Shock. Shock and disbelief was the mood. —UVU coach Eric Madsen
SALT LAKE CITY –
The announcement was still on Utah Valley University's website Tuesday afternoon, which seemed a mournful oversight. The headline said: "NCAA Selection Show Party on Monday at 10 a.m. at Centre Stage."
Come join the fun — or the wake, as it turned out.
The Memorial Day gathering came off as planned, but the invitation didn't. The nation's most winning baseball team in 2012 had been dismissed. Team and coaches, athletic officials and several hundred fans gathered to see on ESPNU where the Wolverines would play and who they would meet.
The ending couldn't have been more abrupt if someone had unplugged the TV.
"Shock," said UVU coach Eric Madsen. "Shock and disbelief was the mood."
This isn't a unique story, of course. Teams often get passed over by selection committees in various sports. But for UVU, it was particularly galling. Not only did the Wolverines feel they deserved a bid, but were looking toward becoming the school's first-ever NCAA tourney invitee in any sport.
There have been individual attendees, but never a team.
Asked whether there was dismay or resignation over the non-announcement, Madsen said, "More dismay. People were stunned. Everybody felt we would get in. Fans were like, 'How do you keep out a team that won 40 out of 41 and 45 of the last 49 games?' There's just no way."
Life is hard when you're on the fringe. UVU has a rising athletic program. But a respected one? Apparently not. At least not in Indianapolis, home of the NCAA. For the Wolverines, there has never been a Big Dance, in anyone's sport, since becoming Division I in 2008.
"If you play in one of the great conferences, that's awesome, but if you can't finish in the top half of that conference, why do you deserve the right over a team that won 40 of 41 games?" Madsen said.
UVU's was one of the best overall seasons in the country, with a 43-12 record. The Wolverines finished the regular season ranked No. 27, the second-highest ranked team in the nation that didn't make the 64-team playoff field (Arizona State was 22nd). They won 32 consecutive games, two shy of the all-time college record, and 40 of their last 41.
School officials were told that playing in the lightly regarded Great Western Conference was the sticking point. Ah, yes, the ever popular "strength of schedule" defense. Yet the Wolverines played noted baseball giants Arizona State, Cal State-Fullerton and Arizona, plus BYU, Nevada and Utah. Not bad. Though UVU was only 5-8 in those games, it's not like it avoided playing them.
Meanwhile, the Wolverines went undefeated through the GWC (28-0), winning a third consecutive conference title. It's something Madsen said was underrated, considering UVU was under pressure to win virtually every day in order to even have a chance at a postseason bid.
"We have an intelligent strength of schedule, but plain and simple, if it's the competition you're playing against, comparing the bottom half of a super conference against us, probably neither has a high chance of winning it all," Madsen said. So why reward (others) with the chance?"
He has a point. Oklahoma made the field, yet was only fourth of nine Big 12 teams, a half-game ahead of fifth place. Oregon State and Michigan State got in, though both placed fifth out of 11 in their conferences. Clemson and Miami got in after finishing just third in their divisions and Georgia Tech got in as a fourth-place team with a 12-18 conference mark. Mississippi was 14-16, fourth in its division, but got a call nonetheless.
What is a pipsqueak like UVU supposed to do?
"We've got to change the scheduling, which we can't do a lot of," Madsen said, then as an afterthought, added, "We've basically got to win more games."
Fifty-five and zero ought to do it.