When the NCAA Selection Committee decided to send Clemson to No. 3 overall seed Alabama for the Tuscaloosa Regional, fans quickly took to social media and declared their outrage.
Regardless, the Tigers felt they put together a solid performance in their first ever NCAA Softball Tournament with a pair of wins over Troy to advance to the championship round. But taking on the Crimson Tide proved to be a difficult task in the end.
But why was Clemson even in the Alabama Regional to begin with?
Though some have argued the Tigers should have hosted a regional, the real argument was why did the ACC’s Regular Season Champion, a team that went 40-5 in the regular season and ranked 10th in country by USA TODAY, get shipped to Tuscaloosa to play the SEC Champion in a regional.
This is a position usually given to a lower No. 2 seed in a regional, not a team that was a regular season champion of a Power 5 conference and had an RPI of No. 20.
Some wonder if there is anything the Tigers or the ACC can do in the off-season to address the situation with the NCAA Selection Committee to assure this does not happen to someone else in the future.
“I don’t know what we can do to address the situation other than hopefully next year we can play a complete schedule,” Clemson head coach John Rittman said. “We had a schedule that was competitive and definitely would have helped us in our RPI and strength of schedule.”
Clemson finished its first full season with a 44-8 overall record, including a 29-5 mark in the ACC. The Tigers were also runner-ups in the ACC Softball Tournament and had win streaks of 17 and 19, the latter broke a Clemson Athletic women’s record.
Rittman was the conference’s Coach of the Year, while pitcher/position player, Valerie Cagle was the ACC Player of the Year.
Virginia Tech, who finished fourth in the ACC, and whom Clemson eliminated from the ACC Softball Tournament, went to the No. 15 overall seed in Arizona State and won the regional to advance to a Super Regional this weekend.
Florida State, who did not win an ACC Tournament or regular season championship, earned the No. 10 overall seed, hosted a regional, and will now host a Super Regional against LSU this weekend.
Notre Dame, who finished fifth in the ACC and was eliminated by the Hokies in the ACC Softball Tournament, earned a bid to play at the No. 13 overall seed Kentucky and lost two games in the championship series before being eliminated.
All three teams finished lower in the ACC than the Tigers in the regular season and were eliminated from the ACC Tournament before Clemson, but received better seeding, thus given a better opportunity to advance to a Super Regional.
Though the Tigers were ranked No. 20 in the RPI, their strength of schedule was low, which is what the committee used as a basis for sending the Tigers to Alabama. But Clemson was handicapped in its strength of schedule due to several games being cancelled because of COVID-19 concerns.
“Some of that was out of our control and certainly we will look to work on that next year and hopefully be in a better position to host and be a top seed,” Rittman said.
Clemson was scheduled to open the season in the St. Pete Clearwater Elite Invitational that boasts the toughest field of competition outside of the College World Series in Oklahoma City, Okla. There it would have played with five top-25 teams, but it was cancelled before the season began due to the pandemic.
The Tigers also had to limit their non-conference schedule because of a mandate for extra in conference games by the ACC in response to the pandemic. This eliminated a road game at Georgia and home games against South Carolina, Kennesaw State and UNC Greensboro which all would have help boost their RPI.
Clemson’s ACC series at Notre Dame during the regular season was also cancelled due to COVID issues in the Notre Dame program. At the end of the day, Clemson’s ability to have a higher strength of schedule was out of its control.
“If you add all those games up, boy our resume was a heck of a lot better with strength of schedule and our RPI would have been up there to get a seed,” Rittman said.
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