After another fantastic season of college baseball, we’ve finally come to the main event. The NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament and, in three weeks’ time, the College World Series in Omaha. In my mind, it’s the best event in baseball. 64 teams playing the best sport in the world, with all the passion, emotion, and tradition of college sports to go along with it. And you don’t have to cross your fingers for a Game Seven to see do-or-die drama. Almost every game sees teams putting their seasons on the line for the chance to make a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Omaha. With ESPN putting in the resources to televise every single minute of the tournament on WatchESPN and their family of networks, this tournament is better than ever.
Which brings me to the Bracket Challenge. I love this tournament more than anything, and the point of this blog is to get other people into the CWS and all the other stuff that makes college baseball great. Every year, I see people having a blast with their basketball brackets, and it’s always mystified me that no one does this sort of thing. (It’s not as straightforward as basketball’s, but how hard is it to pick the winner of a four-team Regional?) Below, I’ll explain the tournament format, what the Bracket Challenge will look like, how to enter, what the rules are, and what lucrative prizes await the winner. May the best fan win.
The modern, 64-team tournament format was first used in 1999, and it’s spread over four weekends from late May to late June. 31 teams get in automatically, with the other 33 receiving at-large bids. The first weekend is Regionals, when all 64 teams group into four-team brackets. The brackets are double elimination, which means (surprisingly enough) that you have to lose twice to be eliminated. The four teams are seeded, with the #1 seed drawn from the best 16 teams in the field (this team usually hosts the regional in their campus stadium), the #2 seed drawn from teams 17-32, the #3 from teams 33-48, and the #4 from 49-64, as viewed by the Selection Committee. They key in regionals is to win your first two games. If you can do that, a team needs to win an elimination game and then beat you twice to win the regional, a feat only three teams pulled off in 2014.
The 16 regional winners move on to the second weekend, Super Regionals. Here, the teams pair off to play eight best-of-three series. These matchups are determined before the tournament starts (whoever wins the Baton Rouge Regional this year will face whoever wins the Houston Regional, for example). Eight of the top Regional seeds have been named National Seeds by the Committee, which means they host a Super Regional if they get there. If they’re upset, the other Regional’s one seed hosts, and if they both get upset, the NCAA makes a decision on the fly. The eight winners of these three-game series move on to the main event in Omaha. Only two National Seeds advanced out of this round in 2014, but the number’s usually higher (sometimes as high as 6 or 7).
In Omaha, the four teams from the left side of the bracket (the #1, #4, #5, and #8 National Seeds, should they all get there) and the right side (#2, #3, #6, and #7) split off in two separate groups. They play the same four-team double-elimination style used in Regionals, and once two bracket winners are decided, they match up in a best-of-three championship series. The winner (Vanderbilt in 2014) takes home the national title.
The Bracket Challenge
The Bracket Challenge will have three parts. Feel free to play one, two, or all of them. The first is the main event, where you’ll fill out a bracket for the entire tournament (more on that below) and compete against everyone else who enters. This will last the whole month of the tournament, but if your bracket is busted after regionals, or if you get into things after that point, I’ll be doing mini-challenges for Super Regional pick-ems and the CWS bracket itself. Everything below pertains to the full-tournament challenge, and I’ll put up a new post for the other two in the weeks to come.
If you’re looking for expert advice for filling out the bracket, outlets like D1Baseball, College Baseball Insider, Baseball America, and Perfect Game will have detailed tournament previews going up throughout the week.
Submitting Your Bracket
So I’m going to spell out the information I need from you and give you a couple ways of getting it to me. Really, though, however I get it is fine, as long as I get the four things listed below. For reference, you can find the bracket here at NCAA.com.
(1) Rank each regional. If we take Sacred Heart’s Fort Worth Regional, for example, you need to tell me who among TCU, NC State, Stony Brook, and the Pioneers will go 0-2 (that’s a 4), 1-2 (that’s a 3), finish as the runner-up (a 2), and win the Regional (a 1).
(2) Pick your supers. Once you have 16 Regional winners, pick who wins each best-of-three series. If you pick TCU to win its Regional and Texas A&M, the top seed in the paired Regional, to come out of College Station, for example, tell me which of these teams wins the Super and gets to Omaha.
(3) Rank each side of the CWS bracket. After picking your eight Super Regional winners, you’ll have four teams on the left side of the CWS bracket, and four teams on the right. Rank each set of four 1-4, just like you did for Regionals. A 4 means you think they guy two-and-cue (Omahaspeak for 0-2), a 3 means 1-2, a 2 means they lose in the bracket title round, and a 1 means they move on to the national championship series.
(4) Pick a winner of the championship series, along with how many games it’ll take (2 or 3) and a score of the final game.
(5) Get all this information to me. Emails should go to firstname.lastname@example.org (make sure I respond to confirm I’ve gotten all the info I need to enter you in). Include a twitter handle (if you’ve got one) and a first name so I can keep everything straight when I post standings. Below are a few ways you could get the info to me, but really, any way you get me those four things is fine.
(a) Go to this link on Dropbox (email me ASAP if it’s not working). DO NOT edit the online file (it needs to be blank for everyone else to use. Click download up at the top right, open the file on your computer in Excel, follow the instructions on there to fill it out, and email it back to me at email@example.com.
(b) Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and (assuming you’ve got one) twitter handle. I’ll reply with the bracket in Excel form, you fill it out at your leisure, and email it back.
(c) Print a bracket from the NCAA’s link here, include those four things, scan it, and send it to me at email@example.com.
(d) Consult that bracket, and include those your bracket info in an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(e) Any other way you’d like. If you’ve got suggestions for easier ways (like a way to make that Excel file publicly available through the blog– I’m working on that, but WordPress is being pretty unhelpful), fire ’em at me, and I can add them to the list.
Submit up to three (3) brackets to the email address (again, that’s email@example.com) by 11:30 AM ET on Friday, a half hour before the first Regional starts. I’ll keep an updated standings page on the blog throughout the tournament. Points are awarded for the following things:
(1) Regional ranks. (odds: 1 in 4, points: 10 per correct rank) — In the first round of scoring, you get rewarded for each rank you pegged correctly in ranking Regionals 1-4. If you guessed correctly that lowly autobid would go 0-2, 10 points for you. If you had the right feeling about that host going belly up after two games, 10 points for you. If you picked that special three seed that made a run to a regional title, 10 points for you (and more later). Regional ranks will give you either 0, 10, 20, or 40 points from each Regional. (Not 30. Trust me.)
(2) Regional champions. (odds: 1 in 4, points: 40 per champion) — Technically, you have the same odds of pegging the Regional champion as you do the team that goes 0-2, but it’s a much greater show of skill to get the champion right. So in addition to whatever you picked up for the Regional ranks (first place included), you get 40 points for every Super Regional entrant you get correct. Thus, a perfect Regional is worth 80 points, 40 for getting every rank correct, and another 40 for the champion. If you only get the Regional champion, 50 points are still heading your way, 10 for the one rank you got correct, and 40 for that one right pick being the champion.
(3) Super Regional champions. (odds: 1 in 8, points: 125 per CWS participant) — The odds says I’m overrewarding a bit here, but I’m trying to. To my mind, correctly picking which of the eight teams in each pair of Regionals will get to Omaha is the prime show of skill possible in this style of bracket. After that, things go a bit haywire. So I’m giving you more than twice the reward I did for Regional champions, even though it’s only half as tough, statistically speaking, to pick the Super Regional champion. And this way, all of you who get the entire CWS field will get an even thousand points.
(4) CWS Bracket ranks. (odds: 1 in 32, points: 150 per correct rank) — I know the odds here say the reward should be higher, but I feel like this is really a crapshot. If you get an Omaha team correct, I don’t want to withhold that many points from you if you told me they’d go 1-2 there and they end up going 0-2. So if you are able to tell me how a team does in Omaha, the reward’s just a bit more than the one you got for getting them there in the first place.
(5) National title series berths. (odds: 1 in 32, points: 250 per correct rank) — Same us as the bracket ranks, but it means a lot more to me that you pegged the correct team to make the national title series. If you do, it’s 150 for getting their rank correct, then another 250 for the feat itself.
(6) National Champion. (odds: 1 in 64, points: 500) — The odds say I’m undervaluing this a bit, but I’m trying to. I think it’s awesome if you pick the National Champion (I’m giving you more than you’d get for getting perfect regionals on an entire side of the bracket, after all), but I don’t want someone with a bad bracket to be able to easily swoop in and steal it from someone who got a lot more Regional and Super Regional champions correctly.
(T) Tiebreakers. — We’ll cross this bridge if we come to it, but it’ll involve something to do with the title series length and final game score predictions you’ve all been including in your brackets.
(Notes) I’ll figure out some way of making the brackets publicly available, just so you can double-check for scoring mistakes. Might not happen by first pitch Friday, but I’ll get that done. Also, I’ll be throwing some test brackets in for laughs (one where the RPI tells me who to pick, for example), but those’ll just be in for comparison and illustration of how good/bad the rankings turned out. They obviously won’t be eligible to win.
No cash, unfortunately. (You think I make money from this?) But the winner gets three things. (1) Bragging rights. (2) A picture of their winning bracket with the national title winners dogpiling in the background, since I’m lucky enough to be heading out to Omaha this year. (3) A set of featured blog posts on a collegiate or summer ball team of their choice between now and the end of next season. If you can think of anything else of value I can actually offer (or prizes for other top finishers), let me know, and I’ll think about adding them to the list.
Let me know if you’ve got any questions, and enjoy!