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WCC May Lose Automatic Bid to NCAA Baseball Playoffs : Colleges: Proposal would force league champion to play a qualifying series against a Southwestern Athletic Conference team.


The NCAA Executive Committee will meet this week to vote on a proposal that would strip the West Coast and several other conferences of automatic berths in the NCAA tournament next season.

The proposal by the NCAA Division I Baseball Committee came in response to a request from the Executive Committee that a qualifying series be offered to conferences not previously granted automatic berths.

Last year, the NCAA awarded automatic berths to 24 conference champions or conference-tournament champions, including WCC champion Pepperdine. Twenty-four other teams received at-large berths based on their Ratings Power Index (RPI), which includes won-loss record against Division I opponents, strength of schedule and strength of opponents' schedule.

Under the proposed format, 18 conferences--including the Pacific 10, Big West and Western Athletic--will receive automatic berths in the 1994 NCAA tournament based on their RPI last season. Twelve others, including the WCC, will send their champion into a best-of-three series against another conference champion to determine the six other automatic qualifiers. Twenty-four at-large teams will then be selected.

The NCAA will evaluate conferences yearly to determine which 18 will receive automatic berths.

The proposal for 1994 calls for the WCC champion to play host to the champion of the Southwestern Athletic. The WCC features 1992 national champion Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount, San Diego, Santa Clara, St. Mary's and San Francisco. The SWAC includes Alabama State, Alcorn State, Jackson State, Mississippi Valley State, Grambling State, Prairie View A&M, Southern and Texas Southern.

Pepperdine Coach Andy Lopez, whose teams have been the WCC's lone NCAA tournament representative the past three years, said the concept behind the plan was solid, but called the timing, "awful."

If the plan is adopted, Pepperdine and other WCC schools will cancel games scheduled for May 20-22 to be available for a qualifying series. Pepperdine would be canceling a home series against perennial power Texas A&M, which was likely to be one of the premiere college series in the area next season.

"If the RPI numbers say that the WCC is not among the top 18 conferences in the country, then we have to do something about improving our standing," Lopez said. "But I just don't see how people can sit down in July and August and pass something like this without foresight. They should have said, 'Let's make this happen in 1995,' so that people can honor what they scheduled six months ago."

Loyola Coach Jody Robinson, who will begin his third season with the Lions, said the proposal fails to recognize past performance--Loyola made four regional and one College World Series appearance between 1986-1990--and penalizes teams for playing competitive nonconference schedules.

Loyola, Pepperdine and San Diego, for example, play two or more games against Cal State Long Beach, Cal State Fullerton, USC, UCLA, and Cal State Northridge, all of which were among the top 25 last season.

"This thing just came out of nowhere," Robinson said. "The West Coast Conference is not the Pac-10 or the Southeastern Conference, but the national champion came out of this conference just two years ago. That has to count for something."

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