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The field of 64 has been set for the 2022 National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) Division I baseball championship. The 16 four-team regional sites represent eight different conferences with the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and Southeastern Conference (SEC) both having four schools serving as hosts. The ACC and SEC are sending a combined 18 schools to the tournament. Out of the national top 16 seeds, six schools have won a combined 17 College World Series championships. They also represent a combined 153 College World Series appearances among 13 schools with only Virginia Tech, East Carolina, and Maryland in this year’s prestigious group still searching for their first trip to Omaha.
The number one overall seed is the University of Tennessee who also posted the best rankings percentage index (RPI) as well. The Volunteers finished the season with a 53-7 overall record while going 25-5 in SEC competition. They recently won their first SEC tournament championship since 1995 and fourth overall. According to MLB Pipeline, the Volunteers currently have five top 200 draft prospects in outfielders Jordan Beck and Drew Gilbert, third baseman Trey Lipscomb, and pitchers Ben Joyce and Blade Tidwell. The right-handed Joyce has become synonymous with triple digit fastballs and recently set the record for the fastest pitch recorded in college baseball history at 105.5 miles per hour.
Tennessee led all Division I college baseball in multiple statistical categories most notably earned run average (2.35), home runs (141), and slugging percentage (.604). According to research conducted by ESPN, it might not always be beneficial in being the number one seed in the tournament. Since the 1999 season, three number one seeds have lost in regional competition while five have lost in the super regionals. Even though 14 number one seeds have made it to the College World Series, only the University of Miami Hurricanes have won the national championship (1999) during this period.
Omaha is mentioned with great reverence among college coaches and ball players as the city has hosted the College World Series since 1950. After two consecutive weekends of regional and super regional competition, the first day of the College World Series will begin on Friday, June 17th at Charles Schwab Field Omaha in Nebraska. College baseball fans who have been making the pilgrimage to Omaha over the past decade will quickly notice a change in the naming rights on the ballpark. TD Ameritrade held the naming rights since the ballpark’s opening in 2011. Charles Schwab acquired TD Ameritrade for $26 billion and announced in December 2021 they will retain exclusive naming rights through 2029.
Major League Baseball’s emphasis on prospect development and engagement with amateur ball players puts college baseball in an advantageous position. The draft has officially been shortened to 20-rounds and occurs during the All-Star Game festivities in July instead of coinciding with the NCAA tournament during the first week of June. The draft combine is becoming relevant thanks to extensive coverage and analysis on the MLB Network. 300 draft-eligible ball players will be invited to San Diego in June for a week of workouts, assessments, and interactions with major league ball clubs at Petco Park. Let’s also not forget how the Prospect Development Pipeline League, MLB Draft League, and Appalachian League are being used to identify and promote talented college baseball players as well.
The Baltimore Orioles hold the first overall selection in this year’s draft for the second time since 2019 as the assigned value of the pick is $8,842,200. The last four number one overall picks in the draft were college ball players. According to Jim Callis of MLB.com, the combined bonus pools for all 30 major league ball clubs is $279,850,600 with 12 ball clubs having eight figure bonus pools at an average of $12.3 million. The bonus pools cover the first 10 rounds of the draft along with free agent compensation picks, Competitive Balance Rounds A and B.
Major League Baseball’s draft has been overlooked due to timing, structure, and the spectacle of what occurs in other sports regarding their drafts. With a new collective bargaining agreement in place and an emphasis on prospect development, a great opportunity exists to promote the beauty of college baseball throughout the month of June while building anticipation for Major League Baseball’s draft in July. The key will be for ESPN to tell compelling stories during each of its broadcasts while educating the audience on why they should care about college baseball. Most importantly, they will need a perfect blend of Cinderella stories, blue bloods, and outstanding individual performances to sell the magic of college baseball.