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May 31, 2011Fear not, Ole Miss, LSU, and Auburn, your disappointing seasons have one final honor. You are in SEBaseball.com's annual NIT field.
The teams will meet in the familiar NCAA style bracket before finally culminating in an eight-team final in Quahog, Rhode Island. Sponsored by the Happy-Go-Lucky Toy Factory and the Pawtucket Brewery, the NIT field has become synonymous with the best of second-tier sporting events like the World Cup, the NBA Finals, and the Indianapolis 500.
To be eligible for the 64 team NIT, teams needed at least a .500 overall record, an impressive resume, and a lack of representation on the NCAA Selection Committee.
While the selection criteria remained the same, the committee continued their trend of rotating which criteria will carry the most weight.
"We spin the wheel and see where it goes," NIT Selection Committee Chairman Willie Everlearn explained. "We were a bit surprised when it passed by computer rating, quality wins, and conference finish to land on animal mascots."
Everlearn went on to explain that teams were not excluded if the mascots were not animals, they just could not host any of four team Regionals.
"I think our committee did a better job of putting the mascot type where it should be as a single tool to evaluate," Everlearn said. "Often, that becomes bigger than it really should be. As a committee, we probably did not use the mascot type as the hammer that it has been perceived to be in recent years."
Auburn was a controversial pick because by NCAA rules their .500 overall record makes them ineligible for the postseason.
"There were some other teams we considered but in the end the committee felt their animal mascot - a fierce jungle Tiger at that - was more impressive than a color or a fruit mascot," said Everlearn.
Ole Miss was an interesting case as they received a host site despite their mascot officially being the Rebels. Everlearn explained that the recent transition from Colonel Rebel to a Black Bear gave the committee the latitude to reward them.
"Everyone wondered all this time what was behind the change to Black Bears," said Everlearn. "Now you know."
The committee also utilized the OPI ratings system. The OPI - Optional Performance Index - differs from other ratings systems because teams have the option of choosing which results count.
"With those other ratings systems, people are always complaining," said Everlearn. "The West coast schools hate the RPI. The Southern schools hate the ISR. But everyone likes the OPI. If you have a bad loss, just don't count that game. The teams, especially the bad ones, love it."
Other members of the committee included a lacrosse goalie from Maryland, an alligator hunter from Louisiana, and airline pilot from Quahog. While none of the committee members had actually seen a college baseball game, they were able to determine which teams would have their seasons continue in this hallowed classic dubbed "The Road to Quahog".
SuperRegional matchups are side-by-side