Friday, January 27, 2006

My Turn, Joanna

I've been having a dialogue with Texas blogger, Joanna, that began with my post about the uniform start date the NCAA recently agreed to. Our open chat has also veered off into the debate over athletics versus academics and the north vs. south dilemma college baseball has. As Joanna lobbed the last round, I guess it's my turn to reply.

We completely agree on the athletics versus academics issue. The NCAA and, more importantly, it's member institutions need to figure out where their responsibility to the "student/athlete" lies. Are colleges responsible to make sure their athletes graduate or just provide them with a training ground to become pro athletes? If their objective is solely to prepare people for the next phase of life then, perhaps, it's time to discuss things like stipends and making the athletes "representatives" of the schools not "students". Having said all this, do I believe any such decision is in the offing? Not a chance. (My problems with the NCAA are a different post entirely.)

As for college baseball's north/south inequity, Joanna correctly points out that northern schools should make more of a commitment to baseball. I couldn't agree more, but it's a chicken and egg problem. What comes first: fan interest or an institution's financial commitment? Is attendance sub-standard because of a lack of interest or because of less-than-ideal weather? Are athletes drawn to southern schools to play baseball because of poor facilities in the north or the lousy weather or both? As baseball isn't an inexpensive sport to play, it's a great leap of faith for athletic departments to commit to building new baseball stadiums when there are so many unknown factors.

Building an indoor facility might occur at a big revenue school, but can you see Maine building a dome for baseball? How many programs are really in a position to build an indoor baseball field? I would suspect very few. Doing so would only further the gap between baseball haves and have nots. Honestly, I'd also worry that the combination of metal bats and plastic grass might alienate old school baseball fans.

However, I think we are all about to get a better idea about the answer to the question "If they build it, will they come?". Penn State is in the process of building a new facility which they intend to share with a minor league team. Michigan State is increasing it's home dates at Oldsmobile Park, home of the Lansing Lugnuts. Minnesota plays a number of games at the Metrodome. There have been rumors for about two years in regards to a new baseball stadium being built in Ann Arbor and arch-rival Ohio State already plays in a great new facility, Bill Davis Stadium.

Within the next three or four years, we will see if better facilities will help generate interest, increase revenue and attract better recruiting classes. Regardless, the Big Ten can build all the shiny new diamonds they like, but it isn't going to stop the snow or cold. That's why the start date is so important. Even if Michigan, using Joanna's example, builds a new yard, they still probably can't play a home game much earlier than they do now. Yes, building a covered ballpark would solve that, but how many southern schools are going to volunteer to come north in February and March when they have a line of northern schools willing to visit them?

In drawing comparisons to other "northern" schools, Joanna accurately states that Nebraska has done well in baseball and Oregon State is fielding a very good squad currently. In Nebraska's case, they have a distinct advantage--Omaha. When your region hosts the game's annual championship series, interest is bound to be high. If Ann Arbor or Minneapolis hosted the College World Series, I suspect both local school's baseball programs would be more well received. (Not that Michigan and Minnesota don't have a solid base of fans, because they do. They just aren't as large as they could be. Remember, Big Ten kids, I'm on your side. No hate mail, please.)

I would classify Oregon State's current success as an anomaly. If the Beavers can maintain their current status in the ultra competitive Pac-10 for an extended period, then I'll re-consider my position. (I'm rooting for you, though, OSU.) About the only school I would really tab as a northern success might be Notre Dame. And for all their top 25 rankings and good recruiting classes, I doubt many would put the Irish on the same level as SEC, Big XII or Pac-10 programs.

In the end, Joanna, we actually agree on almost everything. In particular, I concur that there are simply no easy answers. Hopefully, northern schools will get the incentive to commit more resources to baseball so that fans up here can enjoy college baseball at the same level you do at Texas. I'm grateful that you stopped in and shared your thoughts. I hope you continue to do so.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

OSU Captains, Illini Practice And Two Ex-Michigan Stars

In my email box today, I find a press release from Todd Lamb at Ohio State. Lamb, the Assistant Athletics Communications Director at OSU, President of the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and The Hardest Working Man In Show Business, informs us all that the Buckeyes have named their 2006 captains.

Dan DeLucia, Jacob Howell and Jedidiah Stephen have been chosen by their teammates as captains this year. Congratulations to all three on the honor. Here is the official release.

In other Big Ten baseball news, Lucas Deal, of the Daily Illini, pens this piece about Illinois' first practice of 2006. New coach Dan Hartleb has to replace a number of players this year.

Finally, in browsing through Fox Sports' Dayn Perry's list of the Top 100 MLB prospects, I've found two Big Ten players. Former Michigan Wolverines Rich Hill and Jake Fox have made the list that is still a work in progress. Hill came in at number seventy-one, while Fox is number ninety.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Uniform Start Date Measure Passes

The NCAA has adopted a Big Ten driven initiative to create a uniform start date for all college baseball programs. This is good news for all the teams in the less than ideal baseball climates. It helps level the playing field, albeit only slightly.

I'm still baffled as to how the member institutions believe schools in the north can actual compete with programs in the south. Maine, for one example, is going to play its first twenty-six games away from home this year. That's 26 consecutive road games to start the season. It's absurd to think that a university can sustain a baseball program, or interest in a baseball program, when the first month's worth of contest occur elsewhere.

I readily admit to being a fan of baseball in the snowbelt, but at a time when equity is the buzzword around college athletics, I'm confused as to how anyone views college baseball's caste system as equal?

Strength Of Schedule Rankings

Boyd Nation, college baseball numbers guru and proprietor of Boyd's, has ranked every school's 2006 strength of schedule. Here is a link to his analysis. What are you still doing here? Go read it.

Big Ten Notes From B.A. Preview

Baseball America has started to release it's college baseball preview. Now, in light of any possible plagerism/copyright lawsuit and because I actually pay to read this stuff, I'm only going to share some tidbits of information from their website. If you desire more, I strongly encourage you to subscribe or find a copy of their annual preview (which has apparently already come and gone of my bookstores' shelves).

Ohio State was BA's choice to claim the Big Ten title. Collegiate Baseball Newspaper has the Buckeyes selected to win the Big Ten, as well. Just as it appears Texas will be a consensus number one team heading into the season, Ohio State is clearly everyone's choice to grab the Big Ten.

Only one Big Ten athlete made Baseball America's Top 50 freshman. Much heralded Zach Putnam of Michigan was considered the fourth best freshman baseball player in the land. Obviously, a great deal is going to be expected from this first year phenom.

Conversely, not a single Big Ten player managed to get on Baseball America's Top 50 sophomore list. I thought Cory Luebke, Ohio State, might merit a selection, but he didn't make it. I also found it odd that Collegiate Baseball left Luebke off their "Others To Watch" list for the Big Ten. Must have been an oversight, the kid's pretty good.

Just as he did with Collegiate Baseball, Mitch Hilligoss was BA's pre-season choice as Player of the Year in the Big Ten. While Collegiate Baseball named Iowa's Tim Gudex as it's Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, Baseball America went with Minnesota's John Gaub. BA also considers Gaub the best MLB prospect in the conference.

NCBWA Releases Pre-Season Poll

The National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association has joined in with everyone else and named Texas as its pre-season number one team. The NCBWA top five also contains Florida, Oregon State, Rice and Nebraska.

No Big Ten institution made the NCBWA's top thirty, although Ohio State and Minnesota did garner some votes. I'm a bit surprised Purdue didn't get an honorable mention, but only a tiny bit. The Boilermakers and the rest of the Big Ten will have to win their way into national recognition during the season.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

More Big Ten OPS Numbers

Yes, I've been using the old calculator, again. I've got an slightly expanded list of 2005 OPS numbers for some returning Big Ten players. I'm not even pretending this is a complete list of returnees. Nor am I claiming the numbers are 100% accurate. Remember, I had to use a calculator. If you note an error or two, in math, spelling or eligibility, please let me know.

Pat McMahon, Northwestern 1.028
Ryan Basham, Michigan State .997
Zach Boswell, Indiana .992
Jeff Kunkel, Michigan .978
Mitch Hilligoss, Purdue .964
Jay Brant, Indiana .955
Andy Hunter, Minnesota .917
Neal Gorka, Purdue .909
Matt Lewis, Penn State .907
Ryan Parker, Indiana .897
Mike Rohde, Illinois .890
Troy Krider, Michigan State .882
A.J. Scheidt, Michigan .874
Reggie Watson, Indiana .867
Jedidiah Stephen, Ohio State .804
Nate Price, Iowa .795
Matt Angle, Ohio State .754
Ronnie Bourquin, Ohio State .717

Collegiate Baseball Conference Predictions

My Collegiate Baseball pre-season preview has arrived. It's up to its usual standard-tons of information. I'm still waiting for Baseball America to update its online site with all their college material. As I subscribe to their online content, I was hoping to avoid having to pick-up a hard copy of their preview edition. Yet, I see a picture of their '06 preview on their site which leads me to believe it's available now.

Does this mean the preview was already published and I probably cannot get it at the local bookstore because it's previous edition? (I've had no luck so far.) Is their website not going to have their complete college preview? Are they that slow in uploading the data to their site? What gives?

Anyway, back to Collegiate Baseball. Amongst all the national previews, CB has predicted Ohio State will capture the Big Ten Conference title. The Buckeyes are followed by Purdue, Minnesota, Michigan and Iowa. If you want to know the bottom half of their Big Ten predictions, email me. For now, I'll attempt to get a few more of you to give the nice folks at Collegiate Baseball the three dollars necessary to get your own copy.

CB goes on to name project Iowa lefty Tim Gedux as the conference's Pitcher of the Year. Gedux was second in the conference with a 2.55 ERA. He also notched nine wins and six saves in the 2005 season.

Mitch Hilligoss, Purdue's shortstop and pre-season All-America candidate, was named the Player of the Year. As I've stated here before, Hilligoss is the conference's defending batting champion with a .404 mark. Hilligoss also slugged at a .535 clip and stole 25 bases.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

'Horns Hook Another Honor

Texas, fresh off it's college football title, sits atop Baseball America's pre-season baseball poll. The Longhorns, who are also the defending baseball champs, are followed by Clemson, Florida, Georgia Tech and Cal State Fullerton.

Not surprisingly, no Big Ten school merited a top twenty-five nod from B.A. On the bright side, two Big Ten programs were projected into the sixty-four team College World Series field--Ohio State and Purdue.