Monday, September 15, 2008

Weather or Not?

Rivals College Baseball has a message board and there is a heated debate going on about the very subject we have brought up many times in the past...There are a group of northern universities that have had an influential voice in changing the way the college game is being played. (Condensed schedule/later start date being the biggest rule change) Northern schools complained that the February 2 start date was too early and lobbied to have it moved to February 22nd...They were successful. Last year was the first year that rule went into effect.

Now, some coaches are coming forward and talking about if the weather has any effect on their ability to compete. Some coaches in Northern climate schools say weather is a factor in recruiting and player commitment to the sport. Others say weather has nothing to do with it.

So a poster on RivalCB asked a hypothetical question that in essence said if the weather was the same all over the country, much like Southern California weather, would an LSU shortstop that was originally from Alaska decide to go home and play for his home state...He states..."Does he stay in or near his home state and make the local team more competitive? Or does he weigh other considerations? Remember, in our hypothetical, weather is not a factor any longer."

Here's our answer to that question.

If weather was not a factor, then baseball becomes just like basketball and football and the universities and conferences that pour more money and state of the art facilities into a program have the best shot of loading and re-loading every year. Plain and simple. It would even out the playing field and the southern states would not have the edge any longer....but only if those northern universities commit to the future success of a program.

It can be done. UC Irvine started from scratch and succeeded in a very short period of time with great coaching, new facilities and a commitment to winning despite competing for recruits with 11 other Division-I universities within a 90 minute radius of it's campus.

Those that are serious will compete. Those that aren't won't. So to answer his question. Would the player from LSU stay home and play in his home state of Alaska if weather was the same everywhere? Only if Alaska had the same commitment to winning that UC Irvine did. You see that scenario in basketball all the time, a sport unaffected by weather. Players from Iowa, going to Duke rather than play for the Hawkeyes...because the opportunity for that player was better...Oh, and there's that Coach K guy.

But the reality is...his hypothetical will never happen and we have to deal with the dynamics of a divisive system. Here's some questions and answers to ponder.

Q. Historically, where are the stronger programs?
A. In the past 20 years, the southern/warm climate teams have had 156 representatives go to Omaha...the Northern teams have had 12.

Q. Why does the south and western state colleges dominate in the College World Series?
A. Outside of foreign born players, the majority of major league baseball players come from California, Florida, Texas and Georgia, so it stands to reason that these colleges would have a strong base of high school players to choose from, making their ability to load and reload easier each year.

Q. Why do baseball baseball players be seem to better in the southern/western states?
A. They play more baseball. They have the ability to concentrate on baseball year round and by high school, have ceased to chop up their season by playing fall and winter sports. Although some people will disagree that year round baseball makes a difference, the realities are that most west coast and southern state players DO play year round and as a result, those states continuously produce some of our nations best players, best college teams and MLB recruits.

Q. Will Northern players ever compete with southern players?
A. Absolutely!!! A great athlete is a great athlete. The difference is commitment. It takes a year round commitment, a love for the sport and a major shift in their work-out habits. Baseball is an outdoor sport, when you can play it outdoors. A great athlete that loves baseball in Schaumburg, Illinois will have to take his game to another level mentally, than the guy in Poway, California. The guy in Poway can play in tournaments, face good pitching, hone his game situation skills, etc. The high school player in Schaumburg has to visualize those situations and work a lot harder indoors to achieve those kind of results.

And, folks that's very hard. Northern players have a distinct disadvantage. It's tough to psyche yourself to play pretend baseball in a cage, gym or on an indoor carpet. But, it can be done and has been done. Prior to 1988, there were teams like Maine and Michigan that used to be regulars in the CWS. A lot of that was due to regionalism and the way they seeded the brackets, but back in the 50's and 60's, Minnesota won three times and Michigan won twice. It just takes commitment and hard work, no matter if you are indoors or out. High School players in the North just need to get used to the idea of getting their reps indoors for 4-5 months.

Northern collegiate baseball seems to be headed in the right direction to address their biggest issue of February baseball. Teams in the Big 10, Big East and other conferences had to travel down south starting as early as Feb. 2nd and play conditioned and outdoor seasoned southern teams from the ACC, SEC and other warm weather conferences. That was a big disadvantage for them since they had little or no outdoor playing experience that early in February.

So, last week it was announced that the Big East and Big Ten will have a pre-season tournament challenge in Florida to kick off the 2009 season. They can get their feet wet by playing other northern schools that are in the same situation as them to start off the season without greatly affecting their RPI standing.

We think that this is a great idea. We also hope this tournament and hopefully others like it, will eventually convince the NCAA that there are solutions to narrow the weather gap and lengthen the season again. As we have written many times on this blog, the condensed season is hard for the STUDENT-athlete. In a condensed season, teams have to play 4-5 games a week early in the season and that makes it extremely hard for an athlete to be a student.

It's all so complicated folks. And, unless this global warming issue gets worse, collegiate baseball will always be be divided by the climatized haves and have-nots. All of you readers that live in the north are probably real sick of hearing about how the south is better than the north...when we all know there are great baseball athletes are on both sides of the Mason Dixon line. The bottom line is the level of commitment and playing time that separates the good baseball athletes from the great athlete and that divide can be closed with a shift in your winter baseball work-outs. It's really that simple.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Winter workouts at a facility like an "Extra Innings" have their limitations. Yes you can get your swings in, either against live pitching or a machine. Yes you can work on your pitching by throwing bullpen sessions off of the fake mounds in their pitching tunnels. But you really can't play a game and as we all know practice speed and game speed are two different things. Not only is there a weather advantage to playing in the south vs north but there also is a cost benefit as it can be real expensive to pay for the indoor work that you get for free outdoors in the south.