The Pac-12 has been stubborn. As other conferences instituted postseason conference tournaments for softball, the league and its coaches largely stuck to their guns. They didn’t need one. The regular season was enough because the league was so good and all nine teams played each other during the season. They have finally abandoned that stance.
The league will begin holding a softball tournament in 2023. Baseball introduced a tournament that will begin this season and be played in Scottsdale from May 25-29. In contrast, the postseason event for softball will be held on campuses, rotating among the nine schools that offer the sport.
“The Pac-12 could not be more excited to add a softball championship to its lineup of postseason events,” Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff said in the league’s press release. “This new championship will offer student-athletes an amazing experience against top-notch competition, elevate the league’s softball brand in advance of the NCAA Tournament, and provide fans the opportunity to celebrate the incredible success of Pac-12 softball with a marquee event on our campuses.”
The format of the event has the No. 8 and No. 9 teams facing off in a play-in game. The winner advances to the main bracket of the single-elimination tournament. The winner of the event receives the Pac-12’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
While the conference schedule currently has every team face every other team, it has become clear over the years that the postseason conference tournaments draw a great deal of attention. They may even influence the NCAA selection committee when it comes time to pick and seed teams for the postseason.
Last season, Washington went 45-14 overall and 18-5 in conference play, yet ended up the No. 16 seed. That forced the Huskies to go to Norman and face eventual national champion Oklahoma in the Super Regionals.
“I love the Pac-12 and I want to continue to see the Pac-12 grow,” said former shortstop Jessie Harper just after the 2021 seedings were released. “I know there’s a lot of love that goes to the SEC. Unfortunately, that’s just how it is, and it’s out of our control. To me, it seemed like the SEC tournament, ACC tournament, had a lot to factor into...the rankings and stuff like that. I mean, we all watch the SEC tournament... I would love to see the Pac-12 better represented. I was a little surprised that Washington was a 16 seed, to see that one come in. But at the end of the day, (we) get more games to play.”
Retired Arizona head coach Mike Candrea conceded that it might be time to think about making that change in the Pac-12 after last season’s bracket was released. In a response that got a lot of attention for his criticism of the Pac-12 Network, he was actually answering a question about the influence of conference tournaments on postseason seeding.
“I don’t know, the way things are nowadays, you could be absolutely right,” Candrea said. “With the influence that ESPN has on our game, (it’s) getting pretty interesting. I mean, I was okay for a while there, but then I just... Because I do a ranking every week for USA Softball, and so I kind of compare what my rankings were, and today I just did one, and the first five I was pretty accurate. Then after that, man, it was like, ‘How can Washington be at 16?’ You know, that hurts. And then to send Oregon to Texas. Come on. But, I don’t mean anything. All I do is coach here.”
Candrea no longer coaches here, but one of the conference’s current coaches echoes the sentiment.
“The creation of the Pac-12 Softball Championship is significant in that it will boost the exposure of Pac-12 softball at a critical point in the season,” UCLA head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez was quoted in the Pac-12 press release.