I'm excited to welcome y'all to my first post about my favorite sport, softball!! The Women's College World Series is officially under way! Don't worry there's already been controversy though.. we'll get to that, but lets start by giving a round of applause to SEC Softball and getting all 13 of their teams in the playoffs!
The opening round of Regionals contains a 64 team field and is hosted at 16 different locations. The hosts locations generally are picked based off of rankings/seedings. (One year Mizzou had to put out bid for this while graduation was happening and there was concern over hotel space, but still ended up hosting. I can tell you that there are very few hotel rooms graduation weekend, so rankings and seeding definitely matter!) - After Regionals they move on to Super Regionals and then down to Oklahoma City for the WCWS. Throughout the season rankings are given out weekly, which means it should be pretty clear as to who is hosting right? Well maybe not..
As an SEC girl I am in full support of the SEC and total dominance by this conference, however when you look at the way this played out it is fair to at least see why some might think it's sketchy. All 13 SEC softball teams made it to a Regional (Vandy doesn't have softball if you're wondering where the 14th went!) and 8 of these teams are hosting. The SEC is tough in softball, I mean incredibly tough, so to have all 13 teams in isn't a stretch. It is an incredible accomplishment! 8 teams hosting though might be a little questionable. Essentially your saying 8 of the best 16 teams are all from the same conference? Okay, it is possible. Is it possible though that these 8 plus 8 others are better than Minnesota who has been higher than #10 for the majority of the season? Minnesota has 3 losses on the year, while the host of the Regional they'll be playing in, Alabama, has 16. -- I can point out the records, but the counter to this would be strength of schedule. As I mentioned before, the SEC is tough, which means their schedules are a lot harder to get through unscathed than the Big 10. I do believe that Minnesota should host a Regional, but what can ya do?
The political (and monetary) aspect people are pointing out centers around three big names; NCAA, ESPN, SEC. This is the first year that ESPN will be airing all of the Women's College World Series softball games. (YAY SOFTBALL!!) - With this in mind, think about who owns the SEC Network? ESPN. Also, if you're a college softball fan you know that the popularity around the sport is huge within the SEC. The talent, fan base, and success has shifted from the PAC-12 to the SEC over the past ten years. No other conference really even comes close. (Yeah the Big 12 has Oklahoma and maybe one or two other competitors each year, but not 13 teams making the tournament!)
So I say all of this to say that if the SEC fills stadiums during regular season play, they are surely going to sell out in postseason play. Conspiracy theory alert #1: hints why the SEC is hosting 8 of the 16 Regionals.
Outside of the 8 teams hosting, one could also question how all 13 made it to postseason play. Conspiracy theory alert #2: ESPN knows that softball games get great ratings on SEC Network and when shown on ESPN, therefore the more teams you have in the playoffs the more SEC fans you have watching. I'd like to dispute this claim though because people need to look at the SEC teams, who isn't a top 64 team?? I think they all belong.
Alright that all makes sense for the SEC and for ESPN, but where does the NCAA come in to play? Well tv contracts are huge. The NCAA makes a very, very pretty penny off of allowing ESPN to show these softball games. They make pretty pennies off of the tickets sold at the host institutions as well. Money can assist in mysterious ways. Conspiracy theory alert #3: If SEC Softball is what draws the largest crowds and tv ratings that might incline the NCAA to allow certain schools to host over others, or maybe even invite more from a certain conference to boost tv ratings which may contribute to larger tv deals later. What would the world be without speculation huh?
I understand the questioning of the NCAA and the WCWS, but as I reflect on it I realize that the SEC is a great conference for softball. Maybe there is no controversy, maybe the teams really are Just. That. Good. - Let's not take anything away from them, let's acknowledge that Minnesota probably did get screwed over since they've been in the top 16 all season, yet suddenly don't get to host a Regional, and let's enjoy the wonderful time of year that is the Women's College World Series!