It has been over 700 days since the last pitch was thrown in Omaha and the Vanderbilt Commodores were crowned the 2019 National Champions. But players, coaches, parents, and fans will not have to wait much longer with the D1 NCAA Tournament starting in just a few days. Here is your complete guide to how the college baseball postseason works, how teams advance, and what you can expect to happen in the next month.
If you are relatively new to college baseball, this article was made for you.
May Conference Tournaments
May 31 Selection Show (ESPN2)
June 4-7 Regionals
June 11-13 Super Regionals
June 19-30 College World Series
The popularity of college baseball has grown drastically in the last few years, capturing the attention of thousands of new fans every single day. Some of these fans are brand new to the sport, meaning they might be confused as to how college baseball is organized, or what the postseason looks like. In this section, we will break down how everything works so that you can better understand the upcoming postseason.
Let's start with how college baseball is organized. Within college baseball, there are two main organizations that provide baseball for 4-year universities: the NCAA and NAIA.
The NCAA is split into 3 sub-divisions, commonly referred to as D1, D2, and D3.
Each division has their own national championship every single year, and each division only plays opponents that are in that same division. This means that every year, one D1 team, one D2 team, and one D3 team will hold up a trophy at the end of the season. Each of these College World Series are played in different locations across the country in the month of June.
The NAIA, on the other hand, only has one division for baseball. So every NAIA school competes for one championship each season. So in total, there are four national champions across the major divisions each year.
D1 Postseason Structure
Division 1 is the most popular division in college athletics, and it's no different when it comes to baseball. There are five main stages to the D1 postseason: Conference Tournaments, Selection Show, Regionals, Super Regionals, and the College World Series.
Last two weeks of May
All season long, teams compete to finish at the top of their conference. At the end of the regular season, each conference hosts a tournament with their top teams. The number of participants and style of each of these tournaments is determined by each individual conference. The winner of each tournament earns an automatic qualification (AQ) to represent that conference in the NCAA Tournament. Since there are 31 D1 conferences, that means 31 schools earn an automatic qualification to compete for a national championship.*
*Because the Ivy League cancelled their 2021 season, they forfeited their automatic qualification for this season. As a result, only 30 teams will receive an AQ.
The NCAA selection committee then creates the field of 64 teams that will compete for a national championship. The 64 schools are normally made up of the 31 automatic qualifiers as well as 33 at-large bids. However, this year there will be 30 automatic qualifiers and 34 at-large bids because the Ivy League cancelled their season. The teams that are chosen as an at-large bid are picked on a combination of factors, including overall record, strength of schedule, and performance late in the season. The 2021 Selection Show takes place Monday, May 31st at Noon EST on ESPN2.
During the selection show, the NCAA committee divides the 64 teams that make the tournament into 16 separate Regionals, each containing four teams. The #1 seeded team in each Regional hosts the other three teams at their home field, or at a local venue (such as a MiLB park).
On the weekend of June 4th, all 64 teams play in their given Regional in a double elimination tournament. The winner of each of these Regionals then advances to the Super Regionals. This weekend is easily one of the most exciting times of the year, as 64 teams gets cut down to 16 in just three days.
Those 16 teams then play in a best-of-three game series against one of the other Regional winners. The eight teams that win their Super Regional series advance to Omaha for the College World Series.
College World Series
The final eight teams then travel to Omaha, Nebraska to compete in the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park. They compete in a double elimination tournament until there are only two teams remaining. At this point, those two teams play in a best-of-three series in the College World Series Championship and the winner of that series is crowned the national champion.
To view a list of previous national champions, click here.
D2 & D3 Playoff Structure
In 2019, the NCAA introduced Super Regionals to D2 & D3, creating a near identical playoff structure to D1. However, COVID-19 messed up those plans this season, so those divisions reverted to their pre-2019 format for the 2021 season. The main difference here is that there are only eight Regionals instead of 16, and the winners of the eight Regionals go directly to the College World Series instead of the Super Regionals. Because there are less Regionals, six to eight teams are included instead of four. Once at the College World Series, teams play in a double elimination tournament to determine the national champion.
The D2 College World Series is held at the USA Baseball Complex in Cary, North Carolina and the D3 College World Series is held at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids, Iowa starting on June 3rd.
NAIA Playoff Structure
NAIA operates similarly to D2 & D3's pre-2019 format, where five teams are put into nine Regionals, called the "Opening Round". The nine winners of those Regionals advance directly to the NAIA College World Series in Lewiston, Idaho.
Here's the kicker, Lewis-Clark State has gotten an automatic bid into the College World Series for the last 19 years for hosting it at their home field, making them the 10th team in the tournament. However starting in 2022, Lewis-Clark State will instead get an automatic bid into the Opening Round that they will then have to win in order to advance to the NAIA College World Series.
The NAIA College World Series began on May 28th, more information can be found here.
We hope this article helped you better understand how the college baseball postseason works, or perhaps reinforced some information you already knew. Make sure to follow us on social media so you don't miss out on any of the action!