This Friday, college baseball kicks off the 2013 NCAA Division I Baseball Championships, its version of March Madness, and over the following month 64 teams will compete in 130-plus games to determine a national champion. That's roughly twice the number of games played in the NCAA basketball tournament.
Are you new to the sport? Need a refresher? We've put together a crash-course on the college baseball postseason to get you ready for all the action.
Let's start with the selection process, which works pretty much like the basketball tourney. Thirty teams receive automatic bids via conference championships, and a selection committee chooses the other 34. Like in March Madness, teams are seeded, but in a bit of a different fashion. Sixteen teams receive regional seeds, meaning they get the opportunity to host during the first round (more on this in a bit), and eight of these are tabbed as national seeds and earn home-field advantage through the second round as well.
There are some key differences between the baseball and basketball tournaments. For starters, you don't have to listen to Dick Vitale yell at you. More significantly, the Baseball Championships allow for home field advantage. Unlike basketball, where games are played at pre-determined neutral sites, the first two rounds of the baseball tourney are held in the home stadiums of the regional and national seeds.
The other major difference is that the baseball championship is double-elimination. Teams must lose twice before being booted, and losses reset after each round. In fact, a team could theoretically lose four times in the span of the tournament and still claim the national championship.
Worried that the double-elimination format cuts down on upsets? No need to fret, we have your Cinderellas right here. Last year's fairy tale team was Stony Brook, a school of 16,000 in Long Island that came out of the Coral Gables regional as a bottom seed to advance all the way to the Elite Eight, taking two of three from perennial powerhouse LSU on its way. That would be like 16th-seeded Western Kentucky knocking off Kansas in the Big Dance. On Kansas's home court. Twice.
Now that we have the basics down, let's get familiar with the formatting of the tournament.
Round 1: Regionals
For the first round of action, the field is divided into 16 groups of four teams. Each group plays a round-robin double-elimination tournament, with the last team standing advancing to the next round. Teams are seeded one through four within each regional, with the host team usually, but not always, receiving the one-seed. Host teams are largely determined by merit, but the NCAA also considers a host's ability to generate revenue. By the end of regionals the field will have gone from 64 to 16 in four days.
Round 2: Super Regionals
At the beginning of the tournament, regionals are grouped together in super regional pairings. The winners of a regional pair advance to play each other in a best-of-three showdown in a super regional. Supers are played on the home field of the national seeds, assuming they've advanced. If not, the two teams re-bid for the right to host. So if you're bummed that your campus isn't getting to host, there's a chance it still could. Find the regional you're paired with and root for the upsets.
Round 3: The College World Series
The last eight surviving teams converge at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha for the College World Series. Teams are divided into two brackets of four, where they essentially play a regional format. The winners of each bracket then play a three-game series to determine a national champ.
ESPN is scheduled to broadcast every game of the tournament for the first time ever in 2013 (and has even created an NFL Red Zone-type program that will bounce you around the country for up-to-the-minute action across the tournament), meaning it'll be easier than ever to keep up with baseball's Big Dance.
Who knows, you may even be able to convince some coworkers to throw in on a bracket pool.