A Tournament Where The WAC Could Really Lose

By Jeff Munn

This weekend in Mesa, Grand Canyon University can take the next step in making its presence known on the NCAA stage.

But as they prepare to participate for the first time in the Western Athletic Conference Baseball Tournament at Hohokam Stadium, a pertinent question can and should be asked:

Is their trip to Mesa really necessary?

Haven’t the Lopes done enough, going 19-5 in winning their second consecutive regular season title, to warrant getting the nod from the Conference as their automatic representative to the NCAA Tournament next weekend?

Why of course not. They have to prove themselves all over again starting Thursday, where the two teams who finished two games back of the Lopes, Sacramento State and New Mexico State, get a chance to devalue the 24-game conference schedule.

In fact, in the latest projections by College Sports Madness, it’s Sacramento State going to the NCAA Regionals, not Grand Canyon.

Conference tournaments are a way of life in many college sports, and in baseball, only two conferences, the Big West and Pac-12, don’t have one. For the “Power Five” conferences, a post season tournament makes enormous sense. You can bolster the resume of teams in your league who are on the bubble, the conference television network gets more live programming, and the conference makes a few dollars. Everyone wins.

In the mid majors, it makes dramatically less sense.

The WAC is a one-bid league in most sports. Twenty-four games ought to be enough to determine who should get that one bid. GCU won two of three from both New Mexico State and Sacramento State. Yet, it means next to nothing.

Mid major conferences just don’t need conference tournaments. They need to put their best teams in the NCAA’s.

It’s an opinion shared by Florida Atlantic baseball Head Coach John McCormack. In an interview last week for Sirius XM’s Perfect Game College Baseball Show, McCormack, whose Owl teams have been to the NCAA’s three times in his nine years on the job, made it clear the Conference USA Tournament his team plays in this weekend is not how he wants the automatic bid to be determined.

“Our conference plays potentially 15 games on the same field over five days,” McCormack says. “By the time you get to the title game, that’s a lot of wear and tear on a diamond. I’m not sure I want the fate of my season decided by a bad hop on a worn out surface”.

While the WAC Tournament is only 11 games over five days, the same danger applies – what if the Lopes lose their bid to the NCAA’s because of a divot in the infield?

The Lopes WILL increase attendance at the tournament, but the WAC has no TV network (the games are streamed), so it’s very hard to believe the conference will make any profit from the event. So again, why are we doing this?

It’s the same in men’s basketball. Yes, if the Lopes had beaten New Mexico State in Las Vegas in March, they would have gone to the NCAA’s, but would it have been fair to keep the Aggies, who beat the Lopes in both regular season meetings, out? At least there, the WAC got some money from ESPN.

On the flip side, in the Pac-12, just four teams are projected to make the NCAA’s. California is a bubble team going into the final weekend of the regular season. Wouldn’t it be better for the Bears to be in a conference tournament where they could potentially play another game against National No.1 Stanford or National No.2 Oregon State instead of playing three regular season games?

Then there’s Arizona. They’re in, according to the projections, but shouldn’t they be spending this weekend proving their mettle in a double elimination event the Pac-12 Network could show to the whole country?

It’s not the coaches blocking a tournament. Pac-12 coaches want it. The only thing they can’t agree on is where to stage it.

By the way, why in the name of Abner Doubleday would the WAC stage an if-necessary final game on Sunday at noon? Why not at night? If it’s to save a night at a hotel for the teams, you have your explanation as to why the tournament needs to go away.

Here’s hoping GCU takes care of business, and here’s hoping the school celebrates an NCAA tournament berth with the fervor they were ready to celebrate a berth in the NCAA’s in March. If they win the WAC Tournament, Andy Stankiewicz’s Lopes will have earned the berth. Not once, but twice.