In 2012, the ultimate in parity hit college baseball as Stony Brook out of the America East came into the NCAA tournament as a 4-seed and advanced to the super regionals. A week later, Stony Brook was joined by MAC school Kent State in Omaha.
In 2014, we have Ultimate Parity, 2.0.
We've seen the P-word thrown around for years. But let's be frank, it was always arguable whether it really existed in our sport. Sure, you'd have an uprising here and there -- the development of Oregon State, the stunning run of Fresno State, seeing Kent State and Stony Brook reach Omaha. But this year we got overrun by it.
This year's regional round was a huge, shining example of a playing field more level than ever. And the numbers back that up.
Actually, all you have to look at is No. 1.
Friday was the day the mid-majors planted a flag. And not a white flag.
College of Charleston, given a 4-seed, upset Florida, 3-2. Fellow Sunshine State favorite Florida State was knocked down by Georgia Southern. And Louisiana was stunned by Jackson State.
Then, the regional finals took things into hyper-drive.
College of Charleston completed its domination of the Gainesville Regional by besting Long Beach State. Houston finished off LSU with an unceremonious blowout. Louisiana won its two straight games over Mississippi State. Pepperdine upset Cal Poly twice. Kennesaw State raced past Alabama.
And to top it all off, Oregon State became the second overall No. 1 in history to lose in the regional round when UC Irvine knocked out the Beavers on Monday night.
And it wasn't just the mid-majors. Who in their right mind would've seen Maryland having the hutzpah to go into Carolina Stadium and put a beatdown on the Gamecocks? Who had Stanford stunning Kaufman Stadium to silence with a two-run home run to end Indiana's run? What about Texas Tech holding Miami to a single run in 19 innings to win at Mark Light Field? Really?
The mid-majors and underappreciateds have never been stronger. The combination of 11.7 scholarships, deadened bats and the increased emphasis on pitching, defense and fundamentals has turned this tournament into true June Madness.
Buckle in, people, we're only four days into it.
Five themes to the regionals
This year's NCAA regionals have been as contentious as ever. In the history of the expanded field of 64, the most one-run games played in an entire tournament is 35. Through the regional round, that number is already 32.
Same goes for extra-inning games. The most extra-inning contests in a tournament is 13. The 2014 tournament has already seen 12.
No. 1 seed face-plants
In the end, the No. 1 seeds ended up with a losing record. Only three national seeds advanced (TCU, Virginia and Louisiana-Lafayette). Four other No. 1 seeds advanced (Oklahoma State, Vanderbilt, Louisville and Ole Miss), but every one of those teams escaped with black eyes, bruised egos and half-torn uniforms. Remember the days when six or seven teams won their regionals just by showing up? Say sayonara to those days.
The foibles of the SEC and ACC
These two power conferences are notorious bid hogs, and this year it was like never before. The SEC sent a record 10 teams to the Big Dance, and the ACC sent seven teams. While usually well-represented, those 17 teams combined to occupy four super regional spots, two from each conference.
The SEC went a combined 22-16 this weekend and the ACC went 11-10. The big three in Florida -- Florida, Florida State and Miami -- lost out with a combined record of 3-6. To contrast that, in the previous 15 years, those three failed to advance to the super regionals as hosts only three times.
The Power of the Big 12
Pundits and fanatics everywhere are wondering how the Big 12 went a combined 13-4 and got four of its five teams into the super regionals. The answer came to me late last year.
Near the end of the 2013 season, I had the chance to talk to Oklahoma State head coach Josh Holliday about the Big 12 and how it compares to the rest of the major conferences.
"Anybody who thinks this conference doesn't measure up with the SEC or the Pac-12 or the ACC is a complete joke," Holliday said. "I know firsthand. I've coached in all three conferences and won championships in all three conferences. You can't tell me the SEC is two times better than the Big 12 and they deserve 10 or 12 teams in the NCAA tournament. I know firsthand that's not true."
Turns out, he was right. The Big 12 turned into the Midlands Monsters this weekend, as four teams won their regionals. You probably could've seen TCU and Oklahoma State advancing, since they were No. 1 seeds playing in their own friendly confines. But seeing Texas Tech and Texas win regionals at Miami and at Rice, respectively, made a big statement for this conference.
Decorum has taken a shot to the gut
This has not been one of those weekends that the NCAA can proudly point out for how much sportsmanship college kids portray in their competitions.
Miami and Texas Tech had a bench-clearing push-and-shove after Hurricanes baserunner David Thompson plowed into Eric Gutierrez at first base. Then coaches Gino DiMare and Tim Tadlock had a one-on-one yelling party.
Sam Houston State and TCU had a couple of slides masquerading as barrel rolls into fielders that were dangerous and elicited ejections. Mississippi State and Louisiana players exchanged glares and expletives caught on camera all weekend. And in probably the chippiest of weekend rivalries, Texas A&M pitcher Tyler Stubblefield flashed the "horns down" sign after the Aggies' Sunday victory.
The fun is just getting started, folks. Super regionals start Friday, June 6, and the intensity is only going to increase.