Thursday, June 16, 2011

9 Reasons to Follow College Baseball: The College World Series

Today begins a weekly series on 9 reasons to follow College Baseball, scheduled to run each Thursday from now through mid-August.

We begin with a timely topic, considering that the 2011 College World Series begins this weekend in Omaha. And we kick off the series with a heretical claim:

Why the College World Series is Better than that OTHER World Series.
  • 8 teams playing 17 games in 12 days: Even if you're not in Omaha watching the games live, the CWS provides as many as 17 games (although it could be fewer, depending on the results of the double-elimination tournament) for your viewing enjoyment (on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN3), all compacted into a couple of weeks.

  • There's always an underdog: The 2-team MLB World Series increases the likelihood that both teams will be among the elite teams in the league - the same teams over and over. With 8 teams in the CWS, there's always an underdog. this year my favorite fairy tale team is the California Bears, who began the season under the certainty that the Cal Athletic Department was going to eliminate the program at season's end. They not only managed to raise enough money to save the program (not necessarily a completely good thing), but are among the Elite 8 in Omaha. See From Six Feet Under to One of Eight Teams Left (College Baseball Today)

  • The culmination of a 64-team tournament: You may be wondering why having a whopping 64 teams in the post season is a positive thing. Fans like to complain about the cheapening of the regular season of major sports due to the huge number of teams that make it to the playoffs: 16 of 30 (53%) in the NBA and NHL; 12 of 32 (37.5%) in the NFL; 8 of 30 (27%) in the MLB. 64 seems like a large number. But with 300 Division I schools playing baseball, that means only 21.33% make it to the post-season. And it's a great tournament stretched over two weekends of great baseball that matches March Madness for excitement.

  • Destination: Omaha. The CWS has been held in Omaha, Nebraska since 1950. This season, venerable Rosenblatt Stadium has been replaced by TD Ameritrade Park. To baseball fans used to the MLB World Series, it may seem odd to not play the Championship series in the home parks of the teams. But by mid June, most of the schools are either shut down for the summer or in their summer school session with a greatly decreased population of students. This makes the home field advantage considerably less important. Instead, Omaha offers what college sports excel at: Tradition.

  • For the love of the game: There are no millionaires on the diamond in the CWS. There are few players in the CWS who will be millionaires shortly after the series is over. There are four first round draft picks in the CWS this year, plus many more players on the 8 CWS teams who were drafted last week. But most of the players on these teams will never see the major leagues and won't be getting bonuses in the millions if they do sign to play in the minors. They're here for the love of the game. Since mid-February they've been stepping up to bat, sliding hard into home plate and bearing down to strike out the tying run at home plate. They've been doing this in the sort of weather major leaguers don't have to play in. They've been playing sometimes in front of crowds that wouldn't fill the luxury field boxes at a big league ballpark. And now they're playing for the love of the game and for school pride.

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