Why college baseball Super Regionals would share its SEC-heavy identity with an expanded CFP
If you’re wondering what an expanded College Football Playoff could look like, you don’t have to think very hard. You don’t even have to close your eyes. All you have to do is look at college baseball’s Super Regionals.
Why? Well, of the 16 teams, 5 of them hail from the SEC. That’s not including future SEC schools Texas or Oklahoma, either.
Let’s put that in perspective a bit more.
Of the 8 Super Regional matchups, 5 of them feature current SEC programs:
- Notre Dame vs. Tennessee
- Texas vs. East Carolina
- Louisville vs. Texas A&M
- Oklahoma vs. Virginia Tech
- UConn vs. Stanford
- Arkansas vs. North Carolina
- Ole Miss vs. Southern Miss
- Auburn vs. Oregon State
It’s actually a step down from the previous 4 NCAA Tournaments when the SEC had 6 teams playing in the Super Regional. The standard is high. The last time the SEC failed to have at least 5 teams advance to the Super Regional was 2014. The last time the SEC failed to have a team win a College Football Playoff game was … 2014.
That was the first year of the 4-team Playoff. Whether 2025 is the last year of that system remains to be seen. If expansion to 12 teams does happen, though, we should all turn to college baseball for what the SEC’s presence will be.
It’s obviously not an exact comp because 16 teams make the Super Regional. The SEC typically represents about 1/3 of the field. In a 12-team model for the CFP, getting 4 teams in and representing 1/3 of the field would be the yearly expectation.
The other difference between a Super Regional field and a 12-team CFP is the subjectivity. There’s no debate about the Super Regional field because obviously one only reaches that feat by virtue of winning a regional. In a 12-team Playoff, we don’t know yet what those qualifiers will be. The Alliance seems insistent on automatic qualifiers for Power 5 champions, which the SEC is opposed to because it could result in an otherwise undeserving team stealing a bid from the SEC.
Again, the SEC isn’t here to just make the field; it wants to dominate it. Even in the 4-team field, the SEC has done that at a higher level than any other conference. Of the 32 teams that made the field, 10 came from the SEC, which remains the lone conference to have representation in every Playoff.
We have decades worth of data to show us that not all conferences are created equal in football or baseball. Since 1990, the SEC accounted for at least 3 of the 8 College World Series teams a whopping 12 times, and the conference won 13 of those national titles. Since 2006, the SEC’s football champion played for a national title 15 of a possible 16 times and the national championship went to an SEC program 12 times. Why would we expect an expanded Playoff to change that?
In the same way that SEC baseball withstood changes within the game (the bats, the seams on the baseball, the Rosenblatt Stadium change in Omaha, etc.) and still owned the postseason, SEC football didn’t skip a beat once the 4-team Playoff went into effect. The same will be true if Playoff expansion comes in 2026.
If we just go by the final pre-Playoff rankings and not the automatic qualifiers for conference titles, here’s how many teams the SEC would’ve had in a 12-team field since 2014:
- 2014 — 3 (Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss)
- 2015 — 2 (Alabama, Ole Miss)
- 2016 — 1 (Alabama)
- 2017 — 3 (Georgia, Alabama, Auburn)
- 2018 — 4 (Alabama, Georgia, Florida, LSU)
- 2019 — 4 (LSU, Georgia, Florida, Auburn)
- 2020 — 4 (Alabama, Texas A&M, Florida, Georgia)
- 2021 — 3 (Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss)
That’s 8 of the 14 SEC programs that would’ve been represented in a 12-team field during that 8-year stretch. There are 11 SEC baseball programs that have played in a Super Regional since 2014. Some years, Alabama, Georgia or LSU were the team to beat in the Playoff. Some years, Tennessee, Arkansas or Vanderbilt was the team to beat in the Super Regional.
There’s no denying the SEC’s depth in either sport. In a weird way, SEC football has had a trickier path to showing that depth than baseball has because even with the current 4-team Playoff, it doesn’t have a true postseason invitation tournament. Winning 5 postseason baseball games just to reach the field of 8 in Omaha isn’t as subjective. It’s also something we’ll never see in football (sorry to Mike Leach and his 64-team Playoff idea).
Both are still playing the same game. Spend the most money on coaches, facilities and recruiting, then let the chips fall where they may. Anybody can preach those things. It’s a different ballgame to hold yourself up to that standard, which we’ve seen SEC programs do countless times.
When Texas A&M baseball missed the NCAA Tournament last season for first time since 2006, what did athletic director Ross Bjork do? He poached longtime TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle, who had as many CWS victories as any active coach. When LSU football suffered its first losing season of the 21st century, what did athletic director Scott Woodward do? He gave longtime Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly a fully guaranteed 10-year contract.
This dynamic isn’t changing anytime soon. With Sam Pittman’s new contract signed, Mizzou, Tennessee, South Carolina and Vanderbilt are the only SEC football programs with coaches who aren’t set to make at least $5 million annually. Perhaps not surprisingly, those 4 programs wouldn’t have made a 12-team Playoff since 2014 (Mizzou and South Carolina would’ve been in a 12-team field in 2013). Who knows if that’ll be the case for them if and when we get an expanded field in 2026.
A safer bet is that if you turn on ESPN for college baseball in early June, you’re going to have a hard time avoiding the SEC. The same could soon be true of college football with an expanded Playoff each December. It’s why The Alliance is fighting for automatic qualifiers for conference champs. The thought of seeing SEC football dominate the Playoff like it does every Super Regional would be an even tougher thing to stomach for the outside world.
Well, outside world, consider yourself warned.