The re-evolution of College Series

By Bill Barrows

Four Big Ten teams qualified for the postseason in NCAA Division 1 baseball this season. That is a feat in itself simply because of one fact. The Big Ten is a “cold weather” conference based predominantly in the Midwest, therefore the opportunity to play games in warm weather is shorter, and because of that, schools have trouble recruiting as many top players because they are drawn to the south where they can play better competition and have a longer season. Minnesota, Indiana, Purdue and Ohio State qualified this year and played in the regionals last weekend. Indiana, Purdue and Minnesota all got to the championship games of their respective regionals before being eliminated. The last team to win a regional, super regional and get to the World Series was Indiana 5 years ago.

The College World Series first started right here in the Midwest in 1947 in Kalamazoo, Mich., as an eight team, single elimination tournament. Kalamazoo also hosted the following year. Similar to 1947, but the two, four-team playoffs were changed to double-elimination tournaments. Again in the finals, the two winners met in a best-of-three format in Kalamazoo.
The tourney then moved to Wichita, Kansas, for a year and then on to Omaha, Nebraska where it has been played ever since. An eight-team, double-elimination format for the College World Series coincided with the move to Omaha in 1950. From 1950 to 1953, a baseball committee chose one team from each of the eight NCAA districts to compete at the CWS, which constituted the entire Division I tournament, as there were no preliminary rounds.

When ESPN sprang onto the cable television scene in 1979, on of their first broadcasts was the CWS. They have remained a constant ever since. The format was changed beginning with the  1988 Series when the tournament was divided into 2 four-team double-elimination brackets, with the survivors of each bracket playing in a single championship game. The single-game championship was designed for network television, with the final game on usually on a Saturday afternoon. Now it begins on the third Friday in June and runs for a glorious 12 days. It’s truly a baseball fan’s paradise.

Before expanding to 64 teams in 1999, the 1998 Division I tournament began with 48 teams, split into 8 six-team regionals. The 8 regional winners advanced to the College World Series. The regionals were a test of endurance, as teams had to win at least four games over four days, sometimes five if a team dropped into the loser's bracket, placing a premium on pitching.
In 2011, the tourney moved from venerable Rosenblatt Stadium to brand spanking new TD Ameritrade Park in downtown Omaha. The entire tournament is a showcase of 8 teams who have climbed the proverbial baseball mountain. The statue that is in front of the stadium was originally at Rosenblatt and is named “The Road to Omaha.”

I was fortunate enough to get a look behind the scenes of not only the ESPN production, but an all-access look at the CWS last year. I experienced the media bullpen, where the social and print media originates. The broadcast facility for both TV and radio is unsurpassed. The NCAA has space for their personnel as well as plenty of room for grounds crew and facilities people. There is even a room for meteorologists to monitor weather conditions. It was an experience that I will always regard as a huge highlight.

The City of Omaha truly puts its best foot forward to put on a huge and high quality event. The College World Series is well worth attending if you ever get the opportunity.

Posted on 2018 Jun 12