Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Things I've Been Meaning To Say

I have to admit that I'm not particularly pleased with myself. While this is true for any number of reasons, the vent here is because I didn't post nearly enough about the College World Series. However, for the first time in years, I was a bit let down by the time Omaha rolled around. Oh, I did root for Cal-Irvine, but once they got bounced, my less-than-normal enthusiasm drained even further.

I attribute this decline to two factors. The first was Michigan's post-season run. After dropping #1 Vanderbilt in the regional and watching Zach Putnam toss a one-hitter at Corvallis, it looked like a Big Ten team was good enough to play at Rosenblatt in June. When the ride ended, I crashed. It just wasn't quite the same without a team I watched all year. It was still fun. Some of the baseball was remarkable, those 'Eaters were a tough lot, but my focus was lost.

Combine this emotional let-down with the usual engagements and responsibilities summer brings and I was knee-deep in everyday life the minute Michigan bid adieu to the tournament. I hardly had time to see the first few games of the CWS, so I started behind the ol' eight ball. This combination of events kept me from the keyboard, the twenty-four hour Rich Maloney saga, notwithstanding.

As such, I'd like to take this chance to crank out a few quick thoughts I've had since the CWS began and I stopped blogging at the same rate.

Pesky Beavers
I should begin with Oregon State. Congratulations to the Beavers on their back-to-back championship. They played like a tough, experienced group. Which, of course, they were. Coach Casey deserves tons of credit for filling in the holes after last year's title run.

The Beavers success should continue to be a source of optimism for all northern programs. While Corvallis isn't quite as wet as we think nor do they get as cold as we do here, the Beavers still built a program where no one thought it was possible. Apparently, it is possible. Congrats, Oregon State.

Welcome To The Party
One of the things I find most entertaining about the post-season is the number of media types that find themselves talking college baseball after spending the entire season having not paid a moment's attention to the sport. This is particularly true of announcers. What they know about the two teams in question, and about the season in general, they've learned since arriving at the venue. This lack of knowledge is revealed almost immediately and, usually, repeatedly.

During the super regional game that followed Putnam's one-hitter at Oregon State, I heard the announcer reference the performance saying something like "that Michigan pitcher had a good game today". It was obvious the poor play-by-play guy, who was getting cash to make comments, didn't have a clue who Michigan sent to the hill that afternoon. He didn't study for that super-regional, after all.

This type of ignorance, and I mean that in the nicest way possible, about the college baseball landscape is prevalent. As ESPN brings in their talking heads, it's gets worse. I doubt too many beyond Kyle Peterson and whomever they have in studio -- someone from Baseball America most likely -- have any idea about what's happened during the year. It's not their fault, they've been doing other things, but it doesn't help the quality of the broadcast.

Reflecting the sport's growing popularity, this year's display of ignorance took another giant leap. The ESPN talking heads were at in studio across the franchise. From SportsCenter to Around The Horn to PTI, college baseball got some love. It proved three things. First, ESPN will cross-promote everything. Second, college baseball is gaining some media momentum. Third, very few of these guys and gals have a clue.

I completely understand where college baseball falls on the sports totem pole. It's down there near the bottom, so I don't begrudge the reporters who are getting paid to analyze the premier events. However, to watch Jay Mariotti spout off about Oregon State's great coaching job and how they filled the roster depleted by graduation made me laugh. Does anyone believe that there are more than two or three national media personnel who could have spouted that information off without a rehearsal first? Did Mr. Mariotti, or anyone else enlightening us this past week, know squat about this stuff prior to the first game in Omaha?

Again, I'm not looking to hammer Mr. Mariotti or anyone else. Writing, contrary to popular belief, ain't all that easy. These ladies and gents aren't getting coin for sitting in frozen ballparks (without pressboxes) to cover teams that may not even finish in the top half of their conference let alone make an Omaha appearance. They are getting paid to share commentary on sports the masses crave. I'm good with that. In fact, I welcome them to the fun that is college baseball.

Yet, that's not going to get me to stop chuckling when I hear the nation's top sports writers (or a broadcast team thrown together in the last week) toss about college baseball data as if it were common knowledge, when they didn't even know it a week ago.

Michigan Baseball Hits The Blogosphere
Today, when I visited friend Ian's blog, Sweaty Men Endeavors, what do I find? A post about Rich Maloney's new contract at Michigan. This is the latest in a number of Maloney related posts in the Michigan blogosphere. If the administration needed anymore evidence that Michigan baseball is gaining some much needed support and coverage, you needed to look no further than Maloney's brief flirtation with Tennessee.

It bears noting that blogs such as MGoBlog, MaizeNBrew and Michigan Sports Center gave the Maloney saga some attention. Not only that, but the story got ink at the Detroit Free Press, as well. The same Freep that barely provides scores during the season was on top of the rumored move to Knoxville. Suddenly, someone other than the Ann Arbor News, Michigan Daily and me are writing about college baseball. I can guarantee you that wasn't happening ten years ago. It might not have been happening three years ago.

What I find most encouraging is the bloggers' response. If these diehard Michigan football fans care about retaining their baseball coach, something is up. When these same big guns of the U-M blogosphere take time to write about baseball at their university, there is ample evidence to suggest an attitude change underway on Maloney's watch. Baseball is slowly making strides on campus and off. If Maloney can keep the winning going, always a difficult proposition, he might see one of his dreams fulfilled -- a packed house each night.

The Big Ten Schedule
You may have heard that the Big Ten is considering moving from their current four game weekend series to a three game set. I'm not sure if the change has been approved, but nearly everyone feels it's going to happen. The change might occur as early as 2009.

The reasons for the change include taking stress off of pitching staffs, aligning the Big Ten with the same conference format as most major conferences and, in the view of some, giving the schools a chance to increase their RPI or strength of schedule.

Those who promote that last notion feel that adding another midweek game against higher ranked non-conference opposition will do more to improve the conference's (and each programs') RPI than another seven inning affair against a lower rung Big Ten program.

An emailer asked me my thoughts on this after I mentioned this in an interview I did (more on that in a minute). I'm going to have to ask smarter people than myself about the affects, but I think it's a circular argument. I guess a majority of the programs could play two midweek games against higher RPI teams from the Mid-American Conference, as an example, and up their SOS and RPI. However, what happens if they don't win? Sure, their RPI won't fall so far, but playing better competition increases the odds of losing, doesn't it?

If Big Ten programs don't get close to the forty-win plateau is a better RPI or SOS going to offset that? What about programs like Minnesota and Iowa that struggle to find quality, RPI friendly competition within a reasonable driving distance now? Who are they going to play in the midweek to up their RPI? How far will they or their opponent have to travel?

As to the conference portion of the revised slate, if you need two really good starters to compete for the regular season conference title instead of three, doesn't that bunch up the field and create more losses? Will we have more Cinderella teams and take away the advantage depth creates? Does the conference really want Cinderellas instead of their best teams advancing?

Like every other change, there's an upside and a downside. I'd love to see Michigan State or Ohio State play two midweek games against programs like Louisville and Kentucky. Both close by, both having success in recent years (UL in this year's CWS and UK last year's SEC champs). I'm just not sure those kind of match-ups are going to result from the change in scheduling. I also dislike those Saturday seven inning double headers, so their departure I greet with a hearty "Good riddance".

Again, if this change becomes official, I'm sure I'll post more about it. I'll also start quizzing folks around the conference about their opinions and see what they think. More to come in the months to follow.

CornNation Interview
I believe I failed to mention that I did an interview at Corn Nation. The Nebraska site does a fine job of covering college baseball, Jonathon actually wrote about the CWS, and asked me to join an illustrious group of previous interviewees. If you are interested, here is the link to my blathering.