Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Losing The Recruiting Battle

Aaron Fitt at Baseball America rates the Top 25 recruiting classes in the country (subscription required). While it's no surprise to see Big Ten teams missing from the list, it's more than a bit disheartening to see that both Kent State and Evansville made the list.

Anyone at a Big Ten baseball program care to explain how Kent State and Evansville hauled in a better recruiting class than you did? Oh, I realize the rankings are just one guy's opinion. I also am aware that Evansville has been building a strong program and Kent State's coaches work as hard as anyone else, but getting better players than Ohio State, Michigan and Minnesota? That just doesn't seem right.

It would be different if the small baseball programs of the south and west were beating the Big Ten for players. I understand (and grudgingly accept) that schools with smaller athletic departments in places like Texas, Florida, Louisiana and California are signing better baseball prospects than the universities of the Big Ten. I don't like it, but such is life in college baseball.

However, let's forget the Central Floridas, Stetsons and South Alabamas for a minute. How in the world do Evansville and Kent State get tossed on a list with college baseball big boys like South Carolina, Clemson, Southern California, Miami (Florida), Cal State Fullerton and Texas when there isn't even a rumor about a Big Ten school on the list? How do Evansville and Kent State out-recruit Big Ten programs right in their own backyard?

It's baffling to see smaller athletic programs in the heart of Big Ten country beat the likes of Penn State, Purdue and Illinois for high school baseball players. It should also be disturbing to any of us (or both of us) that care about status of baseball in the Big Ten. At a time when many Big Ten programs either already have or are planning large scale renovations or completely new stadiums, it's remarkable to consider that the kids of the Midwest are opting to play baseball in the region, but at much smaller institutions.

The baseball coaches of the Big Ten have to overcome far greater obstacles than their brethren to the south and west -- a protracted road trip to begin each season, inclement weather at home, an inability to get college baseball's super powers to schedule a series in the north, a lack of revenue and tepid fan interest. To see them lose the recruiting battle to smaller conference baseball programs in the same geographic region is not something that should be added to the list. Nor should it be accepted.