There was nothing remotely sweet about this 16.
It didn’t seem like a seed so much as a slap, and the Washington softball team displayed its disgust.
After the NCAA Division I Softball Committee revealed that the Huskies — ranked fifth in the country in the USA Today/coaches poll — were seeded 16th in this year’s NCAA tournament, players walked out of the auditorium in utter revulsion.
Yes, they still get to host a regional, an advantage they would have ceded had they been even one seed lower. But if they advance out of that four-team regional, the Huskies would likely have to beat No. 1 overall seed Oklahoma on the Sooners’ home field to advance to the College World Series.
It’s a brutal draw for UW (41-11). Brutal for Oklahoma, too. So how did this happen?
How does a team that placed second in the Pac-12 with a record of 18-5 get seeded below Arizona State (15th) and Arizona (11th), which finished 12-10 and 12-9 in conference play, respectively? How does a team with Gabbie Plain (29-2) — possibly the best pitcher in the country — get the short shrift when the committee knows she’ll eat most of UW’s postseason innings?
The coaches’ poll, the ESPN poll, and the D1Softball.com poll all had the Huskies ranked fifth. So what did the committee see?
Some might point out that the Huskies were 16th in RPI, which uses a mathematical formula to rank teams based on their results and strengths of schedule. Except … Oklahoma has the fourth-highest RPI and snagged the No. 1 seed. Kentucky has the 18th-best RPI and is seeded 14th. Oregon has the 15th-best RPI and went unseeded. Clearly there are other factors.
Some might contend that the Huskies had two rather embarrassing losses. One was to San Diego State, which is 86th in RPI. Another was to Nevada, which is 116th. The committee will ding teams for these types of defeats. Except … fifth-seeded Oklahoma State lost to Kansas City (128th RPI). Tenth-seeded Florida State lost to Louisville (73rd in RPI). Plus, the aforementioned Huskies losses were in February.
Perhaps recency bias is at play here. The Huskies did, after all, lose two of their past four games, both of which came against Stanford (39th RPI). Except … 15th-seeded Arizona State (32-14) — which has won nine fewer games than the Huskies, lost three more and finished well behind them in the Pac-12 — dropped two of its past three games, both to Oregon State (60th RPI).
This one’s a helmet-scratcher, and the committee hasn’t done much to explain it. An email and Twitter direct message to an NCAA softball contact was not returned Monday. Huskies coach Heather Tarr will not be made available until Wednesday, when she and select players meet with the media via Zoom.
Other Pac-12 coaches have sounded off, though. No. 2 UCLA was the only team from the conference to get a top-eight seed, meaning if the tournament goes chalk, it will be the sole team from the league to host a super regional.
“To be honest with you, I’m so disappointed,” UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez told ESPN. “In all the years of being a part of this, to have the Pac-12 disrespected to this level, I’m shocked. There were four to five teams that were in the top eight for the majority of the year, and we played each other, and we actually played more games to strengthen our schedule against each other. So I’m shocked, and I’m very disappointed.”
You’re always going to hear coaches stand up for their conferences. Inouye-Perez was basically obligated to speak out in this instance. But D1Softball.com writer Graham Hays is not. Hays, who spent several years at ESPN before changing gigs, seemed just as perplexed by the committee’s treatment of the Pac-12.
“It was very surprising. Except for UCLA, from top to bottom all of those (Pac-12) teams were under-seeded,” Hays said.
As for Washington getting the 16 seed?
“It’s hard to necessarily fathom that conclusion,” Hays said.
There’s obviously a big difference in how the committee views RPI vs. that of the coaches and writers. If the former went by the USA Today rankings, three Pac-12 teams (UCLA, Washington and Arizona) would be in the top eight. Instead, we’re likely looking at an Oklahoma-Washington super regional, a matchup that seems more fitting for a College World Series final.
The Huskies will try to make good. But this situation doesn’t make sense.