This year's edition of the College World Series is set to kick off on Saturday, July 19th. The CWS is something to look forward to in any year, but this season's edition feels extra special following a canceled tournament in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For those looking to watch who are unfamiliar with college baseball, the playoff structure may feel confusing compared to other sports in both the collegiate and professional ranks. Despite the seemingly foreign structure, college baseball's postseason format is exciting and full of surprises. Take last weekend's super regionals for example: SEC champion and top-ranked team Arkansas was upset in dramatic fashion by NC State.
The Road to the CWS
Before college's eight best squads descended upon Omaha, it is important to understand how they got here. College baseball's postseason is divided into three separate sections: the Regionals, Super Regionals, and World Series. The tournament begins with a group of 64 Division I teams (similar to the NCAA men's basketball tournament).
- 30 conference-winning teams from across the nation earn an automatic birth to the postseason, while the other 34 are selected as at-large bids, determined by the NCAA Division I Baseball Committee
- 16 teams are given what is referred to as a national seed, which gives them the option of hosting a super regional round series, assuming they advance past the regionals.
- The group of national seeds also act as the de facto favorites to take home a title.
The Regional round has 16 brackets composed of four teams. The four in each group take part in what is known as a double-elimination, where it requires a team to lose twice before being officially eliminated.
The regional No. 1 team faces the No. 4, while No. 2 and 3 play each other. The winners of those two games play each other, while the losers play an elimination game. The loser of the 'winners' game then plays the winner of the 'losers' elimination game. Whoever wins that matchup will then face the team that won both of its games. The team that has won both of their games will only need to take one game out of two, but the team that had lost previously during the regionals must win both games to advance to the super regionals.
The super regionals are much more straightforward. If one of the top eight national seeds wins their region, they will host the super regional series. Otherwise, the NCAA will announce the host team following the regionals. This year was an exception to this rule; due to COVID-19, super regional host ballparks stayed the same, regardless of if a national seed was eliminated in the regionals.
Once the super regionals begin, teams will take part in a best of three series, where the first to two wins advances to the College World Series. It is worth noting that national seeds cannot face off against each other until the Super Regionals round, which means that each year we usually get the chance to see elite teams battle it out for a spot in the CWS. The eight teams that survive the Super Regionals punch their tickets to the sport's grandest stage in Omaha, Nebraska.
The College World Series
Unlike the nice and tidy three-game set of the super regionals, the College World Series looks a lot more like the chaos that is the regionals round.
The group of eight that made their way to Omaha are not reseeded (where the top remaining team would play the worst). Instead, they face off based on the region that they won, similar to the NCAA men's basketball tournament. For example, #2 overall seed Texas will face #7 seed Mississippi State in the CWS, yet #3 Tennessee takes on unranked Virginia, who advanced in a region that #6 TCU failed to win.
Just as it was in the regionals, the College World Series is a double-elimination bracket, with each team needing to lose twice before being eliminated. The first two games on each side of the bracket (four teams on each side, eight total) are straightforward, with the winners advancing to the next round. The two losers then face each other in an elimination game, with the winner going on to play the lower-ranked team of the two winners.
Whichever team wins that game advances, while the loser must play the higher-ranked seed. The winner goes on to play in a single-elimination game, with the victor headed to the final round. From there, the last two teams left standing face off in a best of three series for the National Championship.
All of this can sound hectic, so check out the 2019 College World Series bracket for a better understanding of how everything works. It may sound overly complex and intricate, but the sport's postseason is designed to find a fine balance between unpredictability and competition. While though it would be fun to see the top dogs get bumped out early, even the best teams can lose a single game.
The College World Series is one of the most intense environments in collegiate sports. To play ball on the hollowed grounds of Omaha, a place countless programs have failed to reach, is the greatest accomplishment in college sports. Stay tuned to the high-stakes action over the next twelve days, and expect the unexpected.