December 01, 2010
The landscape of college baseball has greatly changed over the past two decades. It has evolved from a sport dominated by two specific regions to one that is seeing programs in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest become prominent players on the national stage.
It's safe to say the sport is always changing. However, in the case of some things, the sport simply hasn't changed quick enough.
With the sport slated to welcome a sparkling new facility in downtown Omaha next June that will host the College World Series, it's time to analyze ten things that could be done better or added to college baseball to make the sport better.
Let the debates begin.
More national television games
There was a time when college baseball was on ESPN at least once a week during the season, but that was two decades ago. Now, the SEC is trying to put the sport back on center stage from a television standpoint by announcing last week it will televise an "SEC Game of the Week" on ESPNU several Thursdays next season. That's certainly a step in the right direction, but we'd prefer see those games played on actual ESPN, not ESPNU. Either way, we give credit to the SEC for at least trying to give the sport more television exposure. Good ratings on ESPNU could mean big things for college baseball's television future. So, even if you're a casual fan, be sure to watch the games.
More marquee non-conference matchups
There are plenty of programs that make efforts to schedule solid non-conference opponents, but there also are those that make a point to stay at home and play weak schedules. By the way, you know who you are. For the good of college baseball, we're all for teams putting together marquee non-conference matchups, series that extend out of your comfortable region and engage programs in other regions of the country. The Big Ten/Big East Challenge is a fantastic idea. What would be better, though, is if the SEC/ACC had a challenge and the Big 12/Pac-10 put together a challenge, too. Hey, one can dream, right?
Speaking of roads we've traveled down before, it's a no brainer that college baseball should increase its scholarship totals. As has been the case for years, most programs have scholarship totals of 11.7. However, there's no question the sport is shafted from a scholarship standpoint when compared to other comparable Division I sports. The argument against increasing scholarships is many programs still aren't at 11.7. However, increasing scholarships, in most instances, would force administrators to make a greater commitment to the sport. It's a win-win for most.
More commitments to building programs
Many programs continue to make stronger commitments to their programs with renovated or new facilities. However, making stronger commitments will continue to be a goal as long as an institution such as California is considering dropping its baseball program. Furthermore, Coastal Carolina has given the little guys hope they someday can become one of the big national players. Programs are making stronger commitments, but there's never an end in this department.
Eventually move to wood bats
The NCAA raised plenty of eyebrows this fall when it mandated programs must begin using the new BBCOR bats. Well, the BBCOR bats certainly act more like wood than any bat used in years. So, that begs the next question, why not just move to wood bats? Some coaches and pundits argue that aluminum bats make the college game unique. But, you must remember the mere presence of aluminum bats also turns off many casual baseball fans. Some say who cares about those fans, but those are the fans that will determine if college baseball becomes a big-time sport. As much as some dislike the idea, moving to wood bats has a better bottom line.
Move up the MLB draft signing deadline
There's a very good chance this happens when the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is voted on next year, but it's important to reiterate our stance. There were several college coaches anxiously waiting by phones on Aug. 16 to find out if their prized recruits were signing pro contracts or going to college. That's all fine and dandy except the fact school had already started for some of those coaches, meaning if a player signed they could be unable to fill his spot. Many believe the signing deadline will be moved to July 1. That would be perfect for college baseball, but I'd be surprised if the new deadline wasn't in the middle of July. That would be a good compromise.
Develop a fall baseball schedule
This is something that must be done. The NCAA allows softball programs to play fall contests with no penalty during the sport's spring season. Baseball programs have games removed from their spring schedule if they play games during the fall. There's something wrong with that picture. The NCAA should allow baseball programs to play a four or five game fall schedule that do not count against your 56-game regular-season schedule. Many of these games could be played between rivals on football game weekends to generate more interest in the sport.
Less regionalization of NCAA Super Regionals
There's a reason Major League Baseball would prefer in most instances not to have teams from the same area in the NLCS, ALCS or World Series. It brings down television ratings. Somehow, the NCAA hasn't figured out the popularity of college baseball will increase long-term by putting together intriguing national matchups as opposed to pitting regional teams together like they did with Cal State Fullerton-UCLA, TCU-Texas (for the second straight season) and Miami-Florida last season. We're of the belief that super regional venues will attract thousands of fans no matter who the home team is playing. Not everything must be regional in nature.
Get the northern programs more involved
We've never been champions of making sure other regions are involved in the landscape of college baseball, but now is the time to get the northern programs more involved. There are plenty of northern programs that head south during the early part of the season. But in many instances, these programs aren't playing the marquee southern and western teams. That must change for the landscape of the sport to improve. It also would help if programs in big conferences such as Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina would occasionally make midweek trips to the northern part of the country. College baseball will continue to gain popularity, but doing a better job of attracting the north is the final piece to the big puzzle.
Weaker transfer rule
We've been on this soapbox for over a year now, and we're still of the belief there's something wrong with the rule that states you must sit out for a year if you transfer to another Division I institution, barring a special exemption. Again, it must be reiterated, college baseball is not the same as college football and basketball. Unlike those sports, baseball is not a full scholarship sport and shouldn't be treated as one. If a player is with a program that can't give him more scholarship money than another program, he should be allowed to transfer with no penalty for financial reasons. Deep down, we're not fans of players freely transferring all over the place. However, having a loose transfer rule is one of many ways to get the NCAA more involved in increasing scholarships.