The case can certainly be made that the University of Arkansas should have hosted an NCAA baseball regional based on Southeastern Conference record (20-12 and winning seven of 10 series).
The Hogs won series against teams that are hosting regionals. Lots of measuring factors were good enough.
Their hopes fizzled by self-inflicted wounds — both on the field and philosophical.
They were bitten by their own policy about playing in-state teams.
What ultimately stung the Razorbacks was their strength of schedule against non-conference opponents was abysmal. When crunch time came, those mid-week games counted as much as the weekend ones.
Certainly, you can make the argument that the SEC record was tough enough.
But, it wasn’t.
The NCAA looks at things from a different perspective.
In baseball, pitchers and catchers have to adjust to an umpire’s variables in judging a strike zone. UA officials didn’t adjust to the NCAA selection committee’s "strike zone," which places a high priority on out-of-conference scheduling and record, particularly on the road.
Of 298 NCAA Division I baseball teams, based on RPI, the Razorbacks ranked 291 on strength of non-conference schedule. The Hogs lost to Western Illinois (256) and Pacific (243) as well as losing a doubleheader to one of Nebraska’s weakest teams in years.
That happened on the field.
Here’s the stinging philosophical reality.
The UA has had a longstanding, old-school, outmoded policy about not scheduling in-state teams in any sport — basically, because it might tarnish longterm their dominance in the state.
Baum Stadium in Fayetteville is locked up this weekend partly because of that policy.
The NCAA, rightly or wrongly, is placing premium on RPI and strength of schedule in non-conference (which is why South Carolina is hosting a regional as well as being three-time national champion). All of the Arkansas NCAA Division I baseball teams had a much higher RPI than several of the Hogs’ non-conference opponents: UCA (62), Arkansas State (139), Arkansas-Little Rock (145) and Arkansas-Pine Bluff (236).
If the Hogs had scheduled those teams in non-conference (or any combination of two or three), they would almost surely be hosting a regional.
And, particularly in the case of UA, UCA, ASU and UALR, those institutions are as competitively matched in baseball as they have been in any sport in recent years.
Mississippi State, which competes with UCA and many others, for recruiting (particularly in junior colleges), did not seem to sustain major damage by losing two or three to UCA earlier in the season. The Bulldogs, with a 10 RPI, are hosting a regional.
Certainly, UA baseball coach Dave Van Horn puts a priority on playing non-conference games at Baum Stadium for the Razorback fans, some of the best in college baseball. That can affect strength of schedule.
However, I would bet UCA, ASU, UALR or UAPB would agree to a mid-week series, in either Fayetteville or Little Rock, in a heartbeat. Name the date.
This time, the Razorbacks paid a price for an unbending policy.
They made their errors in the field. But an automatic no-decision in the administrative offices didn’t help.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)