The Case for Three Day Softball Super Regionals


Did you watch Alabama softball’s super regional this weekend? In a spectacular three-game series, the Tide came back from a game one loss to win the series with a grand slam in the bottom of the sixth inning.

It was an excellent show of everything that’s great about collegiate softball. Two of the country’s top pitchers faced off. Division 1’s all time home run leader added 3 more to her total in the final weekend of her career.

There was drama. There were lead changes. There were innings full of power and many half-innings with only three batters.

There was also exhaustion. Paige Parker threw all 316 pitches of the super regional for Oklahoma. Alexis Osorio threw 365 pitches over the weekend. The entire super regional lasted less than 28 hours.

May in Tuscaloosa is hot, muggy, and often unpleasant. This weekend was no exception. The high temperature on Saturday was 87 degrees, and first pitch of game 2 was at 4pm.

In his in-game interview on Saturday night, Bama head coach Patrick Murphy got a little off ESPN’s script. He talked about the high level of play, the excitement in the series, and the support of the fans, just like he was supposed to. But he also shared his opinion about the structure of the super regional round.

In NCAA baseball, the super regional round is scheduled over three days. For softball, it’s a two day schedule – game one on the first day, and game two and game three if necessary on the second.

Most of the teams have played double headers at some point during the season, often due to weather-related schedule changes. Any team who needed more than three games to win a regional played at least one double-header in an elimination situation.

I can’t speak for the NCAA or for Patrick Murphy, but I can make some educated guesses.

The current compact format for super regionals is probably driven by logistics. Teams receive confirmation of a super regional less than a week in advance, and arranging staff and tickets is probably simpler over two days instead of two-maybe-three days.

Softball hasn’t always as popular as it is now, particularly in the south. The SEC’s rise to prominence has been over the last ten years, and Alabama’s 2012 national title was the conference’s first.

If I had to guess, softball super regionals are two days because softball super regionals have been two days since the format was introduced in 2005. In 2005, the sport wasn’t as popular. Facilities weren’t as good. ESPN didn’t have seventy four networks to show coverage or any dedicated softball analysts.

Coach Murphy made an argument for quality of play. At the highest level of play, the smallest things can make a difference. Fatigue and heat can do a lot.

Game 3 on Saturday evening was incredible. It was stressful. It was dramatic. When Marisa Runyon drilled the ball over the right-field fence in the bottom of the sixth, I made an excited squeaking noise that was described as “adorable.”

As good as that game was, you can see how it could have been better. Both pitchers were clearly worn out. There were some fielding errors that would never have happened with fresher minds and hands. But would that have lost us the drama of a late game grand slam? It’s impossible to say for sure.

I’m on Coach Murphy’s side here – I think three days would elevate the level of play and allow the last 16 teams standing to really show what they’ve got. What do you think? Let us know in the comments.