No looking back for Van Horn and the Hogs

Arkansas Razorbacks baseball coach Dave Van Horn is a very here-and-now sort of person.

He’s a no-nonsense guy, and in his Zoom teleconference with the media Monday to discuss the just announced NCAA Baseball Tournament bracket and the Fayetteville Regional, he had his eyes set forward.

He very matter of factly declared the postseason as a new season for his team, and even said while what has happened so far this season got the Hogs to where they sit today, that really has no bearing on where the Razorbacks are headed the rest of the season.

Basically his point was that this isn’t the time for the Hogs to be glad-handing each other or patting themselves on the back for having an outstanding regular season. There will be time enough to do that in July.

No, the Razorbacks need to train their focus on completing the mission they embarked upon when fall practice began last September — advancing to the College Baseball World Series in Omaha, Neb., for a chance at a national championship.

A national title is the goal for the Razorbacks. It is literally the only thing the Razorbacks have not won under Van Horn since he took over Arkansas’ baseball program from his mentor Norm DeBriyn in 2003.

Razorback Baseball

No. 4 Arkansas (41-16)
Opponent: Santa Clara
When: 2 p.m., Friday, June 2
Where: Baum-Walker Stadium, Fayetteville

So, a national title is the Razorbacks over-arching goal as they move forward this season. Certainly there are mini-goals and benchmarks for the Hogs to accomplish along the way.

The first is winning their home regional this weekend.

As the No. 3 overall seed — the second highest seed the Hogs have earned in the program’s history — the Razorbacks (41-16) will host the Texas Christian Horned Frogs (37-22) of the Big 12 Conference, the Arizona Wildcats (33-24) of the Pacific 12 Conference, and the Santa Clara Broncos (35-18) of the West Coast Conference in a double elimination Tournament at Baum-Walker Stadium from Friday through Sunday for sure and possibly Monday if necessary.

The Razorbacks open with Santa Clara at 2 p.m. Friday on ESPN +. TCU and Arizona meet at 8 p.m. on ESPNU.

Good luck getting a ticket if you haven’t already secured one.

The host school has its choice of when to play. Van Horn chose the early game because he doesn’t like his team sitting around all day waiting to play.

Van Horn also hopes to avoid a rain delay. We’ve already entered a summer weather pattern where a late afternoon thunderstorm is a possibility even if the rest of the day is sunny.

Van Horn also knows Razorback fans will be rearing to go to support their Hogs no matter when Arkansas plays.

Baum-Walker Stadium will be rocking whenever the first pitch is thrown. Folks were reportedly in line for tickets and a spot in the Hog Pen shortly after Arkansas fell, 5-4, to Texas A&M in the semifinals of last Saturday’s SEC Tournament at Hoover, Ala.

Van Horn admitted that he knew very little about the Broncos during the teleconference that occurred just minutes after Fayetteville Regional’s roster was announced on ESPN2.

By the time this story is posted, there is no-doubt Van Horn and his staff know the ins and outs of the Broncos ball club.

Arkansas has some distant history with TCU this season. The Horned Frogs whipped the Razorbacks, 18-6, on Feb. 18 in the second game of the season. Both are very different teams today. Van Horn said he had kept up with TCU throughout the season, and had anticipated Horned Frogs being slotted in the Fayetteville Regional.

Van Horn also said he had watched Arizona play several times this year because of their Pacific Time Zone starts.

Van Horn said the team enjoyed Sunday’s down time, but they are itching to begin preparations for this weekend that are now underway.

While Van Horn wasn’t really interested in reminiscing about the regular season on Monday, for us fans, it’s worth mentioning how great a season it was.

Certainly there were ups and downs, and that pesky old injury bug kept chewing on the Razorbacks’ hindquarters as it has with all three major men’s sports since last summer.

However any season that ends with the Hogs winning a Western Division title and sharing for the SEC crown is one to be celebrated, even though we know the Razorbacks have bigger goals in mind.

Speaking of the SEC, the Hogs were one of 10 SEC squads to garner a bid to the NCAA Tournament, and one of eight to earn a host role in the tournament.

It’s dominance when you can list the teams that didn’t make the tournament quicker than the ones who did.

Certainly, that did not go unnoticed by ESPN2’s talking heads in its bracket-selection show. Most of the 16 regional sites, which are awarded on merits of success and quality of schedule, are located in the Southeast. The Fayetteville Regional is the third most western regional behind only Stillwater, Okla. and Stanford, Calif.

The discussion was about downplaying the RPI ratings in the site-selection process to bolster host sites in the west, midwest and east, and diminish the SEC’s dominance of the tournament. That wasn’t the words used by the ESPN2 commentators, but it’s what they meant.

As a fan, I’m not exactly sure how accurate the RPI is? It’s a measuring stick, and it’s the one the NCAA has agreed to use for the time being.

However, as long as the selection of host sites is merit-based in baseball, expect the SEC and ACC to dominate. It’s about geography, and the will to win in the sport.

Winter is more mild in the southern states, giving programs located there a distinct advantage. The way to change that is to start the season in mid-March instead of mid-February.

Secondly, no matter how the target for earning a host spot is manipulated, if it remains merit-based, the SEC will find a way to dominate it. It might take a year or so for the league to adjust, but it will happen. Each program has enough money, resources, and desire to make it happen.

Remember, the old SEC Network slogan, “It just means more.”

There is a ton of truth and more importantly dollars behind that statement, and ESPN is literally a partner in it.

ESPN and the SEC are partners in the SEC Network. ESPN is actually complicit in what its talking heads were griping about on the NCAA Selection Show.

If the NCAA and ESPN truly want the NCAA Baseball Tournament to be representative of the entire nation, it should move to a model more like the NCAAA Basketball Tournament where its playing sites are neutral. Then the sites could be evenly distributed.

However, at the moment college baseball isn’t popular enough to sell out venues that are not linked to the best teams playing in the tournament.

Why is Arkansas hosting a regional? Because the team merited that host spot by its play on the field, and because the Hogs are so successful, the venue will be sold out because Razorback fans support their winning teams.

It’s the same or similar story for all 15 of the other host sites.

If the NCAA did move the college baseball season forward a month or even six weeks, there would be a better chance for the growth of college baseball in the middle and more northern regions of our country.

That said, don’t expect the SEC to slack off no matter what changes are made to the system.

In all sports, the SEC has only grown and become more popular and powerful over the last 30 years, and as its footprint expands further west with the addition of Oklahoma and Texas, the league will continue to prosper on the field of competition and at the bank.