Friday, June 19, 2009
College baseball teams from cold climates strike out
RT Staff Note: We have commented on this scenario before. Baseball is no doubt a regional sport. Other than Minnesota, (they play a lot of their home games in the Metro Dome), northern teams have to travel south to play the first half of their season. This makes it tough to gain any momentum or rally the home fans to support their teams. Here's and article from the Des Moines Register that mirrors our thoughts on College Baseball in Cold Weather states.
Omaha, Neb. — Before they dropped a piano on its head, the Northern Iowa baseball team opened the season with 23 straight road games. Ohio State played more contests in the state of Florida this spring (25) than it did in the state of Ohio (23).
If you really want to get serious, there are two ways to preserve big-time college baseball in the Midwest. The first is for every Division I school north of Branson and east of Salt Lake to dome their stadiums. Good luck with that.
"People aren't too thrilled to sit out in cold weather in a not-very-nice ballpark," offered Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn, who has piloted two different schools from two different regions — Nebraska and the Razorbacks — to the College World Series. "They want to see some things that draw them to the park. Some beauty in it."
You could use a lot of words to describe Waterloo's Riverfront Stadium. "Beauty" isn't one of them.
The second idea is to delay the start of the regular season. A number of coaches have suggested an opening date of April 1, just as the NCAA basketball tournaments go riding off into the sunset.
It makes perfect sense, too, until you ponder the end of the slate. Assuming teams need 13 weeks to finish out a regular season and another four for the postseason, that would move the College World Series to - um, the first week of August.
Omaha, no surprise, is not particularly crazy about that idea. Neither is the NCAA.
"The answer, of course, is that we've got a pretty fixed event here on the back end," Tim Weiser, deputy commissioner of the Big 12 and chair of the NCAA Division I baseball committee, offered Tuesday at Rosenblatt Stadium. "We're not going to be able to do much with that."
And there you go. The last true cold-weather school to win a College World Series was Wichita State in 1989, if you're still counting. The Big Ten hasn't placed a team at Rosenblatt since Michigan in 1984.
The Atlantic Coast Conference, the Pac-10 and the Southeastern Conference accounted for five of the eight schools in this year's field. The leagues combined for six of the eight in 2008; four of the eight in 2007; and six of the eight in 2006. If you play where it snows in April, brother, good luck getting your ticket punched.
"The problem is, it's still, to an extent, a regional sport," said Dave Keilitz, executive director of the American Baseball Coaches Association. "And if you don't have people around you playing it, it makes it more difficult to start it up. It makes it easier to drop it if nobody in your region has it. It's not like football, where you go play on the weekend ... the longer you've got to travel, the more expensive it's going to be."
Money wasn't the only reason why the Panthers dropped baseball after 103 years, but it didn't help. Northern Iowa led the life of a typical small, Northern program: Spend the first four weeks of the slate on the road, touring the South or the West, trying not to get your brains beat in while eating giant holes out of your budget. Return home in late March to the cold and the nonexistent crowds that don't help your bottom line, either.
By mid-April, when winter's finally given up the fight, you've only got a month left of games to play. No wonder there's no tradition, no fan base. No wonder Nebraska and Wichita State were the only Midwest schools to crack the top 20 in home attendance in last year.
"I don't know if you'll ever be able to completely level the playing field," Weiser said. "The truth is, I'm not sure there is a way to completely level it."
Weiser's committee meets next month. Considering that the NCAA collected more than $9 million in gross receipts from the '07-08 Division I baseball postseason, second only to men's basketball, don't expect someone to start rocking the boat.
Register sports columnist Sean Keeler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/seankeeler.