Friday, October 16, 2009

College baseball still needs major changes

RT Staff Note: There is no doubt in our mind that the greatest college baseball web site is Rivals College Baseball managed by Yahoo and Kendall Rogers. Kendall, like us here at Rounding Third is a huge proponent of the continued growth of college baseball. We both feel that the College Game is still in it's infancy in terms of growth potential. The following is his latest article from Rivals College Baseball.

College baseball still needs major changes
By Kendall Rogers

Changes always are needed in a growing sport like college baseball.

In some ways, the NCAA and conferences have done a nice job of promoting the sport the past few seasons. In other ways such as television contracts and scheduling, both entities haven’t done a good job of putting the sport in a great situation.

It’s my turn to play commissioner in sparking college baseball’s utopia.

The scholarship total is 11.7 and there are proposals to raise it by a few scholarships. In a perfect world, the sport would become a full-scholarship sport. But for now, it’s important that the NCAA increases it at least to 14.

It’s also important to increase exposure and access to fans.

The NCAA would be smart to work with conferences to improve television contracts with regional and national networks. It also makes sense to make a huge change like moving from aluminum to wooden bats to attract the fans that shudder at the sound of the ping. Sure, some of us may love the ping. But some fans believe it’s sacrilegious.

What does my perfect world for the sport entail?

Increase scholarship totals.
The debate about scholarship totals has heated up the past few seasons. Most coaches aim to increase the scholarship total from 11.7 sooner rather than later. The optimum solution calls for an increase to 14 scholarships, but many coaches dream of a day when baseball is a full scholarship sport. For now, even getting 14 scholarships seems like a tough chore. There still are several smaller programs that have just three or four scholarships. The scholarship total likely won’t increase until that changes. However, the sport would receive a huge boost by attracting more talent.

Find a stable schedule.
We’re in the middle of the great scheduling debate. In the past, there were teams on the West Coast that began the season in January. Others in the eastern part of the country, though, didn’t start the season until mid-February because of inclement weather. The NCAA decided to condense the season and start in late February two seasons ago. However, the condensed schedule caused more issues. Now the NCAA has decided to add a week to the beginning of the season, while still keeping the uniform start date. The way the schedule looks for 2010 is the way it should be. The uniform start date is needed and last season’s starting date was too late. Let’s hope this is the start of some stability when it comes to the spring schedule.

Allow a fall season.
Here’s something we can’t seem to figure out. If you look at women’s softball, the NCAA allows teams to play several games in the fall. It also appears those games don’t count against their schedule. So, it strikes us as interesting that college baseball programs are allowed to play fall games, but that each games counts against their 56-game spring schedule. Even without softball in the equation, baseball programs should be allowed to play fall contests without them counting against the 56-game schedule. Not only does this enhance the sport in the fall. It also gives programs a measuring stick of what needs to improve before the spring.

Bring back an amended transfer rule.
It wasn’t too long ago we had a one-time transfer rule. But the NCAA felt it was important to force players to sit out a year if they transfer from one Division I school to another. There’s a problem with that, though. Unlike football and basketball, baseball isn’t a full-scholarship sport. So, how is hindering a student-athlete’s financial well-being good for the sport? It’s time for the NCAA to bring back the one-time transfer rule with some strings attached. Let’s put the rule back in place and say that a player may not transfer unless the financial package the other institution has put together is better than the current institution. This may sound unfair to some, but is the current rule fair? Not at all. It doesn’t make sense.

Better early-season tournaments.
We’ve made it a habit the past few seasons to cover the Houston College Classic, which is one of the best early-season tournaments and is played at Minute Maid Park in Houston. The Big Ten and Big East also have been proactive in scheduling the challenge between the two conferences down in the state of Florida. Other big-time tournaments are needed. As with college basketball, we’d love to see some conference challenges involving the ACC against the SEC and Big 12 against the Pac-10. Sure, having events like these was virtually impossible with last year’s schedule. But the newest schedule changes open the door to tournaments such as these being a possibility in the future. It’d be great for the sport.

Amend roster size, scholarship rules.
It’s time for the NCAA to head back to the drawing board on roster sizes and scholarship rules. Currently, the NCAA says that a team must cap its roster at 35 players with no more than 30 players receiving scholarship money. The rule is slated to change in the spring. The NCAA will then say teams may have no more than 27 players on scholarship. Both this year and in ’10, each player on scholarship must have at least 25 percent of a scholarship. In a sport such as college baseball, there aren’t too many teams with a wealth of depth. Therefore, limiting how many players can be on scholarship only will make this issue more prevalent. The NCAA should cap roster sizes at 35 and allow all 35 players to be on a scholarship. Requiring each player to have 25 percent of a scholarship makes zero sense. The NCAA does, however, need to make sure coaches can’t cut year-to-year scholarship totals.

More regular season television exposure.
The SEC has made huge strides in a agreement with ESPN to get more college baseball games on television. The conference also televises every game of their conference tournament on Comcast Sports and Fox Sports South. That’s pretty impressive. But outside of the SEC, most conferences have done a horrendous job of promoting the sport on television sets. The ACC gets some credit for at least putting a league game of the week on a Fox Sports national telecast. Florida State and Miami also are frequently on television in the Sunshine State. But when it comes to other conferences such as the Big 12 and Pac-10, they may as well not even try. The Big 12’s television contract, if you even want to call it that, is embarrassing. And the Pac-10 isn’t far behind. Perhaps it’s time ESPN televises a national game of the week, while individual conferences push for more airtime. There’s no question television exposure can be increased.

Switch to wooden bats.
We’re not sure this will happen anytime soon, but it someday will happen if baseball purists have their way. There are plenty fans we speak to that would become much more interested in college baseball if the sport moved from aluminum to wooden bats. MLB has attracted a large audience over the years with wooden bats, and it only makes sense for the same to apply at the collegiate level. Critics of moving to wooden bats say the cost would be too heavy, but it’s time for the NCAA and MLB to put together a program to subsidize the costs associated with wooden bats. Not only would this change improve the development of players. It also would increase the number of fans willing to watch college baseball. The sport would be better off.

Move the MLB draft after the College World Series.
There’s a chance the Collective Bargaining Agreement will bring major changes to the schedule surrounding the MLB draft in the near future. We’ll see if it actually happens. For now, though, it’s our belief the MLB draft should be moved after the College World Series. The draft currently occurs before the eight teams descend on Omaha, and it often can be a distraction to some of the highest drafted players. It’s true that professional organizations need to fill their summer rosters sooner rather than later. However, moving the draft back a few weeks is better for the players and coaches alike. It’s a needed change.

Faster paced games.
There’s now a major movement by many coaches to decrease the amount of time for college baseball games. That means a faster pace. Wichita State coach Gene Stephenson has proposed a pitch clock, where pitchers have a limited amount of time to step on the mound and deliver a pitch. If they don’t abide by the rule, the team is then warned. Perhaps implementing this rule will be needed at some point, but coaches need to realize that the pace of the game must be faster. Many programs on the West Coast are notorious for wasting time between pitches to essentially keep their opponents out of sync. The ploy often may work, but it’s bad for the sport. It’s time for the coaches to get on board with improved game pace.

Put together an All-Star Game.
This could be done at the end of the season or the few days before the College World Series. Either way, it is a fantastic idea to join MLB in putting together some sort of All-Star Game. Having the contest in the middle of the season like the big leagues is out of the question. But imagine having an All-Star Game the day before the CWS begins or immediately following the CWS championship series. Putting college baseball’s greatest players on display for a national audience would be a huge boost to the sport. It needs to happen someday.

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