Weather Forecast

Close

March Mania

Proposal for later college baseball season looks like a winner

MINNEAPOLIS -- Northern college baseball coaches have been trying to get the NCAA to push its season further into spring for some time now, none more than Minnesota’s John Anderson.

“For 30 years now I’ve been a pretty strong voice for change,” Anderson said this week.

The difference now, he said, is cost-cutting during the coronavirus pandemic has gotten the attention of all college baseball programs, newly vulnerable as schools study ways to cut expenses in the face of massive deficits caused by the cancellation of the NCAA basketball tournament in March, and possibly the football season in the fall.

Because of that, the time for change is now, Anderson said, which is why he and his peers are hoping to propose legislation this fall to start the season in mid-March. The plan has not been officially vetted, but the Big Ten is a likely sponsor.

“The Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, ACC and SEC coaches are for it, and we’ve got a really strong contingency for progress,” Anderson said.

Anderson’s Gophers have done more than OK for themselves despite the competitive disadvantage of being closer to Canada than the Sun Belt, finishing first or second in the Big Ten 21 times and advancing to the NCAA tournament 18 times since 1982. But he has always been concerned about the U’s competitive disadvantage.

Southern and West Coast teams play outside earlier, play more home games, spend less and make more — and have won every NCAA title since 1967. But now it has become more about survival than national championships, and Minnesota is not alone.

“Southern schools now have the same problem we do, so it applies to everybody,” the Gophers coach said this week. “We’ve already had a couple of programs dropped, and we need to stop it before it snowballs.”

Bowling Green and Furman eliminated their programs this month, and just about every college program not generating revenue is concerned it might be next. Minnesota, for instance, sponsors 25 sports programs and only three made money in fiscal year 2019 — football, men’s basketball and men’s hockey — to keep the department, for now, solvent. The baseball program lost $1.9 million.

Anderson and other Big Ten coaches think they can at least reduce that by moving the season back a month. In a study posted on d1baseball.com, Power 5 Conference coaches propose starting the regular season on March 18 and the NCAA tournament on July 1, with the College World Series finishing by month’s end.

Each of the past two seasons started Feb. 16, and a substantial part of the Gophers’ 2020 campaign, canceled March 12 by the pandemic, was scheduled to be played on the road in Tempe, Ariz., Fort Myers, Fla., Colorado Springs, Colo., and Lubbock, Texas. Home games were played at rented U.S. Bank Stadium, and the team wasn’t scheduled to play at the U’s own Siebert Field until April 3.

That’s a lot of money spent before even getting the chance to play on campus. Anderson and his peers believe pushing the season back will allow for more regional competition and increase attendance at northern schools, allowing them to cut expenses, make more money and build their local fan bases.

Pushing the season into summer, Anderson said, also makes sense for Major League Baseball, which is looking into moving its amateur draft from early June to the end of July and plans to eliminate as many as 42 affiliated minor league teams in a league-wide reorganization that will leave a live baseball void in many smaller cities.

Television, from the Big Ten Network to ESPN, likes the idea of more live summer programming, as well, he said.

None of this is likely to erase a nearly $2 million deficit at the U, but it’s hard to argue it doesn’t make sense when the only reason colleges and universities play so early is to keep the seasons reasonably within the school calendar. For northern teams, it always made sense to play baseball during baseball season.

It seems Minnesota softball, another program defying its headquarters with big-time success, could benefit from a similar plan.

“Before, we were always complaining about the competitive balance and the inequities in terms of how many home games we get, and how much it cost for us to travel and play in the Sun Belt region,” Anderson said. “(Southern teams) had an advantage and didn’t want to give it up; now we’re trying for the same thing, and that’s cut expenses and make money.”

Anderson said a conference must officially sponsor the plan before it can be presented to the NCAA this fall, and that there is hope that the baseball season could change by 2022.

“The goal is to continue building support and have a debate about this now,” he said. “The good news is we’re grounded. We can’t scout and recruit, so there is a lot of time for conversations we’ve never had.”

Schools from Appalachian State to Old Dominion already are cutting programs to help mitigate what will be devastating losses for most college athletics department. Not all college programs are going to, or should, make a profit, but those on the block will do well to have done the research and come up with a plan to make their sport reasonably sustainable.

College baseball, of course, had a head start. Some in the game have been looking into this for 30 years.

randomness