Knudson: In the Summertime?
By Mark Knudson, The Mtn. InsiderApril 19, 2012
When you think about sports that are willing to make substantial changes in how they operate, baseball is probably at the bottom of the list. It almost takes an act of Congress to get baseball – at least at the pro level – to agree to change anything. Look at the backlash from so-called purists who still don’t like the Wild Card being part of the playoffs in MLB.
Is college baseball just as stuck in its ways? We may be about to find out.
There’s a movement afoot to make what would be a dramatic change to college baseball. Led by the Big Ten and commissioner Jim Delaney, this movement wants to push the start of college baseball season back to late spring, meaning the bulk of the schedule would be played during the summer months.
The reason? There are several. Start with the desire to level the playing field as it were. It’s no secret that cold weather schools, like all 12 teams in the Big Ten, are at a severe disadvantage in college baseball. With the season now starting in mid-February, it’s pretty much impossible for northern climate schools to schedule any home games for the first month of the season. That puts them at a big disadvantage in terms of overall record and RPI. There’s a reason you see very few, if any, cold climate schools in the College World Series anymore. The Air Force Falcons for instance, the most northern team among Mountain West schools, scheduled their first 22 games of this season on the road. They didn’t play a home game until March 23.
You also have to factor in that during the first six weeks of the season, baseball is all but ignored as March Madness is going full blast on college campuses and in living rooms across the country.
A third very solid argument supporting the idea is academic. “No student athletes have it tougher than baseball players,” says New Mexico head coach Ray Birmingham. “The travel and the missed class time is more than any other sport.”
Birmingham, whose team could be classified as a warm weather program, is staunchly in favor of playing the season in the summer. So is Oklahoma coach Sunny Galloway. He told College Baseball 360
: “I think baseball players should go to school in the summer full-time. I think baseball players should go to school in the spring full-time,” he said. “I think in the fall should be like our summer. That’s where our athletes should take three or six (credit) hours, be able to relax more and have some down time. And then let’s start in the spring, getting going.”
Birmingham would prefer his players take their lighter class load during the season, but that’s a small point. The bigger point is that most athletes nowadays stay around campus and maybe take classes in the summer anyway, so there’s not much to change there. If you’re playing your sport and taking a lighter load in the summer, you’re much more likely to stay on course to graduate, which is something the NCAA has been pushing hard for.
The holdups? First, baseball tradition. Even at the college level, this would be jilted. You’d have to move the College World Series from June to August, which would cause a major uproar and even compete with the start of college football practices. Imagine fans in Nebraska having to decide between attending the CWS in Omaha or following the Nebraska football team in pre-season practice. Opponents also mention the added expense of having scholarships, even as few as there are in baseball at just 12 per team, having to cover year-round expenses.
Summer wood bat leagues like Cape Cod and others would be crippled by a move to the summer. But as Birmingham says, “That’s not the NCAA’s problem, is it? Our job is to do what’s best for our student athletes. That would be playing in the summer.”
Finally, what will probably doom the idea? The same thing that’s driving all the conference realignment: TV money. The major networks have things just the way they want them right now. They join the college baseball season in the middle and end it with the CWS in June.
Perfect for them.
It’s not so perfect for the northern schools and student athletes everywhere. Stay tuned to find out what the NCAA values more: What’s best for the student athletes or their relationship with the networks. I think we already know the answer to that.
See all of Mark Knudson's blog entries HERE