Shama: U Coach May Help Change Baseball

BleedGopher

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per Shama:

For decades the Gophers’ John Anderson has been advocating a later calendar start to college baseball’s season. Minnesota’s head baseball coach since 1981 thought a change might be coming about 20 years ago when Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was taking up the cause.

Delany was about to meet with power brokers from other conferences in early September of 2001. Then the terrorism of September 11 rocked America and changed the direction of priorities in countless ways including a proposal that was to dramatically alter college baseball.

This winter the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and shuttered sports including college baseball. The Gophers stopped play in mid-March, finishing with an 8-10 record—all nonconference games. All of a sudden the Big Ten baseball coaches had time to think about the future of their sport.

Even before the pandemic most college sports, including baseball, had financial issues. Hardly any programs make money, and most operate at a large deficit. Anderson said he has a $1.8 million budget, with $200,000 in revenues. In the Big Ten, Wisconsin dropped its program years ago. This spring Bowling Green and Furman pulled the plug on baseball, and Anderson calls this “a scary time for mid-majors.”

The financial issues in most college sports, including scholarships, staff salaries, facilities, and travel weigh heavier than ever now, with the uncertainty of when and how the “cash cows” of college football and basketball will resume play and with what box office results. The University of Minnesota has 25 intercollegiate sports but historically only football, men’s basketball and men’s hockey have been money makers. Their revenues have long carried the total Athletic Department budget.

Because of the pandemic, the Gopher Athletic Department has been forecasting tens of millions of dollars in future losses, with a worst case number of $70 million. Everyone wonders at Minnesota and elsewhere what kinds of measures will be taken to deal with deficits including the most extreme of options—eliminating some nonrevenue sports.

Anderson told Sports Headliners this week “it will be interesting to see where this thing leads us.” He added, “I think more (baseball) programs are going to be in trouble…so we’ve got to get busy here and find ways to make our sport better from a financial standpoint.”

He and his Big Ten coaching colleagues have accepted the challenge this spring by talking about changing their sport’s annual calendar. With extra time available (no coaching or recruiting), they have been meeting weekly via Zoom calls. The result has been a 35-page proposal that remakes the Division 1 college baseball calendar with potential benefits not only to finances but also student academics and health.

The Gopher coach provided research for the “New Baseball Model” document written this spring, a collaborative effort involving many others, too, including Michigan coach Erik Bakich. The model suggests the college baseball season begin the third week of March, with the schedule continuing into late June. The first round of the NCAA Tournament would be played in early July and lead to determining a national champion later that month—a period when there is not a glut of TV sports programming and interest in spectator sports.

Contrast that schedule proposal with this year that had teams like the Gophers starting play in February and ending the regular season before Memorial Day. Even in February and March weather is a crapshoot for college baseball teams including in the south. Cold, wind and precipitation can keep fans away from games at Minnesota or other places in early spring.

What Anderson and others believe is better weather for more games will generate not only increased ticket sales, but also improved revenues such as concessions and parking. The later start to the season, it’s argued, will mean college baseball doesn’t have to compete with basketball’s “March Madness,” and college baseball will more directly align with spring interest in pro baseball. The timing of becoming a spring-summer sport, Anderson said, will also enhance programming for the Big Ten Network whose broadcast opportunities are normally more limited toward the end of the school year.


Go Gophers!!
 

MplsGopher

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I feel like the other P5 confs all have teams that don’t want to allow northern climate schools to be on a fair playing field in terms of the schedule.
 

Hrothgar

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I feel like the other P5 confs all have teams that don’t want to allow northern climate schools to be on a fair playing field in terms of the schedule.
Rightly or not, I feel that about the SEC, which seems to exist in a cocoon of their own making.
 

Goldy Gopher

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I feel like the other P5 confs all have teams that don’t want to allow northern climate schools to be on a fair playing field in terms of the schedule.
Definitely has been the case in the past. ACC, definitely SEC, and some others. Seems to be a lot of support this time around though. Public comments backing it coming from TCU's coach and even a few SEC coaches. Some have started to realize even in SEC country sometimes the weather isn't great in February/March so switching that out and getting more June/July games when weather is nice and kids are out of school could make an impact. Another big part of the push is how it would allow a longer lead up time to the season and they think it could help reduce injuries to pitchers. Think some coaches are finally realizing the impact it could have for baseball as a whole around the country instead of just how it impacts their team.
 
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As much as this would hurt MN amateur baseball, part of the fabric of life for me, it’s the right model for college baseball overall. Dramatically enhancing the major northern TV markets interest in baseball and the college World Series would be worth millions annual to each NCAA school in the North and probably the South too. Over time more revenue could mean more scholarships, equating to better competition, coaching, facilities; and a few more games in the schedule would mean MLB could possibly benefit by cutting a minor league team or two per organization.

Ultimately, it would be really cool if Iowa State, North Dakota and even the skunks could bring back their programs.
 

MplsGopher

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If the money and interest is there, they will. (Iowa St and Wisconsin, not sure about UND) Oregon brought back baseball, some years ago.

Another thing that I know has always been talked about: getting rid of metal bats in college baseball. I wonder how much that would also enhance the general interest in the game. I've never been a fan of that metal "ting" sound. Reminds me too much of beer league softball.
 

4four4

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This makes sense to do especially with the south east based MLS teams drawing huge crowds like Atlanta United. IMO, this area will have more competition so it's better to change now before it's too late and kids leave the sport for ever.
 

DarrenTheGreek

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It would be a good move for the good of the sport. I love college baseball. I even took the time to map all the D-1 programs and as you can see, there are several programs in the northeast, rust belt and mid-atlantic that would benefit greatly.
 

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GoGophersUMN

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Having an outdoor sport start in the middle of February doesn't make much sense. The MLB doesn't start games in the north until a month and a half later and even they run into snow a lot.

Even just looking at the southern teams that don't care about the cold, it makes a lot more sense to play when it's just the MLB on TV rather than when the NBA, NHL, and March Madness are all on.

Agreed on the wood bats too. College baseball has the potential to be a replacement/alternative to the low minor leagues so they should try to make it as similar as possible.
 

Lincoln gopher

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Having an outdoor sport start in the middle of February doesn't make much sense. The MLB doesn't start games in the north until a month and a half later and even they run into snow a lot.

Even just looking at the southern teams that don't care about the cold, it makes a lot more sense to play when it's just the MLB on TV rather than when the NBA, NHL, and March Madness are all on.

Agreed on the wood bats too. College baseball has the potential to be a replacement/alternative to the low minor leagues so they should try to make it as similar as possible.
Love the later starting date. With the economic situation of college sports and given how expensive baseball is especially for the northern schools and all of the travel expenses, MLB may have to help out with the expense of using wooden bats, if that is ever going to change
 

MplsGopher

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So when might this actually have a chance to get voted on??
 
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