The road to Omaha might have started in Greenville, but somewhere along the way — Louisville, KY, to be specific — East Carolina’s anticipated joyride to the College World Series veered off course and ended in a crumpled heap along the side of the highway.
The Pirates didn’t just lose their NCAA Super Regional series to Louisville. They did it in such spectacular fashion — getting outscored by a combined margin of 26-1 — that the mercy rule would have been invoked in both games had it been in effect for NCAA tournament play.
It’s a result that might very well have happened regardless of the circumstances.
Coach Cliff Godwin’s team hasn’t been the same since celebrating its American Athletic Conference regular season title during an emotional Senior Weekend series against Memphis, and its pitching staff — specifically the bullpen — has been showing the wear and tear of a long season for several weeks now.
And yet, despite all that and the fact that ECU was matched up against a championship-caliber opponent that finally began playing up to its potential after sleepwalking through its first two postseason tournaments, one has to wonder how different things might have been had the Pirates been dealt a better hand by the NCAA.
Godwin addressed the subject in a press conference immediately following Saturday’s 12-0 elimination at the hands of the Cardinals — specifically that his 10th-seeded team had to play on the road rather than hosting a Super Regional as a top eight national seed.
“I guess that’s the way it is when you’re a non-Power Five school,” Godwin said. “These guys, in my opinion, earned to be a national seed. Not over Louisville, but they had the fifth RPI in the country, won 42 regular-season games, had the 11th non-conference strength-of schedule and didn’t even sniff a national seed. In my opinion, that’s not right.”
Godwin was even less enthused about the timing of ECU’s best-of-three series at Louisville, which forced the Pirates to make a quick turnaround after battling back through the loser’s bracket of their rain-delayed regional.
The NCAA could have given them an extra day to recover by scheduling their series to begin on Saturday. Instead, Game 1 was played at noon on Friday in a decision that likely had more to do with ESPN’s broadcast schedule than competitiveness or, as Godwin noted, “student-athlete welfare.
“(If) the NCAA is so concerned about that,” the ECU coach said, “we wouldn’t have to play the first game on Friday.”
Godwin has the right to be upset on both counts.
The question is, did his valid points ring hollow because of the time and place he made them?
They could easily have been dismissed as sour grapes after a weekend in which his team laid a King Kong sized egg. After all, when you combine for only one run and seven hits over two games while allowing the other team to come a couple of extra points away from ringing up four touchdowns, it really doesn’t matter where the games are played.
Whether it’s in Louisville, Greenville, Yankee Stadium or on the moon, it just wasn’t your weekend.
And yet given the already stated fact that as a non-Power Five entity, ECU isn’t afforded the national respect or attention it has earned and deserves, its passionate coach had no choice but to make his case in a forum that afforded him the biggest, most widespread audience.
“I’m not being a sore loser, but I’m protecting my guys and my guys deserve that,” he said. “I was going to say this whether we won the Super Regional or lost it.”
Godwin should be congratulated for taking such a stand. The man bleeds Pirate purple and wants desperately to be the one to lead his team to Omaha for the first time in school history after so many close calls.
The only problem is that no matter how vocal he or anyone else is on the subject of equity and the NCAA, the words are going to fall on deaf ears. Fair or not, it’s an undeniable fact of life in college athletics that schools such as ECU will be looked upon and treated differently than perceived higher-profile rivals.
The only thing the Pirates can do to change things and avoid the potholes that ended this CWS journey short of its desired destination is to keep recruiting high-caliber players, continue putting together challenging nonconference schedules, avoid stumbling in the AAC tournament and win enough games to give the NCAA no choice but to seed them where they deserve.