Year.
This is a league that consistently produces 2-4 teams that compete for the national championship. Every year. Only the SEC can say that, considering the ACC's sorry Omaha track record.
Something in the RPI formula slights those schools. The West Coast produces a disproportionate amount of talent (especially California) for the number of Division I baseball programs, compared to the Southeast. All that talent is concentrated in fewer schools, who beat up on each other pretty regularly in non-conference play. Combine that with the fact there are far fewer Division I schools west of the Mississippi, and it would require expensive, time-consuming, arduous road trips for most West Coast schools to have RPIs that look like those of East Coast teams with similar talent.
Simply put, while the RPI accurately ranks teams from the same region of the country, its gets out of whack when applied to the entire nation. "I think that's fair to say," Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall said.
The Jackets' Beef
Despite coaching at a school in the southeastern part of the country, Hall gets no solace from the RPIs. His Yellow Jackets rank 27th. A stunning 18 at-large selections had worse RPIs than Tech. That makes the work of the NCAA's baseball selection committee just look that much worse.
"The only explanation I can think of is we weren't compared to those other 18 teams," Hall said. "We were compared to North Carolina State. It's obvious the committee only was going to take five teams from the ACC, which I don't understand because the league had six teams get in last year when we had a 48-team field."
In fact, with the 48-team field in 1998, the four top conferences--ACC, Big 12, Pac-10, SEC--received 22 bids, including a record seven from the SEC and six from the ACC. In '99, with the expanded field, those conferences received 21 bids.
N.C. State ranked 23rd in the RPI, went 2-2 against the Yellow Jackets and finished one game behind Tech in the ACC standings. How could one team get in and the other get left behind?
The selection committee has focused in the past on specific factors of the RPI, such as how teams finished, how they fared against the Top 50 teams, etc., to decide between close teams. For example, Arizona State went 1-9 against Top 50 teams, as opposed to Northeast Louisiana, which went 4-8 including wins against Baylor and Louisiana State.
ASU's top 50 games: three games each at Florida State and Stanford, three home games against Southern California and one at Cal State Fullerton. That's three teams that went to Omaha and one defending national champion.
Georgia Tech went 7-3 in its last 10 games, including winning three of four against North Carolina (three of those games were in Chapel Hill, one in the ACC Tournament down the road in Durham). The Tar Heels ranked No. 18 in the RPI. Tech went 7-12 against teams in the RPI's Top 25, 11-12 when you take it out to the Top 50. Clearly, the Jackets got jobbed.
"All summer, everywhere I go, people talk about it to me," Hall said. "It hurt in May, it still hurts now. We felt like we got screwed."
The Jackets have put their displeasure into tangible form. One of Hall's assistant coaches had shirts printed up for the team with a memorable slogan aimed right at the NCAA: "1999 Pissed On. 2000 Pissed Off."
Come May 2000, unless there is change in the way the NCAA handles the selection of the 64-team field, more teams will feel the same way.
THE COMPLETE RPI
Here are Top 100 teams in the NCAA's RPI rankings for Division I. Listed first is the RPI of each team for May 22, which is what the selection committee had in hand when it made its decisions. That is followed by the teams' final RPI. Regional teams arenoted with an exclamation point (!), with at-large bids marked with an asterisk.
Team 5/22 RPI Rank Final Rank *!Miami 2 1 *!Florida State 1 2 !Alabama 4 3 *!Baylor 3 4 !East Carolina 5 5 !Wake Forest 6 6 !Cal State Fullerton 11 7 !Stanford 13 8 *!Ohio State 10 9 !Rice 14 10 *!Texas A&M 8 11 *!Louisiana State 15 12 !Houston 7 13 *!Clemson 22 14 !Wichita State 12 15 *!Florida Atlantic 15 16 *!Arkansas 9 17 *!Mississippi State 17 18 *!Tulane 24 19 *!Richmond 26 20 !Providence 19 21 *!North Carolina 18 22 *!Auburn 20 23 *!Oklahoma State 39 24 *!North Carolina State 23 25 *!Texas 21 26 Georgia Tech 27 27 *!Virginia Commonwealth 25 28 *!Southern Mississippi 32 29 *!Texas Tech 29 30 *!Mississippi 28 31 Old Dominion 30 32 Coastal Carolina 31 33 *!Southern California 37 34 *!Minnesota 36 35 *!Southwest Missouri State 34 36 Florida 38 37 *!South Alabama 33 38 *!Notre Dame 35 39 *!Pepperdine 40 40 *!Southwestern Louisiana 50 41 !Jacksonville 41 42 *!Long Beach State 43 43 !Florida International 46 44 South Carolina 44 45 *!Nevada 47 46 *!Rutgers 42 47 !Michigan 58 48 !Nebraska 47 49 *!Creighton 45 50 !Winthrop 64 51 Evansville 49 52 !The Citadel 52 53 *!UCLA 56 54 !South Florida 57 55 !St. John's 51 56 !Illinois State 54 57 !Central Florida 53 58 !Louisville 55 59 !Virginia Tech 59 60 Indiana 60 61 Missouri 62 62 *!Arizona 63 63 !Seton Hall 65 64 !George Mason 66 65 Kentucky 61 66 !Oklahoma 68 67 Illinois 69 68 Northwestern State 70 69 !*Northeast Louisiana 67 70 Arizona State 71 71 Georgia 75 72 UNC Wilmington 72 73 Tennessee 74 74 !Delaware 73 75 Texas Christian 76 76 Washington 79 77 Ball State 78 78 Boston College 77 79 Virginia 81 80 Towson State 82 81 Troy State 83 82 Western Kentucky 80 83 Lamar 84 84 McNeese State 85 85 Villanova 86 86 !Loyola Marymount 87 87 Michigan State 89 88 Hawaii 88 89 !Southern 96 90 UNC Charlotte 90 91 California 92 92 Fresno State 97 T93 Mercer 94 T93 UNLV 91 95 !Eastern Illinois 102 96 Connecticut 95 97 Southern Illinois 98 98 Penn State 99 99 William & Mary 103 100
CONFERENCE RPI RATINGS Here's how the NCAA's RPI ranked the nation's top 15 Division I conferences. One source told Baseball America the numerical difference between the SEC and the ACC was .0006.
1. Southeastern 2. Atlantic Coast 3. Colonial Athletic 4. Big 12 5. Missouri Valley 6. Pacific-10 7. Conference USA 8. Big 10 9. Big East 10. Sun Belt 11. Western Athletic 12. Big West 13. Big South 14. Trans America 15. SouthlandFor more information, visit BaseballAmerica.com.