Growing College Baseball

October 20, 2009
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Four Ways To Promote The Game Where It Needs Promoting

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By CB360 Editor Sean Stires

I have been thinking about writing this for a while, so I thought I should actually sit down and do it before October is over.   It seems like every year around NCAA Tournament selection time we hear about “growing college baseball”.  IE: “If we are going to grow college baseball (insert a team from the north) needs to have a chance to be in the tournament”.

I don’t completely disagree with that.  I do think that if the game of college baseball is to grow in popularity teams north of the Mason Dixon line need to be represented in the field of 64.  However, I don’t think that sending Rhode Island or St. John’s to regionals in Austin or Tempe (hypothetically) is the best way to grow and promote the sport in those areas.  Here are a few things that I do think that would help to grow the sport in the north (and it won’t even take more fertilizer or watering.)

  1. Allow fall exhibition games that do not count against the 56 game limit. Teams like Texas, Rice and Baylor (to name a few) are already playing a handful of games each fall so they don’t have to cram a bunch of mid week games into a shorter season.  Teams like Michigan, Indiana and Iowa are playing games this fall as well.  Teams from the Big 12, SEC, ACC, and Pac 10 don’t have to worry about losing a few games in the spring, because they know their RPIs are going to be high enough to get them an at-large NCAA bid if they win 30 games, but teams from the north need every game they can get to 40 wins as they build their at large resume.
  2. Use college football to showcase college baseball in the north. (This is assuming step #1 is in play.)  This can most easily be accomplished in September when the weather is still in the 80s and 90s pretty much across the country (including places like Minneapolis, Ann Arbor, South Bend, and Columbus…just in case those from states farther south might not be aware).  Fresno State was the defending national champion last year.  The Bulldog football team opened the 2008 season at Rutgers.  What if the Scarlet Knight baseball team could have had the defending champs play on their campus in a fall exhibition game (or games)?   Oregon State went to Penn State to play football two years ago when the Beaver baseball team was the defending CWS champion.  It’s a win-win situation for everyone.  Fresno State and Oregon State are never going to go to New Jersey or Pennsylvania in March or April, but September is perfect, and they don’t even have to worry about whether they
    Penn State's Beaver Stadium with baseball's Medlar Field at Lubrano Park upper right

    Penn State's Beaver Stadium with baseball's Medlar Field at Lubrano Park upper right

    win or lose.  Just show up, play a game Friday night and/or Saturday morning before the football game ) when 50,000 to upwards of 100,000 fans are around to see the games) and then do some tailgating and watch a football game and go home.  It’s not limited to defending national champs though.  Some other football games that would be good fits for a fall baseball pairing include:  Arizona @ Iowa, USC @ Ohio State, Stanford @ Notre Dame, North Carolina @ UConn, Oregon @ Purdue, Virginia @ Indiana, Florida State @ BYU (I could go on).  All of those football games have either taken place recently or will take place within the next couple years.

  3. Use football part II. The idea of using college football to promote college baseball is not limited to having one school’s baseball team tag along with the football team to go barnstorming in the north.  (EG: Penn State vs. Oregon State in both football and baseball as mentioned above.)  Baseball teams like LSU, Texas, Arizona State, Miami, Florida State (and a few others) could go just about anywhere independent of their football teams and draw a crowd.  So, Michigan plays Eastern Michigan in Ann Arbor on the gridiron on September 19, but Michigan plays Texas on the diamond the night before or that same morning.
  4. BE CREATIVE. Schools like Rhode Island and St. John‘s don’t have the big football programs to prop up the rest of their programs like Penn State, Michigan or Notre Dame, but they could still make something happen in the fall.  How about the Red Storm playing Joba Chamberlain’s alma mater, Nebraska, at Yankee Stadium in September after the Yankees play Baltimore?  Or what if Dustin Pedroia’s college team, Arizona State, played Rhode Island at Fenway Park?

    fenway

    Boston's Fenway Park

The biggest objection to something like this would likely come from the schools like Texas, LSU and ASU who would have to pick up the bill for the extra travel in September.  But look at it this way:  Those three traditional powers will average about 36 home games next spring.  Michigan, St. John’s, Notre Dame, and Ohio State averaged 24 home games last spring.

Ohio State played its first 21 games in Florida in 2009 before its first home game on March 31st.  Next season Texas will play its first nine games in Austin, and won’t leave the Lone Star state until a 3-game set at Oklahoma the first weekend in April.  The Longhorn’s only other trip out of Texas during the regular season is at Kansas State in early May.

In other words, it shouldn’t be too much to ask the biggest programs in the sport to make an extra trip or two in September to help the growth of the sport.

Have you ever been in a campus basketball arena when the Tennessee or UConn women’s basketball teams come to town?  Those teams are treated like rock stars by adoring young fans in front of sell out crowds, because they are the teams that are on national TV all the time.  If the Vols and Huskies are the Pied Pipers of women’s hoops, the Longhorns and Tigers can take the “ping” to the people on Saturdays in September.

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