The college baseball season has lasted from the frigid temperatures of February to the summer heat in Omaha. And from 293 teams at the start of the year, we're down to the final two.
Mississippi State and Vanderbilt will battle in a best-of-three series with the Commodores looking for their second consecutive national championship — and third since 2014 — and the Bulldogs looking to win their first title in a team sport in school history. Mississippi State's roster is certainly one which could conceivably win a national championship, but it's up against college baseball's Goliath with two top 10 MLB Draft picks waiting to take the mound.
That would be enough for most people to root for the seemingly plucky underdog and the team which hasn't tasted the ultimate prize before. But then you take into account how each of the teams got here, and there shouldn't be a neutral observer in the country.
MSU took the route every team is supposed to take in the College World Series. It won each of its first two games to advance to the championship of its bracket and then took down Texas in an elimination game — the Longhorns beat the Bulldogs out of the losers' bracket to force a winner-take-all game to advance to the finals — to earn the opportunity to play for a national title. That's how every team has done it for as long as the CWS has been in this format.
Vanderbilt, on the other hand, got a nice little assist from the NCAA on its way to the championship series. Needing to beat NC State twice, the Commodores narrowly beat a 13-man Wolfpack team on Friday before the NCAA announced Saturday's game would be declared a no-contest and Vandy would advance after several Covid positives on NC State's team.
And look, people will go back and forth forever about what the NCAA could or could not have done in this situation. I understand it was not an easy decision for anyone to make, but regardless of whether you think removing NC State from the CWS was the correct call or not, it is inarguable that the NCAA has done a remarkably poor job communicating its decision and Vanderbilt was gifted a free ride into the finals.
The Wolfpack took down the Commodores with Jack Leiter on the mound in their first meeting of the week and were in the game until the final out when they played with 13 guys. I sincerely doubt that Vanderbilt would have won two games in as many days against a full NC State team. If none of this Covid stuff had happened, it would be NC State and Mississippi State battling for a title.
But it did.
So that brings us to tonight. Vanderbilt, a school with an endowment of $8 billion and what let's call some looser restrictions on college baseball's 11.7 scholarship threshold thanks to some interesting accounting, already had every advantage any team could possibly dream of. And then it got to waltz right into the CWS championship series.
How anyone without a rooting interest could look at that and say they want that team to come out on top is beyond me. I'd obviously root for most of the United States' foreign adversaries against Vandy anyway, but any red-blooded American with even the slightest sense of fairness — or empathy, for that matter — should be a Mississippi State Bulldog for the next three nights.
And while the thought of Brandon Walker seeing a national championship before me does cause quite a bit of pain, it's nothing compared to seeing Tim Corbin's smug ass win another title, this one the most undeserved of them all.