Sometimes it all starts with a tweet. When we released our Preseason Top 50 recently, I wasn't particularly surprised when we included six Pac-12 school and five Big 12. First, it should go without saying, the Pac-12 has two additional baseball-playing schools, so there's a slight advantage when it comes to getting more teams in a poll. However, Brandon's tweet below made me stop and think—has the Big 12 surpassed the Pac 12 in baseball quality?
I say "surpassed" because without a doubt, the Pac-12 has historically been the stronger baseball conference. Prior to 1999, 24 College World Series titles were won by schools currently in the Pac-12 (half of those titles were by USC). The Big 12 has seven CWS titles by current members in that same time period. (Note: for this whole article, I'll be referring to the accomplishments of current members of the conferences, not historical members.)
Texas, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma are really the only schools in the Big 12 with substantial historical success, while the Pac-12 has five schools (Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, Stanford, and USC) who won titles before the Super Regional Era began.
But, history is history, let's talk about what these schools have done lately. When you just look at the past decade of postseason success, the Big 12 and Pac-12 are a little bit closer together. Over the past decade, the Big 12 has sent an average of 48% of its team to the NCAA Tournament compared to the Pac-12's 43%. The Big 12 also has 14 College World Series appearances compared to the Pac-12's ten. The rise of TCU and Texas Tech have added serious players in the national conversation for the Big 12.
However, the Big 12 has a glaring lack of College World Series Championships in recent years. Texas's title in 2005 is the Big 12's most recent trophy, while the Pac-12 has three CWS titles in the past decade (Arizona - 2012, UCLA - 2013, Oregon State - 2018).
So what's the verdict? I'm the type to weight championships quite a bit more than CWS appearances, so my vote is that the Pac-12 is still the superior conference.
However, let's return to Brandon's original point—does the Big 12 have more top 50 schools than the Pac-12 right now?
Well, percentage-wise, we at College Baseball Nation think so (but barely). We ranked five of the nine Big 12 teams (56%) in our top 50 compared to six of 11 Pac-12 teams (55%). What about teams knocking on the door of the top 50? I think it's fair to say the Big 12 has more teams with a reasonable shot at being ranked this season (Baylor and West Virginia) compared to the Pac-12 (maybe Washington?). So Brandon, maybe you're right in some regards.
It's probably fair to say there are other ways to measure how good a conference is (e.g., draft picks, consistency, etc.) To that I'd say, that's fair, but I'd argue that postseason success is the ultimate measuring stick that athletic departments use for teams.
Finally, this article will become outdated as soon as the next round of conference realignment becomes official. When Texas and Oklahoma leave the Big 12, they'll be taking eight of the Big 12's nine CWS Championships with them. None of the four new members have won a title. The departure of USC and UCLA from the Pac-12 will put a dent in the Pac-12's total numbers, but the conference will still be able to hang its hat on 16 titles.