That’s how Dennis Farrell described the task the NCAA baseball committee faced in many of the decisions that shaped the pairings and seedings of the 64 teams that will begin play Friday in the national tournament.
Farrell, the commissioner of the Big West who served as committee chairman, highlighted a number of close calls on a conference call that followed Monday’s announcement of the field, of which eight teams will wind up playing in the College World Series June 15 to 26 at TD Ameritrade Park.
» Farrell, on awarding North Carolina the top overall seed over Vanderbilt: “When it came right down to it, it was really a close call on that one. I’m not so sure I can really articulate what the determining factor was.’’
» On giving Florida State and Oregon the last two national seeds over North Carolina State and Indiana: “The committee really dissected all four of those schools’ schedules and found that we were really splitting hairs in a lot of cases.’’
» On what led Mercer to be selected as the last team in and Michigan State the last team out: “We zeroed in on nonconference strength of schedule and nonconference RPIs, and Mercer had just a little bit of an advantage over Michigan State.’’
» On whether Ohio State, which tied for second in the Big Ten, came close to making the field: “They were under consideration right up until the end. I think at the end of the day their record against top 25, top 50 (teams) was not as strong as some people thought it could have been. I think it was just a matter of trying to split hairs between a number of teams, and unfortunately, Ohio State didn’t make the cut.’’
As it developed, two Big Ten teams — regional host Indiana and Illinois — made the field. Tournament champion Wichita State was the only Missouri Valley team to qualify, and the Shockers were given only a fourth seed and sent to play at Kansas State.
Falling in behind North Carolina and Vanderbilt as national seeds were No. 3 Oregon State, No. 4 Louisiana State, No. 5 Cal State Fullerton, No. 6 Virginia, No. 7 Florida State and No. 8 Oregon. The advantage to being one of the top eight is the right to play at home through the regional and super-regional rounds.
North Carolina will begin tournament play with a 52-8 record, having won both the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament championships.
“It’s a great honor with so many great teams in college baseball this year,’’ North Carolina coach Mike Fox said on the NCAA selection show. “It’s important to be one of the top eight, and it’s a credit to our kids with the way they played. Our league was so good this year.’’
Fox’s team will be bucking tradition in its bid to win a national championship. Since the field was expanded to 64 teams in 1999, Miami has been the only No. 1 seed to take home the title, and the Hurricanes did it in 1999. Seven of the past nine CWS champions weren’t national seeds.
The ACC was the nation’s top-ranked RPI conference, followed by the Southeastern. The SEC placed nine teams in the field, while the ACC had eight picked.
One of the eight is the Virginia club coached by Council Bluffs native Brian O’Connor. The 47-10 Cavaliers earned a national seed for the third time in program history, and it came in a season that started with a number of question marks.
“This team did not have the enormous expectations on it at the beginning of the year like we’ve had in other years when we’ve had national seeds,’’ O’Connor said. “It was a club that has earned everything. I don’t want to say they felt like they had to go out and prove something.
“I think they knew they had talent, but they had to go out and earn this position as a national seed. When you start off with a group that basically your entire infield is new and most all your rotation is new, to end up in this position is rewarding.’’
Thirty of the 64 teams earned their spots in the field as automatic qualifiers by winning their conference championship. Much of the committee’s deliberations over recent days were on the 113 teams that Farrell said were considered for at-large bids.
This season’s field includes five first-time qualifiers — Bryant, Canisius, Savannah State, South Dakota State and Central Arkansas. It also includes a team in Towson that appeared headed for the baseball scrap heap.
In March, the Tigers were told by university officials that their baseball program and men’s soccer were being dropped for financial and Title IX compliance reasons. A month later, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley announced an additional $300,000 was included in the state budget in each of the next two years to save baseball.
On Saturday, Towson defeated William & Mary to win the Colonial Athletic Association championship and earn its third trip to the tournament and first since 1991.
Towson (29-28) was placed in the Chapel Hill, N.C., regional as a No. 3 seed and will play Florida Atlantic in Friday’s first round.
“My first four years as a head coach, we got there (NCAA tournament) two times,’’ Towson coach Mike Gottlieb said Monday. “I thought this was going to happen every other year.
“When you go 22 years and it doesn’t, you wonder if you’re ever going to get the opportunity. When it happens after so many years, it really makes it rewarding.’’
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