Saturday, December 30, 2006

Happy New Year

From a Big Ten Hardball perspective, I almost hate to see 2006 end. This year has been remarkable for myself and this blog. In almost every way imaginable, BTH has exceeded my expectations in '06.

I attended more games than ever before, including every contest of the Big Ten Tournament. Although, I nearly had to go into rehab for baseball addiction afterwards. It took weeks to adjust to not having games to watch before lunch. Needless to say, I crashed pretty hard when the conference tournament concluded. Going cold turkey was difficult, but I'm much better now.

For the first time, I promoted the blog some in '06. The results have been measurable. More on that in a minute. This year, I also found more college baseball related sites to link to and received more links from others than ever before. That's not only good for Big Ten Hardball, but it's good to see more information about college baseball available.

In 2006, I got to meet -- either in person or via email -- many people associated with the game. I've crossed paths with sports information directors, radio broadcasters, writers, booster club members, parents and fans. I've been very impressed and rather humbled with the courtesy those I've come in contact with have exhibited. It appears college baseball fans tend to embrace their fellow college baseball fans. Birds of a feather, I guess.

In particular, the people around Big Ten baseball programs have been very gracious to me. They have shared insights on their team, the game and the occassional darn funny story that I cannot repeat. While a handful have been regular readers for nearly two years, the majority of these folks have stumbled upon Big Ten Hardball in just the last 365 days.

Which leads me to, perhaps, the most surprising fact of 2006 -- the number of visitors to BTH. In May, propelled by the conference tournament, BTH climbed above the 1,000 visitor mark for the month. While that's a rather small figure in comparison to blogging's big boys, for a lightly promoted blog covering a non-revenue college sport in a region of the country that supposedly doesn't care about it, 1,000 hits in a month caught me completely off-guard.

While the hit total did diminish in the summer months, September saw BTH have its second highest traffic volume. Even more astounding, is that the hit total has increased in each month since. Increased traffic to a Big Ten baseball blog in the middle of football season? I never would have envisioned that. I doubt all those who dismiss college baseball, especially college baseball in the snowbelt, would have guessed that, either.

More hits than I ever dreamed of, meeting people I never thought I would meet, going to more games than ever before, posting more than I ever thought I would, is it any wonder I hesitate to relinquish 2006 just yet? However, I am encouraged about what lies ahead for BTH. I'm hoping to build on what occurred in 2006 and, hopefully, make Big Ten Hardball better in the new year.

I thank each you for making 2006 such an unexpected success. Here's hoping you visit often in 2007 and the Big Ten gets at least two teams in the NCAA Tournament. Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

TBZ Interviews Illinois' Roof

University of Illinois shortstop Shawn Roof is interviewed on Baseball Zealot Radio. The Baseball Zealot is clearly comprised of some diehard Illini baseball fans. I'll be adding a link to their blog as soon as I can figure out where to put it amongst my sidebar options.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Michigan, OSU Make Top 40

Collegiate Baseball has released it's initial poll for 2007. Two Big Ten programs have made CB's Top 40. The University of Michigan checks in at #38 and Ohio State is the last squad in at #40.

The rankings reveal that both teams, bolstered by experienced pitching staffs, should have high expectations for the upcoming season. The trick then becomes living up to those expectations.

Other items of note: Notre Dame is sandwiched right in between the Wolverines and Buckeyes. The Fighting Irish are ranked #39.

A third Big Ten school, Minnesota, also received votes in the first CB poll of '07. If poll is acccurate and three Big Ten schools are in amongst the top 60 or so programs in the country, this should be one of the strongest Big Ten fields in recent memory.

A pair of MAC schools received votes, as well. Central Michigan and Ball State both garnered some pre-season recognition. Again, if there are this many quality schools in the north, 2007 should be a banner year for baseball in the snowbelt.

Oh, I almost forgot. Who is #1? Rice University was tabbed as college baseball's top team.

Spartans Release Schedule

Michigan State has released it's 2007 baseball schedule. In non-conference action, MSU faces some good opposition from South Florida, Central Florida, Stetson, Auburn and a three game set in Norman versus Oklahoma. The season begins for Coach Grewe's nine in Florida at the Coca-Cola Classic on February 23 versus South Alabama.

The Spartans open up Big Ten action on the road at Indiana. MSU will also travel to Minnesota, Ohio State, Michigan (in their home and home series vs. the Wolverines) and close the regular season in Champaign against Illinois.

In East Lansing, the Wolverines will make their half of the annual home and home visit, while Purdue, Penn State and Northwestern all come calling in 2007. Both games against Michigan and three of the four versus NU will be at Oldsmobile Park. The Spartans home date of their two game encounter with Central Michigan will also take place at the home of the Class A Lansing Lugnuts.

With Michigan State's announcement of their 2007 slate, every school in the Big Ten has now made their schedules available.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Reviewing Expense Reports

This is the time of the year when many of our expenses increase. Cards, gifts, meals, office parties and traveling combine to increase our outgoing cash flow. With that in mind, and with a dearth of notable baseball information floating around, I figure this might be as good a time as any to review some Big Ten baseball expense reports.

I stumbled upon this data rather accidentally. In reading Kyle Whelliston's superior blog/website/hoops haven, The Mid-Majority, I found he had data on athletic department expenses for each school. It made me wonder two things: First, where did the data come from? Second, was there any baseball information to be obtained?

Being the professional he is, Mr. Whelliston provided a link to another site entitled Equity in Sports. It's a government site, which I presume is keeping track of such things in order to enforce good old Title IX. At the U.S. Department of Education site, I found the numbers I am about to share with you.

Unfortunately, the site doesn't breakdown spending beyond providing a total. What precisely "expenses" entail is left to our imaginations. By saying that, I do understand expenses in a general sense. (Hey, I have expenses, for crying out loud. If anyone should know about expenses, it's a guy whose paying for a vet's new hardwood floors and my plumber's World Series tickets.) I realize that bats, balls, uniforms and travel would fall into expenses. However, does maintaining the field fall into the baseball budget or is that a seperate facilities cost? Do scholarships factor into the totals? Does providing a stipend to opposing schools fall into the expense column? Do accounting practices vary between institutions? These are the types of questions that I can't seem to find answers to.

I should also toss in one other note before proceeding. I began looking at these figures several months ago. Between the original time I collected the data and now, the numbers at the site changed. I found that the majority of expense figures had increased. All of the numbers, however, were different from my first visit.

This led me to one semi-logical conclusion. Well, I think it's semi-logical, anyway. The first set of numbers were for the 2005 season. The new, and generally larger, totals are for the 2006 year. Expenses go up each year, right? So, if the first set of numbers was smaller than the second set, the first set must be for the prior year, the second set for the most recent season. See, semi-logical.

Keep my rationale in mind when reading. I'll refer to each set of numbers as '05 and '06 without knowing for certain that's the case. If anyone can shed any light on the differing figures, including proving my hypothesis utterly inaccurate, my email is in the sidebar and you are always welcome to leave a comment. (A late secondary note. Be sure to read the Equity in Athletics Cautionary Note, their caveats and fine print. Maybe you'll unearth something I missed.)

One item that stayed the same between both sets of numbers was that the University of Minnesota had the highest baseball expenses in the conference. In the numbers I perceived to be from 2005, Minnesota had $320,713 in expenses. That figure was topped in '06 as the Gophers expenses rose to $344,056.

Once again, not knowing what constituted the criteria for "expenses", I do wonder if Minnesota got hit with providing it's opposition in the Dairy Queen Classic with a stipend for participation. Again, I don't know if they even offer the other schools a monetary reimbursement or how much of that tournament's overall cost is picked up by DQ. However, if any additional money is needed from the Gophers baseball expenses to fund the event, that could explain why Minnesota topped the Big Ten both years.

Of course, one could also argue that you get what you pay for. Minnesota had the highest expenses, but are arguably the best baseball program in the conference. The theory that says "those that spend the most, win the most" is also backed up by the programs with the next two biggest expense reports.

After the Gophers, Michigan and Ohio State had the highest expenditures. In 2005, Michigan's baseball expenses were at $263,751. Last year, they came in at $310,801. The Buckeyes 2005 expenses were $234,428. While in '06, the Bucks shelled out $292,765. The Wolverines finished second in spending, OSU third in both years.

Again, one could argue that spending directly correlated to winning. A strong case can be made that the Gophers, Wolverines and Buckeyes are the three best baseball programs in the Big Ten. A look at conference titles, Big Ten tournament wins, NCAA berths and other factors would only back up that assertion.

In looking at all the 2005 totals, we see Minnesota was first, Michigan second, Ohio State third. Then, in a bit of a surprise to me, Indiana came in fourth. The Hoosiers' expenses two seasons ago were $230,804. Michigan State followed at $205,123. The bottom half of the Big Ten began with Illinois at $204,958. The Illini were followed by Purdue $194,483, Northwestern $172,410, Penn State $170,944 and Iowa $143,287.

In '06, the Gophers ($344,056), Wolverines ($310,801) and Buckeyes ($292,765) finished one-two-three in expenses, again. The fourth place program was Michigan State. The Spartans expenditures rose to $237,915. In fifth place, was Illinois at $234,254. The Wildcats of NU came in next at $219,151. Seventh spot belonged to Indiana at $200,614. The Hoosiers spent almost exactly as much as Penn State which paid out $200,070. Purdue was next at $186,619. Iowa rounded out the group at $183,293.

I don't want to make too much about these figures. They are interesting fodder for a mid-December night, but like all numbers should be used more for illumination than support. Any number of factors could alter the totals. A sharp decline in travel costs could lower a program's expenses. That doesn't necessarily indicate an administrations lack of interest or support of the baseball team.

Conversely, when you see Minnesota spend almost twice as much as neighboring Iowa, you do wonder why the gap is so large. You might also wonder how the Hawkeyes can compete against schools that appear to have significantly larger baseball budgets? All fair questions, but we aren't going to reach any conclusions here.

I encourage all interested and, perhaps, uninterested parties to review the Educational Department's site. It makes for some very interesting reading. I may breakdown these numbers further at a later date. I might even get brave and look to see what college baseball's big boys spend and compare that with what Big Ten programs expenses look like. For now, though, this should give everyone something to ponder and actually provides me with some topical material to post.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Clemens Award Watchlist

Three Big Ten hurlers were named to the initial watchlist for the 2007 Roger Clemens Award. Ohio State lefties Dan DeLucia and J.B. Shuck and Michigan righthander Chris Fetter were named to the pre-season list. The Clemens Award is presently annually to the top pitcher in college baseball.

For a complete look at the list, click here. (It's a .pdf file.)

Hat tip: College Baseball Blog.

Gophers Land Nine

The University of Minnesota added nine (yes, nine) high school players to their 2008 team. Thus far, the Golden Gophers freshman class is the largest amongst the Big Ten programs. Coach Anderson suggested "It is probably one of the most talented groups we have brought into the program since I have been here."

Five New Hawkeyes

Iowa baseball coach Jack Dahm recently announced that five players have committed to play for the Hawkeyes beginning in the fall of 2007.

Gibson, Mulder Help MSU

Michigan State University's "New Life For Old College Field" project is being headed up by Kirk Gibson and Mark Mulder. The former Spartan standouts are the national co-chairs of a fundraising effort designed, in part, to help bring MSU's on-campus baseball facilities up to the next level.