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Bo's Baseball Bites: From Humble Start in 1947, NCAA Tourney Now Big Deal




DALLAS – It really is hard to believe the first NCAA Baseball Championship in 1947 started with a mere 10 teams playing in East and West Divisions, after Southern and Central District playoffs elevated Clemson and Oklahoma to the Kalamazoo, MI, event.


Yes, that was Kalamazoo, MI, followed by another trek to that city in 1948 and a CWS in 1949 at historic Lawrence-Dumont Stadium in Wichita, KS.


Then, an energetic mayor from Omaha, NE named Johnny Rosenblatt decided to offer the sparkling new Omaha Class AAA minor league park – named Rosenblatt Stadium in his honor – and the CWS remains in Omaha some 74 years later, now at Charles Schwab (formerly TD Ameritrade) Park.


And it was not easy back in those formative years.


In fact, the American Baseball Coaches Association persuaded the NCAA, which had not offered a national baseball championship since its inception in 1906, to join the ABCA in promoting a title tournament.


From its humble beginnings in 1947, the World Series has become a national showcase for baseball, but not without some challenges.


For example, the joint ABCA-NCAA committee voted to divide the country into eight geographical districts in 1948, and similar to ’47, some schools chose after automatic qualification by winning conference championships not to participate in the NCAA Championship.


Mississippi State’s 1949 SEC-winning squad, for example, had several student-athletes committed to play summer baseball for two teams, with jobs assured as well, and decided not to accept an invitation to the NCAA District 3 tourney, which was played in Gastonia, NC, at a neutral minor league stadium site, from 1949-72.


Ironically, MSU later placed a bid, with community support, to host the NCAA District 3 tourneys from 1973-75 but was going through a coaching transition period and did not make the meet as a host school.


Even more ironic was the fact that Vanderbilt won its first two SEC titles in 1973 and ’74 in history under the inimitable coach Larry Schmittou, then came to Starkville to meet an up-and-coming Georgia Southern squad, coached by future AVCA and CBF Hall of Fame head coach Ron Polk.


By the time Polk was named to the MSU Head Coach position (the first full-time coaching-only hire in the SEC) in November 1975, he'd enjoyed the atmosphere in Starkville three times already, guiding Georgia Southern to the 1973 District 3 crown and automatic bid to face Ivy League champ Harvard in the first round of the College World Series, returning in 1974, again with Georgia Southern, then a third time in 1975 as an assistant to venerable Head Coach Ron Fraser with the Miami Hurricanes.


Along the way, the NCAA gradually expanded the field to 16 and 24 teams in the district tournaments, reaching 32 entries by 1973.


Then the NCAA Division I Baseball Committee made the interesting move to allow anywhere from 32-40 teams with different numbers of teams in geographical regions (much like men’s basketball) competing in eight meets of either four or six teams. Naturally every team lobbied for being placed in a four-team bracket double-elimination, since six-team pairings sometimes wore down pitching staffs just days before the World Series began.


As college baseball’s popularity continued to soar in the 1970s and 1980s with expanded NCAA national and other networks’ regional coverage, more teams were added for a 42-48-team field, the former with unique play-in games just before the regionals (which became a baseball model for future NCAA basketball postseason activity).


That bracketing survived through the 1998 season when the NCAA, coaches and administrators realized that a 300-member NCAA Division I total field easily could accommodate 16 four-team NCAA regionals, and that took place starting in 1999, with 8 two-team "Super" regionals supplying the field for advancing to Omaha.


The result has been some of the top regional action nationally for 24 seasons (excluding 2020, of course), expanded ESPN and regional network television coverage, and additional fan interest, to say the least.


With teams such as Charleston, Northeastern, TCU, Maryland, and others sitting on the outside looking in at the 64-team bracket, there have been increasing calls for 32 two-team (best 2-of-3) regional matchups and possibly even expansion of the brackets to 68, 72, 76, or even 96 teams with an additional week for NCAA qualification.


Time will tell on that, but expect some interesting summer meetings (again) with the NCAA Baseball Committee, with leading advocates of college baseball such as the American Baseball Coaches Association to relay very cogent advice about college baseball’s future.


*****


Bo Carter is the Executive Director of the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) and is a long time professional in sports media and information. He is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and has plied his trade in the Southeastern Conference, the Southwest Conference, and the Big 12 Conference. In addition to his NCBWA duties, he also serves as a consultant and columnist for the National Football Foundation. Follow the NCBWA, which produces ranking polls for D1, D2, and D3, as well as naming All America teams at both the D1 and D2 levels and the Dick Howser Trophy (presented each year in Omaha at the Men’s College World Series) at @NCBWA. And, if you’re a college baseball fan, you don’t have to be media to be a member, check them out at ncbwa.com and join today!

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