NCAA Expansion Was a Hit

Omaha, Neb.—When key sports officials meet sometimes, the state of their particular sport can be exaggerated, but make no mistake about it, in recent years college baseball has been a hit both fiscally and in terms of fan interest in Omaha.

Consider back in 1998, when the sport was well in debt.

"In 1998, when we had 48 teams, the tournament incurred a deficit of about $227,000," said Dennis Poppe, NCAA vice president of baseball and football.

That quickly changed when the NCAA increased the field that same year.

"We expanded, which doesn't make sense [financially at the time], to 64 teams," Poppe said.

But it really made perfect sense.

"We immediately started turning a profit," Poppe said. "And we started becoming a revenue generator."

This begs the question how so?

"[The] most important thing, we gave 16 more teams a chance and we created more regionalization, which allowed the fans to go to the games," Poppe said. "They didn't have to travel to LA to get to a six-team regional. They could go down the road to Auburn or College Station, wherever that regional was."

That alleviated budget problems for both fans and programs.

"You just reduce your travel and you reduce your expenses and you create more opportunities, [so] it's win-win," Poppe said. "And that's what we did. We created more bus trips, and a lot more kids get to play, and everybody benefits. And it was a simple process."

With that said, now the question is whether or not there will be any other types of expansion or just change to the tournament.

One that is talked about is a potential play-in game, like the NCAA basketball tournament utilizes.

But it's something that Tim Weiser, the chair of the NCAA Division I baseball committee, said is unlikely.

"Well, I'll give you my own personal opinion, [but] I certainly don't want to speak for the committee on this, [and that's that] I don't know that I see play-in games coming anytime soon," Weiser said. "If it's out there, I'm certainly not hearing that."

Poppe echoed those remarks.

"I would agree," Poppe said. "I don't think that, given frankly the state of the economy and all the hubbub about 96 basketball teams, we ended up with a smaller expansion. I just don't foresee baseball taking that route either. And one of the problems in that Tim alluded to, there's always that 65th team.

"And if you look at what I call the pyramid effect it's easier to pick the top eight, top 12, top whatever. You get down to the 65th, everybody has the same record, everybody has the same RPI. Probably very few common opponents [are on their schedules]."

Another possible change that many hope for is the seeding of teams one through 16, like college softball, as opposed to only one through eight.

"I think we've looked at every possible format change there might be," Poppe said. "And indeed, we've even looked at seeding 32, 64, 16, whatever. I will not say that it's out of the realm of possibility. I think obviously the purists would like to have a seeding process in place."

That's better for the purists and coaches who expect the top teams to make the College World Series, but worse for the regionalization aspect for fans.

"One of the benefits of not seeding 16 is you're not sending the number one team from the West Coast to the 16th place team on the—or the 16th place on the East Coast to the number one team on the West Coast," Poppe said. "You allow those fans to get to those games. Now, I'm speaking as an administrator and as a fan. As a coach, I can appreciate the fact I don't want to play that perceived number nine team if I'm a No. 1 seed."

So the debate about expanding the tournament continues, but the facts stay the same: college baseball is really having some success.

And now OU head coach Sunny Golloway and the Sooners are living it in Omaha for the first time in years.

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