Welcome back, coaches are saying. Most of them, anyway.
The pool play format of the past five years has been abandoned, ditched after complaints of games rendered meaningless by a tiebreaker system that went to the higher-seeded teams. In some instances, clubs were eliminated from title contention after playing but one game.
“I like it from a standpoint that we compete during the college season to win a series,” said Oklahoma pitching coach Mike Bell. “What's been kind of hard the last couple of years, you go into pool play and go 2-1 and you go home. And you're sitting there thinking, ‘Well, we didn't get beat twice, why are we going home?'
“Everything else about the college game — tournament wise, regional, super regional, Omaha — you get beat twice you deserve to go home. Well, that wasn't the case here.
“More than anything, it makes it matter. And there were some games there where it just didn't matter.”
Last year, at 1-1 in pool play, the Sooners faced just such a scenario in their third game. Not even a win and a tie atop the pool would get them into the title game, due to the tiebreaker. Essentially, they played a no-stakes game of baseball.
“Anytime you suit up and play a game,” Bell said, “it's got to matter.”
Not that double-elimination guarantees that.
The push for a return to double-elimination was twofold: to mirror NCAA Regional and College World Series play; and to ensure all games mean something.
The accomplished the first point, not necessarily the second.
Unlike the NCAA Regional and CWS, the must-win mentality doesn't exist for all. Clubs with a secure place in the postseason often aren't interested in grinding through the loser's bracket, tearing through pitching along the way.
“I guarantee it, we are not going to sacrifice regional play for the Big 12 Conference championship,” said Texas coach Augie Garrido. “If we win it, we win it.