Baseball: More resources and facility upgrade will help, but still won't fix one ND issue
SOUTH BEND — What everyone figured was a formality instead turned into a farce.
Not long after being eliminated from the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament Saturday after its first semifinal appearance in school history, Notre Dame remained a pretty confident club. Coach Link Jarrett and his guys felt they had done enough and won enough to remain in the hunt for not only one of the 16 NCAA tournament regional sites (the field of 64 was unveiled Monday afternoon) but maybe even snag one of the eight coveted super-regional sites for the first time in program history.
Word trickled across social media just before sunset Sunday that that tournament selection committee already had earmarked its 16 regional sites. A scan of the host cities — listed alphabetically — seemed a misprint. Somebody from Indianapolis obviously had spent too much time earlier that day in the Snake Pit over at the 500.
The regional rundown jumped from Louisville, Kentucky to Stanford, California and on to the final two sites, Statesboro, Georgia and Stillwater, Oklahoma. Uh... where was South Bend? There was no South Bend? How could there be no South Bend? That had to be a mistake. An oversight. Something.
Nope, turns out it’s only a joke, and it’s again on Notre Dame.
Once the regional sites became official, text messages from those close to the program who know way more about college baseball and its inner workings started flowing. They used words like absurd and clown show, insane and laughable.
This edition of Notre Dame baseball may not be College World Series worthy. It may not be super regional-host worthy. At the very least, the Irish were regional-host worthy. Turns out they weren’t.
Despite being ranked inside the top 16 in nearly all the various college baseball polls, despite following last year’s magical run of 34-13 to finish 35-14 this season, despite having the third-best win percentage in the country the last two-plus years (trailing only Tennessee, Arkansas and UC Santa Barbara) Notre Dame was denied a site as a regional host.
On Sunday night, a perfect spring night for baseball, Eck Stadium stood dark. It will remain so the rest of the way.
To the selection committee, Notre Dame is just another program. Elite outfit? That’s for someone else. Someone in the south (hello, SEC). Or the Mid-Atlantic. Or the West Coast. The Midwest? Pack your stuff, and go someplace where baseball just matters more.
Sunday was just the latest example of a Notre Dame program getting squeezed in the post-season vise. We saw it happen to the Notre Dame men’s basketball program (First Four, really?). We saw it happen to Notre Dame men’s lacrosse (first tourney miss since 2005). Now up, Notre Dame baseball.
Stunned may be too soft a word to describe the reaction of the Irish being left out of the regional host mix despite sitting at No. 13 in the Ratings Percentage Index. Nobody saw this coming after the Irish wrapped their final homestand May 15. The thought around the clubhouse was, finish the regular season in South Florida against Miami (Fla.), one of four ACC teams awarded regionals, do some work in the ACC tournament (two wins before the loss to eventual league tournament champion North Carolina) and then return home this week for regionals, which begin Friday.
Instead, Notre Dame is headed for Statesboro, Georgia for the double-elimination regionals. Then, maybe Knoxville, Tennessee for the super regional. Then, ultimately, hopefully, Omaha.
The journey starts Friday against Texas Tech (37-20).
A bigger concern for the future
The itinerary is another message from the selection committee to Notre Dame – baseball is serious business at this level, so get serious about it. Then you can be a regional regular. Maybe even a super-regional one as well.
Notre Dame deserved to host a super regional last season, but instead schlepped to Starkville, Mississippi where homefield was a huuuuuuge factor. At the least, Notre Dame deserved a regional this season.
“That’s two years in a row, tough news on the hosting front for Notre Dame,” analyst Mike Rooney, who played collegiately at Notre Dame (1988-92), said during ESPN's selection show.
Why didn’t it get one? There are bigger-picture issues about this program, be it facilities (Eck Stadium was outdated a decade ago) or infrastructure (it’s common for the Irish to bus to Chicago to hop flights to away games) that could improve its place. Fine. Fix them. Build the best stadium north of the Mason-Dixon Line, one that beckons baseball fans from one end of the Indiana Toll Road to the other. Fly charter, so you eliminate travel troubles.
But no amount of attention, no amount of money will fix the one constant concern – the South Bend weather. For college baseball, honestly, it sucks. There’s cold. There’s wind. There’s snow. There’s more cold. There’s more wind. Sometimes, more snow.
There’s a reason the Irish played 12 straight games away from home to start the season. There’s a reason why no southern school of any importance will play a non-league series at Eck. That’s how you get a non-league schedule strength of 259. Ugh.
Baseball’s an outdoor sport, and it’s hard to get/be/stay outdoors in South Bend in February and March, and sometimes, even April and May. The best stadium around isn’t going to fix that. More resources (i.e., dollars) devoted to travel/recruiting/infrastructure aren’t going to fix that.
You can count on one hand the number of nice days the Irish enjoyed at home this season. The rare nice spring day in Northern Indiana is just another day at Louisville or Miami or Tennessee or Vanderbilt. That’s not changing. Ever.
"Unfortunately for them, geography is sometimes their enemy," United States Military Academy director of athletics Mike Buddie, the tourney selection chair said in a roundabout response to a question on ESPN of why Notre Dame was not selected as a regional host.
Still, Notre Dame is a program maxing out the best of what it has by doing more with less. Then it’s told by the NCAA to do more. To be better.
Jarrett surely will spin the regional snub in a way that will have everyone from leadoff hitter Spencer Myers to associate athletic communications director/baseball Matt Paras locked in come Friday’s first pitch. Send them on the road? Fine, Jarrett will counsel his club, just go send everyone else home.
The Irish are 34-13 away from home under Jarrett. They might be fine.
Deep down, though, the regional snub cuts the program in deeper ways. Jarrett seems the kind of coach who wants to stay and fight the good baseball fight and build a program and a culture that he can claim as his own. Can he? Will he? He’s got something special going, but it feels only a matter of time before he follows the Pat Murphy/Paul Mainieri career path out of town.
Both those former Irish head coaches built special squads, then left for programs where baseball just matters more. Hard to argue Murphy’s move to Arizona State. Ditto for when Mainieri moved on to LSU. It seems that it’s when, not if, Jarrett realizes that building a perennial power in these parts isn’t possible.
There seems a ceiling on programs in this part of the country. How many more seasons will the 50-year-old Jarrett want to keep banging into it? For those scoring at home, that’s twice in as many seasons.
Thing is, these Irish are good. First baseman Carter Putz is good. Third baseman Jack Brannigan is good. Right fielder Brooks Coetzee is good. Left-handed ace John Michael Bertrand is really good. They deserve a chance to show everyone just how good.
It’s disappointing that it won’t be in South Bend, where the weekend forecast calls for sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.
2022 NCAA Division I Baseball Championship Games
Friday, June 3, 2022 (all times Eastern)
Knoxville Regional hosted by Tennessee
#2 Georgia Tech (34-22) vs. #3 Campbell (40-17), 12 p.m., ESPN+
#1 Tennessee (53-7) vs. #4 Alabama St (34-23), 6 p.m., SECN
Stanford Regional hosted by Stanford
#1 Stanford (41-14) vs. #4 Binghamton (22-28), 4 p.m., ESPN+
#2 Texas St. (45-12) vs. #3 UC Santa Barbara (43-12), 9 p.m., ESPN+
Corvallis Regional hosted by Oregon State
#2 Vanderbilt (36-21) vs. #3 San Diego (36-18), 4 p.m., ESPNU
#1 Oregon St. (44-15) vs. #4 New Mexico St. (24-32), 10 p.m., ESPNU
Blacksburg Regional hosted by Virginia Tech
#2 Gonzaga (36-17) vs. #3 Columbia (30-16), 1 p.m., ESPN+
#1 Virginia Tech (41-12) vs. #4 Wright St. (30-25), 7 p.m., ACCN
College Station Regional hosted by Texas A&M
#1 Texas A&M (37-18) vs. #4 Oral Roberts (38-18), 2 p.m., ESPN+
#2 TCU (36-20) vs. #3 Louisiana (36-21), 8 p.m., ESPN+
Coral Gables Regional hosted by Miami (Florida)
#1 Miami (FL) (39-18) vs. #4 Canisius (29-23), 12 p.m., ESPN+
#2 Arizona (37-23) vs. #3 Ole Miss (32-22), 7 p.m., ESPNU
Stillwater Regional hosted by Oklahoma St.
#2 Arkansas (38-18) vs. #3 Grand Canyon (41-19), 1 p.m., SECN
#1 Oklahoma St. (39-20) vs. #4 Missouri St. (30-27), 7 p.m., ESPN+
Greenville Regional hosted by East Carolina
#1 East Carolina (42-18) vs. #4 Coppin St. (24-28), 1 p.m., ESPN+
#2 Virginia (38-17) vs. #3 Coastal Carolina (36-18-1), 6 p.m., ESPN+
Austin Regional hosted by Texas
#1 Texas (42-19) vs. #4 Air Force (30-27), 2 p.m., LHN
#2 Louisiana Tech (42-19) vs. #3 DBU (34-22-1), 7:30 p.m., ESPN+
Chapel Hill Regional hosted by North Carolina
#1 North Carolina (38-19) vs. #4 Hofstra (30-21), 2 p.m., ESPN+
#2 Georgia (35-21) vs. #3 VCU (40-18), 7 p.m., ESPN+
Hattiesburg Regional hosted by Southern Mississippi
#1 Southern Miss. (43-16) vs. #4 Army West Point (31-23), 2 p.m., ESPN+
#2 LSU (38-20) vs. #3 Kennesaw St. (35-26), 7 p.m., ESPN+
Louisville Regional hosted by Louisville
#1 Louisville (38-18-1) vs. #4 Southeast Mo. St. (37-20), 2 p.m., ESPN+
#2 Oregon (35-23) vs. #3 Michigan (32-26), 7 p.m., ESPN+
Gainesville Regional hosted by Florida
#2 Oklahoma (37-20) vs. #3 Liberty (37-21), 1 p.m., ESPN+
#1 Florida (39-22) vs. #4 Central Mich. (42-17), 6:30 p.m., ESPN+
Auburn Regional hosted by Auburn
#2 UCLA (38-22) vs. #3 Florida St. (33-23), 12 p.m., ESPN2
#1 Auburn (37-19) vs. #4 Southeastern La. (30-29), 7 p.m., ESPN+
College Park Regional hosted by Maryland
#2 Wake Forest (40-17-1) vs. #3 UConn (46-13), 1 p.m., ESPNU
#1 Maryland (45-12) vs. #4 LIU (37-19), 7 p.m., ESPN+
Statesboro Regional hosted by Ga. Southern
#2 Notre Dame (35-14) vs. #3 Texas Tech (37-20), 2 p.m., ACCN
#1 Ga. Southern (40-18) vs. #4 UNC Greensboro (34-28), 7 p.m., ESPN+