Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Oregon State Raises The Bar

Oregon State's College World Series triumph should have ramifications in the Big Ten. Why? Because the Beavers' title run makes it that much more difficult for teams from the north to complain about their spot on college baseball's totem pole.

If the Beavers can play in consecutive College World Series and win one, why on Earth can't schools in the Big Ten? Or the Big East? The lament many--myself, first and foremost--point to in regards to the north's disadvantage in college baseball is weather. Why Corvallis isn't as rainy as we might think, they get less rainfall than Chicago according to the Corvallis Chamber of Commerce, it's not exactly the warm, enticing weather of the souths-east and west.

We always hear that high school players want to play in Texas, California and Florida because of the ideal weather conditions and the baseball tradition of college's super powers. Well, if kids are willing to go to Corvallis to play baseball, where the weather isn't perfect and their history is ancient to the average high school senior, they should be willing to try Columbus, West Lafayette or State College.

Then there's Oregon State's overall image. Ask anyone to name the best schools for athletics and I suspect that three Big Ten universities--Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State--would be mentioned before Oregon State by everyone who responded to the question. Another five to six Big Ten programs also might get the nod before the Beavers. That might not be an accurate portrayal of how Oregon State's athletics actually perform on the field, but it's a perception of success.

Again, if high school players are going to attend a state university to play baseball, there is no reason to believe that Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State can't compete with Oregon State for recruits, if their image is better or equal to the Beavers, which I believe it is.

Consider revenue streams, as well. Does Oregon State have more money to spend in it's athletic budget than anyone in the Big Ten? Do they have more alumni to solicit funds from? Do they have more former or current pro players (in all sports) to hit up for cash than the schools in the Big Ten? It's difficult to argue finances when Oregon State's probably not bringing in the same capital that many Big Ten schools are.

The Beavers also overcame a disadvantage no one in the Big Ten has to--competition. Oregon State is playing in one of college baseball premier conferences. Pac-10 baseball powers Stanford, USC, UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State are regulars in the NCAA Tournament field. If the Beavers can climb to the top of the ultra competitive Pac-10 while playing in a less than ideal climate for baseball, there is no reason the Big Ten can't produce a few programs to compete with the nation's elite baseball teams.

Certainly, Oregon State does have some advantages over northern schools. Just showing up to play each week versus a fellow Pac-10 opponent increases their RPI. Win or lose, they get points. They also get to play three games on the weekends, not four like Big Ten programs do. And, yes, the weather isn't quite as bad as some might believe. (Even if it rains, that must mean it's too warm to snow, right?) However, there is no solid reason that several Big Ten programs can't match Oregon State's success.

For at least the last decade, only Ohio State has pushed the envelope, in baseball terms. In building Bill Davis Stadium, in pacing the conference in attendance, in hosting a regional, the Buckeyes have attempted to make the next step. Ohio State has slowly forced other Big Ten schools into keeping pace. I doubt if Penn State or Michigan would be making stadium changes if the folks in Columbus hadn't done so first. Now, Oregon State's emergence has raised the bar even higher for Big Ten baseball programs.

If Big Ten programs don't begin to rise as a baseball powers, it will simply be because neither the conference or the individual institutions have the will to do so. All the other necessary tools are at their disposal. Oregon State has set the bar, let's see if anyone in the Big Ten is willing to aim that high.