With this year’s ACC Baseball Championship all but officially in the books, one thing is clear about this event: The format isn’t a complete disaster, but it doesn’t cut it. In fact, it doesn’t come particularly close.
Louisville was a great host. The accommodations were top notch. The ACC, as usual, treated the media and teams wonderfully to honor their efforts. All involved should be commended for this. It does not go unnoticed.
On the field, however, this tournament just wasn’t good. It wasn’t exciting. It wasn’t particularly competitive during pool play. It wasn’t compelling. It didn’t build. There was no crescendo. Instead of getting better with time, this event became less watchable with each passing day.
When the tournament began, many fans were confused about what winning and losing actually meant in the new format designed to improve it—a round robin featuring four pods of three teams each where the winners advance to a single-elimination bracket. When the answers became clear, the result was even more confusion and disgust.
The best thing the tournament did was to reward the best teams from the regular season. Each of the top four teams got the benefit of a three-way tiebreaker giving them the edge if all three squads in a pod tied with identical 1-1 records. That adjustment was initially met with applause, as it should have been. The more important the regular season, the better the tournament.
The downside of this, of course, is that several games served no purpose in the immediate context of deciding a champion. Four of the 12 pool play contests didn’t matter for one or both teams involved. That’s 33 percent of a postseason tournament.
The worst indictment of the tournament came on Friday, when Clemson and Virginia played a truly meaningless game at an alternate site due to weather delays from earlier in the week. The ACC charged fans nothing for admission, meaning they gave up the gate for a game featuring a pair of ranked teams on the fourth day of a six-day event.
This seems outrageous, but it happened—and if the game went on as scheduled at Louisville Slugger Field, the crowd might have been worse. Virginia fans might have stuck around after finding out they were eliminated the previous afternoon, but a bunch of Clemson fans likely went home (or stayed home) after Tuesday’s loss instead of sitting around for two days after the Tigers were eliminated from contention for the semis.
The main issue with the ACC Baseball Championship isn’t the location, or the format, or the number of teams involved, or the level of play. The main issue is simply this: The league doesn’t know what its postseason tournament is, and it needs to make that decision if it wants it to be relevant.
I understand what the league tried to do with this format. It is trying to be all things to all people. Unfortunately, that’s not possible, and actually, it has led to the tournament becoming a collection of the worst parts of everyone else’s.
Just tell us what this is, ACC. Let us know what the goal of this whole charade is.
Is it to protect pitchers for the NCAA Tournament by limiting games? If so, forcing teams to play games that don’t have a purpose misses the whole point. Pitchers become over-exposed, putting postseason plans at considerable risk. Adding an extra week of nonconference play earlier in the season and canceling the tournament altogether (like the Pac-12 does) would better accomplish this objective.
Is it to make it worth the expense for teams to travel to the venue? Guaranteeing three games seems like a better way to go there, because forcing schools to pay for their entire teams to stay additional nights in hotel rooms after they have effectively been eliminated feels like a waste of resources.
Is it to reward the regular season? That theoretically happens with this system, but three of the top four seeds didn’t make it past pool play. People respond to brackets, and even though the survive-and-advance mantra remains, it’s not the same when the rules of the game are kind of screwy and the results could take days to work themselves out.
Is it to serve the fans and draw large crowds? The best way to do that is to copy the SEC model—a single-elimination play-in round followed by an eight-team double elimination tournament. That creates the excitement and build-up and allure that fans want if they’re going to travel and purchase tickets. Also, leaving the tournament in North Carolina—close to the most potential fan bases—would make this happen.
Is it to pat yourself on the back? If it is, then do whatever you want. Just make sure we all know this going into the championship next year. That way we won’t take it too seriously, or even care at all.
Right now, the ACC is trying to do all of these things, but it is actually doing none of them. There’s no way Clemson and Virginia were well-served playing a meaningless game right before both schools will compete in the NCAA Tournament. That’s nine innings of risk for both pitchers and position players.
The league moved to a more centralized location given the northward sprawl of expansion, but the crowds were still dismal. Guaranteeing games seems to placate the schools that complained about a one-and-done format, but forcing teams to hunker down for days is the flip side of the same coin. The league wants to showcase itself—and it should, make no mistake—but if no one cares enough to watch or come, does it really matter?
The ACC needs to think seriously about this moving forward. My suggestion: copy the SEC model or cancel the tournament. Those are the best ways to accomplish most of these potential goals.
But nobody asked me.