OMAHA–The day before games begin at the College World Series is like a more laid-back, far less congested version of Super Bowl media day. It’s a wonderful celebration of the game, as players sign autographs in between short practice sessions and coaches goof around for the last time before competition begins and the mood becomes more serious. But today was a little more businesslike than usual, as the NCAA held a state of college baseball press conference before the coaches’ press conference. Here are some of the highlights of the day.
â€¢ As expected, Mississippi State coach Ron Polk railed against the NCAA, but he tempered his vitriol and tried to keep the focus on his team. But he did unleash one vintage rant when prodded by a reporter.
“It’s a shame we had some NCAA people up here, but not one coach speaking on the state of baseball,” Polk said. “I’m not going to spend a lot of time on that other than to say as an example of a gentleman from the NCAA saying that baseball players as a whole are not being eligible in the fall as much as football, basketball and some other sports. I say, well, duh, how dumb a statement is that? When our kids are on books scholarships or 10 percent or 15 percent, and they’ve got to pay the balance of the fee to go, and football and basketball and all girls sports are on full scholarships, and they can go to summer school–well how stupid of a statement is that? When they say those things, I know I’ve got the support of all the baseball coaches and all the kids in this country and all their parents and friends when I say what the NCAA does to college baseball is criminal.”
It is worth noting that Polk does seem to have some support from some college baseball coaching heavyweights, like Cal State Fullerton’s George Horton.
“I’m glad Ron is here to speak directly to (the NCAA’s leaders) and support us,” Horton said, before turning to address Polk on the dais. “I tip my cap to you for speaking up and addressing our industry and what we think is right as far as the APR is concerned.”
North Carolina coach Mike Fox also spoke of his reverence for Polk, for a different reason.
“I used Coach Polk’s baseball play book to learn how to coach back in high school,” Fox said.
Whether or not you agree with Polk’s convictions and methods, you have to respect his passion and his accomplishments.
â€¢ Polk’s pet issue is baseball’s 11.7 scholarship limit, and there was talk during the state of the game conference that there might be more scholarships on the way at some point in the future.
“That’s a huge issue with us that we really hope to address and bring up this summer,” said Dave Keilitz, executive director of the American Baseball Coaches Association. “When the timing is right on that, it’s hard to say, but we’re very hopeful that’s something that can happen down the line. Now keep in mind, this is not going to be an easy thing even with our own coaches, because better than half of our 283 Division I baseball programs have less than 11.7. So there are those out there that would say, ‘Why would I want to increase from 11.7 to 13 or 14 when I only have eight, and my school’s probably not going to give me any more, and we’re going to fall even farther behind.’
“However, it is a big issue. We’re the lowest funded of all the NCAA programs as scholarships per number of student athletes. We think we’re deserving of it, we think our student-athletes are deserving of it, we just need to find the right time to pursue it.”
â€¢ The rest of the state of the game conference was dominated by explanation of the academic reforms that were approved in April, but there were a few other topics discussed. Keilitz said that two other issues that could be addressed “down the road” are adding a graduate assistant coaching position and implementing more extensive steroids testing, particularly during summer ball. There was also brief talk about future plans for Rosenblatt Stadium, during which NCAA Division I baseball director Dennis Poppe essentially said that all options would be evaluated.
But coaches made it pretty clear how they stand, voicing their support for keeping the CWS in Rosenblatt Stadium, and definitely in Omaha.
“People talk about someday moving the College World Series away from Omaha, and to me that’s the most ridiculous idea in the world,” Rice coach Wayne Graham said.
â€¢ As usual, Arizona State coach Pat Murphy was the jester of the coaches’ conference. He took a couple of good-natured shots at his close friend Pat Casey of Oregon State, and he also expressed his relief at not having to go through Cal State Fullerton to get to Omaha.
“George Horton has taught me by absolutely making me the Gerry Quarry of his Muhammad Ali run,” Murphy said, “beating the hell out of us I don’t know how many years in a row. So I’m glad he’s up here and we didn’t have to go through him to get here.”
The always-entertaining Horton relayed a story about his 16-year-old daughter, who was faced with the choice of coming to the CWS or going to summer camp.
“She said, ‘I can only go to camp for two more years, but I can go to Omaha anytime,’” Horton said. “So my children are spoiled in a lot of different ways.”
Horton also expressed how excited the Titans are to be back in Omaha. The “happy to be there” role doesn’t seem to fit Cal State Fullerton, but this is certainly the Titans’ most unlikely run in Horton’s tenure.
“To say that we’re excited to be back might be the understatement of the century,” Horton said. “If you’ve followed our season at all, from our standards it was not one of our better seasons.”
â€¢ Louisville might be making its first appearance at the College World Series, but the senior-laden Cardinals aren’t overwhelmed by the spectacle.
“I don’t want to hide from the fact that the kids are going to be excited, I don’t want them to try to act too macho,” Cardinals coach Dan McDonnell said. “The coolest they tried to act was when they met (ESPN’s) Erin Andrews in the lobby. I told them, ‘guys, stop acting like you’re so cool and macho.’ This is a kids’ game, and they should be excited.”
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