Jackie Robinson Stadium will host a Regional again in 2011 (Photo Credit: Scott Wu)
A few weeks ago, not many people gave UCLA a shot to win the Pac-10 title. Oregon St. was rolling and Arizona St. was playing well. Both were ranked in the top 10 nationally and led the Bruins, who had lost their series to the Beavers and had to play the Sun Devils in Tempe, in the conference standings. The thought of winning the conference championship seemed far-fetched and even more far-fetched was the thought that the Bruins could host a Regional.
On Sunday, UCLA did both. Thanks to Oregon's win over Oregon St., the Bruins were crowned outright Pac-10 champions for the first time since 1986 when the conference was split in two and UCLA won the Pac-10 South. Earlier in the day, the NCAA announced that the Bruins would host a Regional for the second time in as many years. Even with a loss to Arizona St., it was one heck of a day for the baseball program.
That isn't to say that there wasn't some controversy in the day. When UCLA was announced as a Regional host it took many by surprise. After all, the Bruins have the worst record and worst RPI of any team hosting a Regional, but what became clear is that unlike in the past, the selection committee leaned more on the "eye test" than they did the numbers like RPI. That was a bonus for the Bruins, but it still didn't completely explain UCLA's hosting a Regional.
A big reason that Jackie Robinson Stadium will play host to postseason baseball next weekend is the NCAA's desire for geographic balance. If the NCAA were to award the 16 Regional hosts to the 16 most deserving teams, the West Coast would likely only have two host spots - Arizona St. and Cal St. Fullerton. The West Coast always gets at least three though so most expected Oregon St. to get that final spot. The NCAA went a step further though, giving the West Coast four host spots to minimize travel for the West Coast teams and with that, UCLA got themselves a host spot.
With a host spot secured, UCLA now turns their attention to Monday's 9:30 am PDT selection show. The first question is whether or not the Bruins will be a number one seed. Regional hosts are usually numbers one seeds because they are usually the best teams in the country, but upon occasion a team will host as a number two seed. UCLA could do that this year.
The Bruins have just a 33-22 record and RPI of 32. They also have five losses to teams outside of the RPI top 100. That opens them up to being a number two seed host.
One of the teams that might be shipped out to Westwood as a number one seed is Arkansas. The Razorbacks went 38-20 this season, have a RPI of 13 and a record over .500 against RPI top 50 teams. Many were surprised that they were not named as a Regional host so seeing them at Jackie Robinson Stadium as a number one seed wouldn't be a surprise. The Bruins do have one edge on the Razorbacks though. UCLA won the Pac-10 with a 18-9 record while Arkansas went just 15-15 in the SEC.
Another team from the South that could be shipped out as a number one seed is Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles went 39-17 and have a RPI of 20. They tied Rice for the Conference USA regular season title and are over .500 against RPI top 50 teams. They would be a more likely number one seed to be shipped out because the Razorbacks have a gigantic stadium that they regularly fill so if they were to be a number one seed, the NCAA would likely try to capitalize on the revenue they could generate.
Assuming UCLA is a number one seed, there are a few options of teams that could end up in their Regional. UC Irvine is the most obvious candidate. They are the only local team in the postseason and make sense to slide in as the number two seed in UCLA's Regional logical. The Anteaters were in UCLA's Regional a year ago as the number three seed, but the Bruins got the best of them in the Regional final.
Another West Coast team that could fit in is San Francisco. Winners of the West Coast Conference, San Francisco received an automatic bid to the postseason and are likely to be given a four seed. Keeping their travel to a minimum and putting them in Westwood would make sense and it would be a rematch of the first weekend of the season when UCLA spent the Dons in three close games.
Of course, as the NCAA made clear today, they always have some surprises up their sleeve. They did it last year when they sent LSU to Westwood and could do it again this year. Stacking UCLA's Regional wouldn't be a surprise considering the Bruins are the weakest host in the field and they could have an attractive four teams playing on ESPN in Los Angeles.
There is speculation and guessing. At the end of the day though, the NCAA does what the NCAA does. A Regional of UCLA, UC Irvine, Oklahoma and San Francisco makes sense, but when did making sense matter?