Yesterday, Ghost made his plea for a Home and Home or two that he'd like to see the football team play in the future. Today, I make my plea for a couple of home and homes in baseball that would greatly benefit our program.
In the past, we have had some quality match-ups during the pre-conference portion of our schedule. In 2006 and 2007, we faced off against UCLA which usually has a top flight program. In 2008 and 2009, we had a quality series with TCU. Currently, we are in the midst of a home and home with Louisville. I think all of these we great for our strength of schedule as UCLA finish with RPIs of 26 and 46, TCU with 34 and 12, and Louisville with a RPI of 6 here in year one of our deal.
Just so the rest of this rant makes sense, my main goal with scheduling will be to secure a national seed and to increase national exposure. So that you have the prior knowledge necessary, I will explain how the committee selects hosts and national seeds. First of all, you have to do well in your conference. The committee will not give a national seed to the fourth place team in any conference. Secondly, you have to have a good RPI. RPI is based on the following four criteria (I'm over-simplifying here): 1) Division I winning percentage (25%) 2) Opponents' winning percentage (50%) 3) Opponents' Opponents' winning percentage (25%) 4) Bonus points for quality road victories against RPI top 50 opponents and penalties for bad home losses to teams outside the top 75 RPI. Lastly, the committee uses subsets of the RPI to make their decisions. They look at record against Top-25 and Top-50 RPI opponents and other data concerning subsets as well.
Many believe that RPI is a flawed system (more on that in a bit), but I will base my desired Home and Home on trying to improve my Strength-of-Schedule and therefore improve RPI.
A better explanation of the selection committee's process may be offered by Boyd Nation, the author of www.boydsword.com and Mississippi State graduate.
Each year as the selection committee sits down to select the thirty-four at large teams that receive bids to the tournament (as well as making the other decisions around seeding and hosting that they make), they are given a report (officially, if playfully, called The Nitty Gritty Report) that contains a number of statistics for each team. Other than the RPI and the team's overall win-loss record, these stats represent some subset of the team's season -- things like road record, record in last ten games, or record against several RPI subsets. These sub-stats and their use are well-known; you hear them all time in bracketology discussions or in committee justifications of their decisions. It turns out that these sub-stats are detrimental to the process and shouldn't be used as part of the selection criteria. (You can read about his solution here)
The first part of the schedule that I would like to boost is the midweek portion. Many of you enjoy playing patsies (to whom we occasionally lose) just to beef up our record. I would rather get rid of the patsies and add some quality opponents. These patsies (a.k.a. teams worse than 200 in RPI) are hurting our RPI. The 2010 version of South Carolina is the prime example of this. They currently sit at #14 in RPI despite having a 20-7 record in conference play. Florida has a 20-7 record in conference as well, but their RPI is sitting at #5. What's the difference? Midweek games!!! South Carolina has played a whopping 13 games against 200+ RPI opponents. Florida has played 0. Against teams between 101-200, South Carolina is 5-0 and Florida is 14-1. Against the RPI top 25, SC is 19-8 and Florida is 18-11. Florida also had midweek stints with #11 FSU and a weekend series with #8 Miami. Even though their conference records are identical, the Gators are sitting comfortably in position for a national seed. Last season, Arkansas had a midweek series against RPI #4 Arizona State, which is perennially the top team in the PAC-10. Arkansas took both games in the midweek set, and despite a 14-15 conference record to finish the season, they had a top 15 RPI.
My solution would be to first get rid of teams like RPI #266 Oakland (three games), RPI #288 UAPB, RPI #229 Saint Louis, and #227 Tennessee Martin. Remember, 50% of our RPI is calculated based on the winning percentage of our opponents. Since we play Oakland three times, we have to multiply their record times three to figure it into our RPI. Just those four teams give us an opponents record of 99-164 (for those of your checking my math, do not add games against us into their record) for a winning percentage of 37.6%. You see how that hurts our RPI?
I understand that we cannot afford to spend a bunch of money traveling around for midweek games, but there are some local teams who are better than these. You could do a neutral site game at Trustmark park with RPI #82 Tulane or a midweek home and home. RPI #33 Louisiana-Lafayette is not too far away, and they field a quality team every season. Northwestern State (RPI 78) and Southeastern Louisiana (RPI 43) could also be midweek opponents who carry some clout. None of the teams I mentioned here will ever be worse than 200 in their RPI because of the 50% of their RPI that is lent to opponents' records (which is how MS State is atrociously bad and still has an RPI of 67). Let's not forget UAB (RPI 120), Western Kentucky (RPI 42), or South Alabama ( RPI 61).
That would go a long way in fixing our strength-of-schedule woes. Now on to the weekend home and home series. Bianco and Boone have done a good job of scheduling a good series or two before conference play starts. This season was Tulane and Louisville. Next season, it's Louisville. The key to these early season match-ups is warm weather and quality opponents.
First choice-Cal State Fullerton. Each season, west coast teams get heaps of praise thrown upon them. California has a lot of quality teams, and I would like our team to get some exposure in that market. CSF is currently in the running for a host site or national seed, and they usually get one every season. They've garnered six national seeds since the Super Regional era began in 1999! Our players would get a chance to play a difficult opponent early on, and if victorious, we would have a seriously good resumé come selection day.
Second choice-Florida State University. Again, it's a warm weather opponent, and they are atop the ACC standing each season. They've earned four national seeds since 1999, and and they've made the post-season 32 straight times. They have a lot of national respect, and an early season victory or even close series loss could go a long way.
Third choice-Texas. I think that 2005 forced us to respect Coach Augie Garrido and his Longhorns. I don't know how much longer Augie will be coaching, but it would be good for us to get into the "small-ball showdown" in the early season. Our two teams would be similarly coached, and we would get to try out our fundamental skills. Also, this could keep the Texas pipeline of talent coming to our program. In case you've forgotten, Scott Bittle, Tim Ferguson, Alex Yarbrough, and David Phillips are just a few of our current All-Stars to come from Texas.
Fourth choice-Rice. Let's stay in the Lone Star State and battle C-USA's premier team each season. Wayne Graham has a solid program there, and it seems like they have a couple of solid pitchers every season. It won't garner the name recognition of the teams mentioned above, but they get some love from the media and selection committee each season. Let's not forget that they won it all in 2003.
Fifth choice-Univeristy of Virginia. With Brian O'Connor at the helm, UVA will be a force to be reckoned with for quite a long time. I know the pain of 2009 will stick with us, but maybe a home and home will give us a shot at revenge.
As you can see, I'm rather ambitious as to the opponents I'd like to play in the future. All of them are quality opponents with national prestige. Also, we could pull this of over a period of four seasons, and it would increase our national exposure quite a good bit. By adding so many quality opponents, our high-RPI opportunities are endless. We all know that Mike Bianco produces teams that are highly successful during the regular season. With his regular season success against a tougher schedule, that would increase our chances of getting a national seed each year. National Seeds have arguably an easier path to Omaha. Achieving more national seeds coupled with playing around the country could only improve our recruiting prowess.
A national title is in our reach if we only improve our schedule...