OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The array of teams set for the College World Series beginning this week could leave the impression that college baseball has become an equal-opportunity sport.
Whether it has evolved or devolved is a matter of opinion.
"I played in Omaha in 1960 and 1961 (for USC), and you could name on both hands all the schools in the country that were playing good baseball," UC Irvine coach Mike Gillespie said. "You couldn't name all the schools playing good baseball now if you had 10 sets of hands. I think that's good."
Skip Bertman, who retired as LSU's coach in 2001 after winning five national titles, isn't so sure.
"The product now is the poster sport for parity," he said. "That may make some people happy. In my opinion, it's watered down."
People in the game say scholarship reductions, roster limits and bats lacking punch account for the competitive balance. They also point to a growing number of schools, including some in cold-weather areas, spending more money on baseball.
Texas, which will be in Omaha a record 35th time, offers a nod to the days when only a handful of teams had a legitimate chance to win the national championship. The seven other teams represent relative newcomers to the college game's biggest stage.
Texas Tech will be here for the first time; Vanderbilt, UC Irvine and TCU for the second time; Louisville and Virginia for the third time; and Mississippi for the fifth time but first since 1972.
Of the eight national seeds that started the 64-team tournament two weeks ago, only No. 3 Virginia and No. 7 TCU are left. That's the fewest to advance to the CWS since the tournament went to its current format in 1999.
"You don't let a team in just because of a name. You have to earn it," said Dennis Poppe, the NCAA's top administrator for the CWS from 1987-2013. "You still like to see the old standbys, the traditional teams. But you get a little mix of everything here. That's what makes it cool."
A major breakthrough came in 2008 when Fresno State won the national title as a No. 4 regional seed, the equivalent of a No. 13 seed in college basketball. Another came in 2012, with Stony Brook and Kent State crashing the party. Last year, Indiana made its first CWS appearance.
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