This season hasn't been easy for Arizona softball coach Mike Candrea. A 40-16 record heading into the postseason looks solid, as does a No. 8 national ranking. But with increased parity in NCAA softball, high expectations and a foul ball that took a chunk of pitcher Kenzie Fowler's season away thanks to a concussion, well, it hasn't been your average Arizona softball team.
With that, the Wildcats were sure they'd be sent elsewhere for the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament. In fact, they were wrong.
In past years with more successful teams -- this squad is a measly 11-10 in Pacific 10 Conference play -- the selection committee has surprised Candrea and Co. by sending them out of Tucson. But on Sunday evening, the Wildcats were surprised they'd have two rounds of play at Hillenbrand Stadium.And how odd is that? What's the reasoning?
Here's one clue -- attendance. Arizona set a new regular season attendance record, drawing 64,665 fans in 2011. Of course, from our point of view, the money-grubbing NCAA couldn't pass up the opportunity to make the most money in Tucson, where Arizona will likely advance to the second round (well, based on past history at least).
In the same line of thought, where it wouldn't in the past, the NCAA probably did Arizona a favor, because the committee was confident Candrea's teams would make the Women's College World Series even if they had to play two rounds on the road. But this down year marked a change in that thought, and perhaps made the committee want to boost the Wildcats' chances.
Sure, this could all be conspiracy theory.
But let's count all these coincidences up. Softball does indeed bring in money, especially in a place like Tucson. Just like basketball, where a similar selection committee decided on another Sunday this year that the men's basketball team would be grouped in Tulsa, Okla. against a former Arizona player and coach in Josh Pastner, the former AD, Jim Livengood, and a former player doing the announcing, Steve Kerr, who had been selected to call the Tulsa games six weeks prior to the actual games, the chips falling the right places for the softball team were probably aided by NCAA decision.
All I'm saying is that the selection committee does what's best for money and that generally coincides with helping storied programs when they need a little pick-me-up. Is that bad? I don't really know.