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Bo's Baseball Bites: Looking Ahead To 2024 NCAA Division 1 College Baseball




Making 305 Fit Into 64, then 8

Conference Shakeups Add Up to Some Confusing, Interesting Times This Spring


DALLAS – There are 305 NCAA Division 1 baseball teams competing this year. Actually, "only" 295 of them are eligible for the Golden Crown of the NCAA Championships, June's Men's College World Series at Omaha, NE, since 10 teams are still transitioning to D1 from other divisions. For supporters of those 10 teams reading this, a hearty welcome! And, for opponents of the transitioning period, which was a hot topic during this past football season, this might be a good time to clarify I'm merely reporting the rules, I don't make them!


As we try to make 305/295 fit into 64 bids and 8 Omaha slots, keep in mind 30 conferences will designate their tournament or regular-season champions to receive automatic bids for the 64-team field. At this time, the NCAA D1 Baseball Championship has not joined its basketball counterpart with an additional four "play-in" games, so we'll have 16 NCAA Regional sites of four teams each starting up May 31.


Yes, some conference races will be vastly different in several cases, after leagues such as the Big 12, Missouri Valley, and Western Athletic Conferences added to their membership, creating many more opportunities for upset-minded programs to reach the Diamond Dance.


For starters, the Big 12 Conference will bring 10 teams to its Phillips 66 Championship in Arlington, TX, at Globe Life Field, home of the 2023 MLB World Series titlist Texas Rangers. The XII has added four teams to its overall standings, with BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF joining Big 12 baseball competition. Conference member Iowa State dropped baseball after the 2001 season.


That continues a progression of Big 12 tourneys which began with six teams in Oklahoma City in 1997 and ’98. It expanded to eight entries in 1999, when the NCAA selection process added 16 teams for its current 64-team field, and remained eight teams through the 2023 campaign. Interestingly, from 2006-10, the Big 12 tourney had pool play, with two divisional winners meeting for the championship instead of traditional double-elimination. Ironically, it's been a format sandwich of sorts, with double elimination used from 1997-2005 and again 2011-present. TCU will seek to defend its ’23 Big 12 title in this year's new expanded field.


The Southeastern Conference remains at 14 baseball members for 2024, and the postseason tourney in popular and long-time host city Hoover, AL, remains a 12-team field. The SECT starts on a Tuesday, with four single-elimination "play-in" games yielding an eight-team double elimination field of two four-team brackets. But, just when you think you've figured that out, the SEC reverts back to single elimination for the last four teams, in the Semifinals and Finals rounds on May 25-26. Don't look now and keep reading below, but they're changing everything again in 2025!


The Missouri Valley Conference NCAA qualifier this year returns to Evansville, IN for the first time since 1998, with eight of the ten baseball-competing schools vying in the double-elimination format. The MVC traditionally has held its postseason tourney in campus settings, as opposed to the former Big Eight and later Big 12 meets, which have been contested at neutral locations since 1978.


The Valley’s jousts date back to 1947, when Oklahoma State (then Oklahoma A&M) hosted and won the first postseason meet. That continued annually through 1975, skipped 1976, and resumed 1977-2019 (COVID-19 cancelled 2020), a span reaching a record total of 76 tournaments with the '24 tussle. An interesting footnote, MVC bylaws specify that Evansville has to finish among the Top Eight teams to qualify for the 2024 tourney, even as host school.


The reorganized University Credit Union Western Athletic Conference also brings in eight teams (seems like a magic and convenient number for double-elimination tournaments these days), from a field of 11 schools competing during the regular season.


The WAC has changed texture drastically over the last 8-10 years, with several former members of the Southland and Lone Star Conferences in the current fold. Now vying for the eight tourney slots, and NCAA berth, are Abilene Christian, California Baptist, Grand Canyon, Sacramento State, Seattle U., Stephen F. Austin, Tarleton State, UT Arlington, Utah Tech, Utah Valley, and UT Rio Grande Valley. It all makes for some fascinating intersectional matchups, both during the regular campaign and in postseason.


And, while we've yet to officially throw an pitch or swing a bat yet in 2024, some teams and fans are already looking ahead and can’t wait for the even-more changes that 2025 brings.


As already hinted, the SEC, with the addition of venerable college baseball programs Oklahoma and Texas, will swell to 16 teams in ’25 and has already announced it will play a first-ever single elimination tourney over six days. The Nos. 5-8 seeds will have a one-day bye after the 9-16 seeds open the tourney (9 vs. 16, 10 vs. 15, etc.), and the Nos. 1-4 seeds will have two rounds of byes. Having every team make the tourney was reportedly a popular consensus among the league's coaches, but while everyone will mathematically have a chance, winning the SEC's automatic bid for a lower-8 seed team will require stacking a lot of wins and throwing a lot of arms over a marathon duration in baseball terms.


In 2025, the Big 12 will add former PAC-12 Conference members Colorado (which dropped varsity baseball in 1980 due to NCAA Title IX concerns), Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah. So far, the expanded, 14-team Big 12 tourney format has not been revealed. Expect the unexpected with the Big 12 these days.


And those current conference mottos – the SEC “Just Means More” and the Big 12 “More Than 12” – definitely fit into the current and future of the changing face of NCAA Division I, and DI conference baseball in particular. Though the administration of the championship events and formats may get a little wacky sometimes, let's continue to rejoice that we still have a great and enjoyable game to play, coach, and watch!


*****



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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