This weekend’s softball action in Alabama provided a convenient narrative for those who doubted the Gophers softball team and/or thought the NCAA was justified in not giving Minnesota one of 16 seeds and the right to host a regional despite the Gophers’ Division-I best 54 victories coming into the tournament.
Minnesota, of course, lost in the regional final to host Alabama — falling twice to the Crimson Tide by 1-0 scores in the tournament.
But even brushing aside the controversial ball four call that ended that first 1-0 loss, this remains the bigger truth: the NCAA was hardly vindicated in its slight of the Gophers heading into the tournament. In fact, the governing body and its SEC-loving softball committee looked even worse Sunday when the Gophers were eliminated than it did a week ago when making the still-inexplicable decision to send the Gophers on the road.
If your natural reaction is to look at the losses to Alabama and yell “See! See! The Gophers really were overrated!” … well, let’s just agree to disagree (that’s the polite way to put it). That has been the message on plenty of tweets, online comments and even e-mails to me from readers.
The Gophers went 2-2 in the tournament, finishing 18-5 on the season against teams that made the NCAA field of 64 and 56-5 overall. If you don’t think home field advantage or having to play one of the top 16 teams in the regional — something Minnesota should not have had to do — played a role in the Gophers’ ouster, I don’t know what to tell you.
Sure, the Gophers would have had to beat good teams no matter what. And yes, if they would have made it past a regional or even to the College World Series, they would have faced tougher teams than Alabama. But the NCAA made that path much harder than was deserved.
You could have made a more compelling “overrated” case had the NCAA properly given the Gophers one of the 16 seeds and they still lost at home. But even then, reducing a 60-plus game season to one weekend isn’t really fair. The 2001 Seattle Mariners went 116-46 before getting bounced in a short series. Golden State went 73-9 in the NBA regular season last year but didn’t win a championship. Those were remarkable teams who misfired at the wrong time.
The Gophers’ performance was below their standards, and Alabama is a worthy regional champion. Both teams probably deserve to still be playing in the tournament. The NCAA committee made that impossible, and they look worse for it.