Fall Ball faces tough sell for College Baseball
As seen in Monday’s edition of the Charlotte Sun
PORT CHARLOTTE — Purdue baseball coach Doug Schreiber made headlines this week when the Big Ten conference voted to continue studying an idea he outlined in January.
The idea would allow northern schools, which are unable to play home games in mid-February when the NCAA season begins, to play up to 14 games in the fall that would count toward the team’s overall record.
The rationale is simple. Enabling northern teams to play more home dates, 60 percent of which are won by the host home team according to the NCAA, would increase those teams’ chances of qualifying for the NCAA tournament.
While the idea has support from many northern schools’ coaches, coaches participating in the Snowbird Baseball Classic this past week doubt any such proposal would be approved by the NCAA membership.
“It’s a hard sell across the country,” Iowa coach Jack Dahm said. “College baseball is making a lot of money right now, and it’s at an all-time high, the only thing is that it could be better. College baseball could be much better if everybody was in the same situation.”
If it were to happen — at least five years away if there’s a trial period done — that could have an effect on local businesses in Charlotte and Sarasota Counties thanks to the Snowbird Baseball Classic.
With a field of 40 teams this year, the Classic is projected to bring in an estimated $5-7 million for local businesses, according to Snowbird Classic director Steve Partington. Schools that play games in the fall would be far less likely to make the trip to Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda. Since 12 games is the equivalent of the first three weeks of the regular season, teams taking advantage of such a rule-change would not start playing until four weeks after everyone else in the spring, which this year would have been this past weekend.
“You wouldn’t see those guys coming down here like they do now,” Partington said. “It would have an impact on us, but I don’t believe (the proposal) would fly.”
Even if the idea eventually was implemented, Partington a divide within Division I would be inadvertently created.
“The Ohio States and the Michigans that have money are still going to got where they want to go, but those that don’t have the money would play the games in the fall,” Partington added.
The support for the proposal among northern schools may not be nearly unanimous, though.
In smaller conferences, many teams receive money from southern schools — which have a distinct advantage of being able to practice outdoors year round — to come down, making a significant portion of the budget.
Additionally, Central Michigan coach Steve Jaksa believed teams would have trouble playing in games that count without having the necessary time to build camaraderie and chemistry.
“We had 16 new guys, and to get them ready for the fall, we needed every day we had,” Jaksa said. “Having games that count, if your teams not quite ready for the fall, it’s like having two different seasons.”
Jaksa added that a better idea would to move the season further back instead of significantly forward.
“I would much rather we have the proposal we approved that was stopped on the presidential level where we move the season one more week back, possibly two so we start March 1,” Jaksa said. “If we pick up two weeks, that’s a huge difference in our part of the country and a bigger equalizer for everybody across the board.”
But others believe that the NCAA should do what’s best for the student-athletes. Each weekend through at least mid-March, students from the northern schools are forced to travel and miss class.
“This is our fourth weekend in a row being gone, and it’s hard and our guys are sluggish coming out,” Dahm said. “We go to school in the Big Ten. After we travel all the time, with midweek games, we can’t miss any class. We’re missing eight days between Big Ten games and regular season, so there’s a lot of advantages.”
It’s because of the constant traveling Dahm’s warmed to the idea.
“I was kind of lukewarm on it when I first heard it, but now that we have to travel so much, there’s a definite place for it,” Dahm said. “Something’s got to happen, and that might be the best option we get.”
Having games in the fall would allow those students to play home games in the fall and miss less class time in the beginning of the spring semester.
But Partington, a former Big Ten umpire, said the best chance the northern schools have at transforming the idea into reality is to first fight for a trial for select teams.
“They’d like to go to a trial basis, but it’s like the Republicans and Democrats,” Partington said. “You’ve got a lot of teams that don’t want to (play in the fall) … They’re hoping to get a trial basis, but there’s so many hoops they’ve got to go through to get that done.”