The College Baseball Season: To Extend Or Not To Extend

January 11, 2010

NCAA To Decide Season’s Length This Week

By Editor Sean Stires

An NCAA Committee will vote this Friday (Jan. 15) on whether or not to extend the length of the college baseball season from 13 to 14 weeks.  Actually, it will vote on whether to override a vote that has already added a 14th week to the beginning of the season.  What?

The 2010 season was originally supposed to start on Feb. 26, but in July a week was added at the front of the season, making the start date Feb. 19.

The vote on the issue was split pretty geographically.  Most Southern schools wanted the extra week, while most Northern schools opposed adding the extra week to the start of the season.  (Anyone who can look out their window and see the snow that I see on the ground right now can understand why.)

Here’s a compromise:  Add the week, but Southern schools from BCS Conferences have to start returning some hospitality & travel north at the end of the season.

We have the Big Ten/Big East Challenge again this year, but how about the Big Ten/SEC Challenge and the Big East/ACC Challenges next year?   Rutgers already traditionally goes to Miami (FL) and Georgia Tech early in the year.  Let the ‘Canes or Yellow Jackets go to Bainton Field in May & listen to that rock clank against the backstop for a weekend…(Seriously).  How about Ole Miss, Florida or LSU rolling into Columbus to face Ohio State in May?

Forget about Northern teams going South to start their seasons when many of them are seeing real ground balls  and high skies for the first time.  With the extra week at the end of the season the teams from the North can play host to their Southern counterparts in May in midweek contests when classes and finals are over.  Most schools have a conference bye week in May anyway, so it shouldn’t be hard to find room in the schedule.

I’ve talked before about being creative to grow college baseball in the Northern areas, and there would be nothing better than to get some of those traditional powers from the South to come North to create some buzz prior to postseason play.

How excited do North Carolina fans really get about having Maine, Michigan or St. John’s come to town?  It’s nice, but North Carolina going to Maine, Michigan or St. John’s would get fans of those teams a lot more excited than another midweek game against Northeastern, Bowling Green or NYIT.

It’s only fair for those teams from the South to make Northern cameos even if only once every couple years.  The whole issue is supposed to be about missed class time caused by playing more midweek games in 13 instead of 14 weeks.  How are Southern schools missing more class time than their Northern counterparts when they are playing roughly 35 home games compared to about 23 home games for teams in the North?

It’s not a stretch to think the issue is less about missed class time and more about not worrying about finding a fifth starter to pitch an extra midweek game every week.  Teams like Texas and Rice have already lightened their regular season slates by playing games in the fall to compensate for the shorter season.  Teams in the North that are serious about an NCAA at-large bid don’t have that luxury, because they need every game to try to get to 40 wins to build their NCAA case.

Here’s a quick look at the differences in a few schedules based on geography:

Texas:  Plays its first 27 games in the state of Texas, including 20 of those games in Austin.  Trips to Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas State are their only games outside of Texas prior to the postseason.  36 home games.

Florida State:  Plays its first 16 games in the state of Florida.  Doesn’t make its first road trip until March 19 at North Carolina.  35 home games.

Arizona State:  Plays its first 17 and 23 of its first 25 games in Arizona.  Plays 30 home games plus four more games in nearby Surprise, AZ.

North Carolina:  Doesn’t leave North Carolina until starting an ACC series on April 2 at Mayland.  23 of the Tar Heel’s first 27 games are in Chapel Hill, with a 3-game series just a Levi Michael line drive away in Durham vs. Duke.  38 home games.

LSU:  Plays its first 12 and 20 of its first 21 games at home (the other game in Natchitoches, LA).  March 26 is the first venture outside of Louisiana for the defending national champs.  38 home games.

Now the Northern schools:

Ohio State:  Plays its first 22 games on the road.  Plays its home opener on March 31.  21 home games.

Notre Dame:  Plays its first 15 games on the road.  Home opener is March 20.  25 home games.

St. John’s:  Plays its first 13 games on the road.  Home opener is March 16.  24 home games.

Michigan:  Plays its first 18 games on the road.  Home opener is March 26.  22 home games.

It’s easy to see that there’s an inherent competitive disadvantage for Northern teams.  They don’t just have to travel for those extra road games, they also have to fly to most of those games while many if not all of the road trips for the Southern teams are via bus.  That means even more cost (there’s no airline discount for baseball teams for checking 70 plus bags per trip.)

The argument can be made that the Northern schools I’ve mentioned are from BCS Conferences, so they should be able to afford the travel.  But what about teams from conferences like the America East, Atlantic 10 & Horizon League (and others)?  They don’t have the BCS trickle down (or even windfall from multiple NCAA basketball tourney bids), but they still have to fly south while their counterparts in the Big South, Atlantic Sun, etc. have shorter bus trips (mostly) and they also occasionally get teams from the ACC and SEC to play in their home parks.

A case can also be made that if Northern teams are serious about winning they should invest more in their baseball programs.  Scaling down their travel costs and adding a few more marquee games to get more fans through the turnstiles won’t change any program overnight, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Look at the Big Leagues.  Kansas City doesn’t come close to packing Kauffman Stadium on a daily basis, but they (and every other team) see attendance spikes when the Yankees and Red Sox come to town.  That’s the kind of effect teams like LSU, UNC, Florida State and the rest would have.

Fans in the South get to see top teams all the time, but most fans in the North don’t get to see those same teams until they’re on TV in Super Regionals and at the College World Series.

I have talked to a couple of coaches who don’t want to say anything on the record right now, but there is a good chance we will see a “major” program or two venture North in the near future.

True equity is never going to happen, because there are so many schools in so many parts of the country involved.  But what’s better for college baseball in May – Louisiana Tech vs. Texas in Austin or Texas vs. Michigan in Ann Arbor?

By the way, mercury actually does exceed 80 degrees in Michigan in May.

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