Sports What Would Have Been

FILE - In this June 26, 2019, file photo, Vanderbilt players celebrate winning Game 3 and the champinship of the NCAA College World Series baseball finals against Michigan in Omaha, Neb. If not for the coronavirus pandemic, there would have been a World Series championship series Omaha, Nebraska. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

The months of April, May and June are more frenetic than any other times of the year when it comes to sports. From March Madness to the NBA and NHL playoffs, this time of year serves as the culmination for many different leagues, resulting in a cacophony of high stakes showdowns at a breakneck pace.

But not this year.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to rage on in the United States and elsewhere, has put a stop to (or delayed) all of these events.

That’s why we started this “What We’re Missing” series, to reflect on what we truly love about sports now that we’re temporarily without them.

Several of my colleagues at The Alligator have already covered some of these events, but I wanted to talk about one of my favorite postseasons in all of sports, the NCAA Baseball Tournament and College World Series.

Full disclosure, I’ve never been a huge baseball guy. I enjoy the sport itself, and going to a baseball game is one of the most leisurely and enjoyable ways to kill three hours on a summer afternoon.

But MLB has always had some barriers to entry for me. A 162-game season seems excessively long, the lack of a salary cap results in more disparity than perhaps any other professional sport, the postseason is exclusive and includes a winner-take-all, sudden-death wildcard system (which, while entertaining, is insane) and the minor league system is confusing to follow.

I’ve tried, believe me, I have, but Major League Baseball just doesn’t really appeal to me.

College baseball is different, though. I’ve always generally preferred college sports to professional sports, but there’s just something about college baseball I find so endearing.

The seasons are only about a third as long, which allows me to remain invested the entire way through, but what ultimately makes college baseball so great, in my opinion, is its postseason.

Collegiate baseball and softball have perhaps the wackiest, most complicated and confusing postseason system in sports.

And I absolutely love it.

Sixty-four teams make the postseason, and the double-elimination format gives lower-tier programs a much greater opportunity to make noise than they have in college basketball.

The nature of the game results in more parity between the higher-seeded and lower-seeded teams, and considering the importance of pitching performance, anything can happen in any given game.

Add in variable late-spring weather that has the potential to delay games for hours and force teams to shelf their starting pitcher early, and it results in one of the most dynamic, unpredictable postseason experiences in sports.

And reaching the top of the ladder is a nearly unrivaled accomplishment.

To win the College World Series, you potentially have to play 16 games, many of which could be double-headers, and you can only lose a maximum of four of those games.

Considering most teams only have three (if that) trustworthy weekend starters, the depth of pitching rotations is pushed to the absolute limit. For example, when Florida won the national championship in 2017, it had to win an elimination game against Bethune-Cookman in the Gainesville Regional with Austin Langworthy, who primarily plays in the outfield, pitching four innings.

The college baseball postseason is long and eventful. Where the MLB playoffs involve slow, dragging series between only the elite teams, college baseball’s tournament moves quickly and pits you against a number of different teams with different strengths and weaknesses. You can be coming off your best game of the season, but a single loss puts you in position to be eliminated.

While there are certainly more popular events we’re missing right now (such as March Madness and the Olympics), there’s something about not having eight teams heading to Omaha, Nebraska, to battle it out that just feels wrong.

Follow Tyler on Twitter @TylerNettuno and contact him at [email protected].

Tyler Nettuno is a sports writer for the Alligator and covers the UF men's basketball team and football team. He is a former sports editor at the paper and also covers Florida sports for Gators Wire of the USA Today Sports Network.