NORMAN — One of the major topics of discussion at Wednesday’s Women’s College World Series media day was about the one thing that has probably changed most in the past 10 years in the sport: Parity throughout the country.
For years, the sport was almost exclusively the domain of the West Coast. Then-Pac-10 teams comprised the majority of the final field of eight and almost always walked away with the title, usually UCLA or Arizona. From 1998 through 2004, Pac-10 teams won all but two titles, with the WAC’s Fresno State claiming the title in 1998 and the Big 12’s Oklahoma breaking through in 2000.
While the tournament title has still gone to West Coast schools plenty of times since then, the field around the tournament has changed. Oklahoma, Florida, Michigan and even the Sun Belt’s Louisiana-Lafayette have become tournament regulars in the past several years, and the last title to go to a West Coast team was in 2011 to Arizona State.
The parity is even more drastic this year. While the Pac-12’s Oregon is the tournament’s top seed, it’s not just the only Pac-12 team, it’s also the only West Coast team in the field of eight. The Big 12 has a pair of representatives in Baylor and Oklahoma, and the SEC leads the field with three teams including No. 14 Kentucky, which upset UCLA in the Super Regional to advance to its first-ever Women’s College World Series.
“Softball is all over the country,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. “So many of the games are televised now. They sit at home as little girls and watch softball on ESPN. All the little girls dream of coming here. It’s amazing.”
Not long ago, that parity meant that World Series field wouldn’t be dominated by Pac-12 teams. But increasingly it means that West Coast schools aren’t the de facto favorites to win the title simply because of their location.