Thursday, April 30, 2009

NCAA Adds A Week To Schedule

In a story reported by Kendall Rogers of Yahoo! Sports, the college baseball schedule will expand from its current thirteen weeks to fourteen weeks beginning next year. In a measure passed this afternoon, this additional week will come at the start of the season. However, the NCAA did vote to continue to play the same fifty-six game schedule.

When Eric Sorenson mentioned this possibility Saturday, I began trying to think of a way this could been seen as a positive move for northern programs. A few days later and I've yet to come up with a single one.

By putting this extra week at the start of the season, it all but forces the northern schools to head south or west a week earlier. (I presume the NCAA big-wigs that voted on this proposal realize it's kind of cold up here for baseball in mid-February, global warming notwithstanding.) I guess, technically, northern baseball programs could stay at home the first week of the season. Of course, choosing to bypass that first "official" week of play would allow their warm-weather foes a week of game action before their arrival.

In addition, if the snowbelt programs did opt to skip the first week of play, it wouldn't alleviate any of their condensed scheduling issues. Northern programs would still have the same 13 weeks to play the identical 56 games -- exactly the same format as this year.

Regardless of whether northern programs play an extra week of February road dates or choose the less likely option of sitting out the first week, which honestly doesn't seem like a viable plan, by passing this new proposal the NCAA has managed to trample all over the spirit of the Universal Start Date. That's before the economic downside.

If northern programs want to start at the same time as the programs south of the Mason-Dixon Line (again, the spirit behind the USD motion), they will now have to pay for an additional week of travel expenses. Brilliant. When the economy stinks and northern programs are struggling let's make them shell out more money.

Can I also mention that college baseball operates in a virtual media blackout until the weekend after the Final Four? Even in the south, the self-proclaimed college baseball hotbed, the sport doesn't get much attention until "One Shining Moment" is over. So why vote to add another week to the beginning of the schedule when the average college sports fan isn't paying the least bit of attention before April? It's marketing genius, I tell you.

I'm left with only one conclusion. This measure was passed simply to appease a few coaches at big-time programs who were forced to play the same kind of compacted schedule, albeit filled with far more home dates, as northern programs have for years. Outside of their comfort-zone, these coaches lobbied (and I'm being extremely polite in word choice) to alleviate some of their midweek scheduling concerns.

Need some proof? Here's a quote from Kendall Rogers' story:
“We wanted to add the week on the front end of the schedule because that’s what our programs are familiar with from the earlier days,” NCAA Division I Vice President David Berst said.
Ah, yes. The good ol' days. When the warm-weather programs got fat, sassy and piled on the home dates. Way back in 2007. Or was it 2008? It was just so long ago, I struggle to recall.

Mr. Berst's comment is ripe with the rhetoric of coaches who cried foul when faced with the newly condensed schedule that the USD wrought. As soon as these coaches had to play back-to-back midweek games and midweek road games, no less, they began to publicly yearn for the old way.

I am open to contrary opinions on the matter, as I'm so defensive that I probably cannot separate the forest from the trees. Let's, however, ask ourselves "Who does this concept really help?" While it could take away three of four midweek affairs from northern programs, thus giving the teams more time to rest, the loss of home games (which many of these midweek dates provide) and the cost of spending an additional week in the south or west would appear to offset any gain.

Conversely, warm-weather power programs can scratch off some midweek non-conference road games and get to replace them with nice, toasty-warm, early season home dates. As it is now, a program like North Carolina has already played over thirty home games. Ohio State hasn't even played fifteen. That's with a more balanced plan in place. I don't see how this new, less northern-friendly measure will help make it any more equitable.

The NCAA seems determined to not only handcuff baseball, in general, but suffocate its existence in the north. Is it any wonder why programs like Northern Iowa are folding? If measures like today's continue to pass, we can expect to see more just like them.

Correction: I originally stated UMass baseball was also closing up shop. Apparently, they've been given a reprieve. I stand corrected and am happy to hear they live to fight another day. My apologies to all, especially the Minutemen and their fans. However, feel free to insert any other programs that have vanished (Colorado, Iowa State, Wisconsin, etc...) in the place next to Northern Iowa.