When a baseball game gets canceled due to rain, it’s colloquially known as a washout. Washouts are no fun for players, coaches or fans, all of whom are eager to see the game played as soon as possible.
If one game or series can be considered a washout, then 2020 is a hurricane.
But as with any hurricane, there is an eye of the storm: a brief moment when all seems calm, almost even normal. In the berating monsoon that is 2020, this eye has manifested itself as a glimmer of hope for college baseball fans — a Pac-12 conference baseball tournament.
The news was quietly announced Thursday by the Arizona Daily Star, though an official announcement from the conference is still pending. Despite the relatively small amount of attention the announcement received, the decision has far-reaching implications for the Pac-12 and the college baseball landscape.
With this end-of-season addition, the Pac-12 joins every other Power Five baseball conference in having a league tournament. Come postseason, this will ultimately even the playing field for the Conference of Champions, which often struggles to garner the same respect as the SEC, Big 12 or ACC, all conferences with tournaments of their own.
Most importantly, a conference tournament will provide excellent opportunities for Pac-12 teams and players. Conference tournaments of any sport have an air of excitement around them, serving as platforms for top teams to make a statement, bubble teams to prove their worth one last time and struggling squads to make a Cinderella run.
This is especially true in college baseball, for which the final weekend of the season is a common determinant of postseason seeding. For the past few decades, Pac-12 teams have played a normal conference series to finish off the year, while the SEC and ACC powers have partaken in a nationally televised conference tournament.
A conference tournament may have a massive effect on the prominence of the Pac-12 in major postseason discussions. Middle-of-the-Pac teams will have the opportunity to flash leather against the conference’s biggest contenders, potentially elevating what would have been a regionals run into a legitimate postseason stretch. Additionally, with many Western teams lacking the strong RPIs that Eastern schools boast — only eight of the top 50 ranked teams in the 2019 RPI hailed from the West Coast — a few more quality wins may go a long way with the selection committee.
Teams from other Power Five conferences have clearly benefited from conference tournaments. The 2018 TCU squad made the NCAA regionals despite a sub-.500 conference record partially due to its performance in the Big 12 tournament, in which the team was bounced in the quarterfinals. The Horned Frogs went on to clobber Cal 13-2, which was led by Golden Spikes winner Andrew Vaughn, in the first game of their regional appearance. With a sport as unscripted and volatile as baseball, all a team needs is a chance to flip its season’s script entirely — a chance that Pac-12 teams now have.
There is a Catch-22 to an end-of-season tournament, however. The Pac-12 has already decided to keep its current conference schedule, a slate of 11 series against every conference foe. With the addition of a tournament to the last week of the season, Pac-12 teams will lose a weekend earlier in the season that is usually devoted to nonconference opponents. These particular weekends are usually crucial for bolstering Western teams’ resumes, especially because they are afforded the chance to play teams from across the country that they usually would never see during the season. Dropping a series off the calendar in an already short nonconference slate could possibly hurt some teams down the line.
The Pac-12 may benefit in this regard given the current circumstances, however, as teams would much rather play local than travel dangerously and expensively far for an RPI booster — so in the end, forfeiting one nonconference series may not come back to bite the conference.
The locality of a conference tournament also helps bring attention to the West Coast. Past the MLB4 Tournament, Southern California College Baseball Classic and Tony Gwynn Classic — which feature many Eastern teams anyway — the West Coast has relatively few nationally recognized college baseball tournaments. A Pac-12 tournament will provide a venue for national recognition and for some of the most talented teams in the country.
On top of that, the atmosphere of such an event would attract fans from across the area. The Pac-12 is currently shopping different venues for the tournament, but Scottsdale Stadium, the spring training stadium of the San Francisco Giants, is rumored to be atop the list. The spring training home of a major league team would be a pristine location for the merging of college baseball fans and MLB fans alike.
Overall, a Pac-12 baseball tournament should do wonders for the conference, helping it establish more national recognition and respect. And although it’s easy to get too excited for any future sporting event — especially given that the country is currently severely sports-deprived — a Pac-12 baseball tournament is as good as anything to look forward to in the years to come.