With Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Louisville joining the ACC as full-members for baseball (and Maryland leaving), the best conference in the country will grow even bigger and stronger.
The ACC currently plays a gimmicky round robin style tournament wherein only the top 8 teams in the conference make the event, forming two pools of four. One pool consists of the #1, #4, #5, and #8 seeds, the logical opponents for a conference leader. The other pool contains the #2, #3, #5, and #7. All participants are guaranteed to play the other three teams in their pool, and a winner is determined, often by ridiculous tie-breaker rules, out of each pool for a one-game championship game.
Here are some of the problems with that format. Seeding, and pool placement offer little advantage, thus degrading the importance of conference standings. While it is nice that everyone who makes the tournament is guaranteed at least three games, one loss can often be enough to eliminate you. Take Clemson for example. The Tigers lost to Georgia Tech in the 2012 ACC Tournament, but still finished 2-1 during pool play. Nonetheless, Georgia Tech also finished 2-1, had the tie-breaker and advanced. Worse yet, it is possible to have three teams finish 2-1 with one team ending 0-3 and have arbitrary tie-breaker rules decide the pool champion. While pool play may sound enticing as a means to subvert the “anything can happen in one game” nature of baseball, it’s a hypocritical excuse for the format, given the championship game is not played in a best of three format.
With the additional teams joining the conference, maybe there’s a better way to structure the tournament. The standard bracket tree with the #1 seed playing the #8 seed, #2 v. #7, and so on would certainly remove confusion and make for a much more exciting tournament (and a more important regular season). If it concerns you that such a move would make it harder for the best team to come out on top, then why not make the championship matchup best of three, playing the 2nd and potential third game as part of an exciting doubleheader?
Finally, here’s the kicker. With additional teams joining the conference, let’s add a #8 vs. #9 play-in game. Imagine Notre Dame vs Georgia Tech playing on Tuesday for the right to play a #1 seeded FSU or a #2 seeded Clemson playing a #7 seeded Louisville in an elimination game on Wednesday. Now that’s infinitely more exciting than just two teams in the same pool playing a standard round robin game.
Of course, I understand that the current format guaranteeing three games encourages fans to buy tickets and travel to see their team play. Who wants to buy a ticket booklet just to end up seeing one game? Still though, this hasn’t forced ACC basketball into a gimmick format. Is that the only reason the baseball tournament is played in this fashion? What do you think? Am I on to something, or would this hurt ticket sales too much?
Anyway, on to the tournament. Go Tigers! Beat State!
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