NORMAN — The nightmare scenario that keeps Oklahoma baseball coach Sunny Golloway out of deep sleep keeps drawing closer. On May 28, the field for the NCAA Tournament is going to be announced. As of Tuesday, the Sooners appear to be on the outside looking in.
The reason is where it stands in the Ratings Percentage Index. The all-powerful tip sheet the NCAA Tournament selection committee uses to rank teams isn’t fond of how OU got to 30-19 on the season. That 3-12 mark against teams ranked in the top 50 is like dragging a 200-pound ball and chain around.
OU is not alone. The RPI isn’t fond of the Big 12 Conference as a whole. Texas and Oklahoma State are tied with Texas A&M for second place in the league. The Longhorns are No. 47 in the RPI and Oklahoma State is No. 85. That’s typically too low for an at-large berth.
So, how did the Big 12 Conference, which has placed at least five teams in the NCAA Tournament every season since 1998 and typically considered no worse than the third best league in college baseball, fall out of favor?
Two things happened: Nebraska left the Big 12 and the Big 12 failed to adjust the schedule to make up for the Huskers’ departure.
The Huskers weren’t even good enough to qualify for the Big 12 tournament their last two seasons in the league. How could that make a difference?
What Nebraska was good enough to do is keep conference teams from playing a three-game series against lowly teams in April and May. With two off weeks just about every conference team has played at least one weekend series against a team ranked below 200 in RPI in the final eight weeks of the season.
“We didn’t see it at the time, and coaches were part of it; it’s not an administrative deal from the Big 12 office; it’s everybody,” OU coach Sunny Golloway said. “Those two bye weekends means we’ve added over 20 bad RPI games to the league.”
Finding quality teams for a weekend series once conferences begins is tougher than a $2 steak. The only teams available are from mid-level conferences or independents.
OU (30-19, 10-10 Big 12) was forced into a three-game series with Alabama State on April 20-22. Alabama State is No. 266 in the current RPI. OSU will host Alcorn State (No. 270) for a three-game series this weekend. Kansas State faces Nebraska-Omaha (No. 275) this weekend. Texas will play a doubleheader with Texas Southern (No. 274) on Saturday.
Win or lose, all those games will drag the conference’s RPI down further.
Golloway and OSU coach Frank Anderson have both said they are for adding more Bedlam games — perhaps a second Bedlam series — to next season’s schedule. Fan interest is one reason. Raising both teams’ RPI is a major factor, too.
It’s going to be a bigger factor next season when Texas A&M and Missouri are playing in the SEC. The addition of TCU will soften some of the blow to the league’s stature. But West Virginia, which is currently No. 160 in the RPI, doesn’t figure to add much.
“We have to get rid of the bye weeks. We might need to start playing some league teams twice,” Golloway said. “We might have a home-away Big 12 series (with OSU). And we still might play in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. I think it’s coming because we have to do something.”
But that’s next season.
The Sooners’ only saving grace this season is that it faces Baylor for a three-game series, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Friday at L. Dale Mitchell Park. The Bears (38-8, 18-0) are No. 3 in the RPI. Win the series and OU’s RPI will skyrocket.
Winning the series would also give the Sooners a winning record in the conference. Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1999, every team above .500 in conference play has received an invite.
“I think a lot of it depends on how we play against Baylor,” Golloway said. “A lot of what I’m hearing around the country is there’s three or four teams from our league that are going to make it. If that’s the case, that’s really unfair. In the history of the Big 12, there’s never been less than five. Just because we lose Nebraska, which didn’t make it to the Big 12 tournament the last two years, supposedly we’re not gonna get our five.”
John Shinn 366-3536 firstname.lastname@example.org