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Long Rhode to Omaha
By Sean Ryan
Jim Foster and his Rhode Island Rams gathered
today at the Ryan Center, the sparkling home of the URI
basketball teams and athletic offices. A few friends and
administrators were on hand to watch the NCAA college baseball
tournament pairings announcement as the Rams expected to hear
their names called.
Great expectations were replaced with a hard dose
Rhode Island was left at the altar, all dressed
up with a 37-20 record and a RPI of 57 and no place to go.
“They took it good, as good as they could have,”
said Foster about his team Monday afternoon. “They were
heartbroken, they were very disappointed. It’s just
As he watched the pairings, Foster got a sense of
what was about to happen.
“When I saw Oklahoma State get in as a three
seed, I knew we were in trouble,” Foster said.
One by one, at-large spots were being filled:
George Mason, Kansas and Western Kentucky were on the right side
of the bubble. Then, in the final Regional bracket, Baylor
became the third Big 12 bubble team to get the call.
“For it to be taken away, it really is a crime,”
Foster’s frustration was directed at the NCAA
selection committee – chaired by Tim Weiser, a former athletic
director at Kansas State and the deputy commissioner of the Big
12 – and not toward any one team, even though Oklahoma State’s
inclusion was the selection that raised the most eyebrows. The
Cowboys had a RPI of 25 and a record of 32-22, but they missed
the Big 12 conference tourney with a ninth-place finish (9-16)
and won two conference series all year.
Most years, there would be no real way to compare
the Cowboys and Rams, but this year, Rhode Island traveled to
Stillwater, Okla., to play four games against Oklahoma State and
Cal State Fullerton – not a typical weekend road trip for a
Northeast school. The result? The Rams and Cowboys split, OSU
winning 14-2 and URI winning 5-4 in the fourth game of the
tourney. In between, the Rams were pounded 17-3 by Cal State
Fullerton and then lost 4-3 to the eventual No. 2 national seed.
“I’m just proud of the way my guys played,” he
said. “I don’t want to jump on Oklahoma State either. They play
in a great conference. But they only won two conference series.
I hate to say it, but I think you have to do a little better
Before the trip to Stillwater, the Rams played a
tourney at N.C. State and beat the Wolfpack. They went on a
Florida trip where they beat Miami (Fla.) and Ohio State. They
finished 19-6 in league play, just behind Dayton (21-6), and
then lost in the final of the A-10 tourney. Rhode Island didn’t
play at home until April 4, 26 games into the season.
“You couldn’t have done anything more than we
did; we did what we had to do,” Foster said.
He talked about the challenges Northeast schools
face when scheduling. And he talked about the fact that his
program is doing less with more – Rhode Island has 2.6 baseball
scholarships, far below the allowed maximum of 11.7.
“It’s not like we have the resources all these
schools have,” Foster said. “We’re getting kids that love the
game of baseball. They’re not the most highly recruited kids out
of high school, but they’re damn good.”
And while he knows they had a chance to win the
A-10 tourney (“We were set up to do it, but we didn’t do
it…Xavier played great.”) and that the likes of Oklahoma State
and Baylor “can make a damn good run,” Foster feels cheated by
the system. He worked his schedule about two years in advance to
replace weekend series with RPI-damaging Northeast schools with
national powers. And to top things off, the Rams responded with
some big wins.
Rhode Island woke up Monday on the brink of an
at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. It goes to bed – along with
countless other mid-majors and Northern schools – wondering what
else it could have done.
“It’s a terrible message,” Foster said of the
news delivered by the NCAA committee.