On the floor of the 2008 American Baseball Coaches Association convention in Philadelphia, several coaches bemoaned their lack of involvement in college baseball’s decision-making process and spoke emphatically about the need for a summit where every Division I coach could say his piece and hear others do the same.
That vision came to fruition this week in Indianapolis. ABCA executive director Dave Keilitz invited every Division I head coach to a two-day meeting in the NCAA’s home city, and the response was tremendous. Coaches from 164 schools and 29 of the 30 conferences attended the summit, which lasted from 8 a.m. to just after 5 p.m. on Monday and from 8 until 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday.
"The feedback we’ve gotten throughout the last two days was outstanding, so I feel it really went over well," Keilitz said. "I did not know what to expect–we’ve never done this before. My biggest fear was we’d throw ourselves a party and no one would show up."
Not only was there a large turnout among coaches, but the NCAA was well represented also:
• The NCAA’s vice president for football and baseball, Dennis Poppe, attended the entire two-day event, giving coaches direct access to the ear of perhaps the most powerful figure in their sport.
• Bill Regan and Brad Hostetler from the NCAA’s member services division went over details of Academic Progress Rate-related issues and answered questions from coaches.
• Susan Peal, Steve Webb and Rachel Newman of the NCAA’s eligibility center talked about eligibility issues and ways to approach the agent/advisor issue, which has gained particular attention lately with Andrew Oliver’s lawsuit against the NCAA.
• Statistics director Jim Wright discussed ways the Ratings Percentage Index could work for and against schools. There was some discussion about altering the way the RPI is calculated to provide some relief to Northern schools that make early-season trips to face more prepared warm-weather schools, and Wright said he would present the issue to the Division I Baseball Committee at its July meeting.
• NCAA president Myles Brand also stopped by for about 45 minutes before leaving to catch a flight. Brand addressed the coaches, expressed his commitment to helping the sport maintain its 56 games, and answered a few questions. "I thought his talk was the most significant thing of the whole event," Keilitz said. "What the coaches heard and saw was, ‘Wow, we’ve got somebody here at the very top that cares for us and supports us.’ That’s the message he conveyed, and I think the coaches felt very, very good about that."
In light of a proposal making its way through the legislative process to cut the number of spring games to 52, Keilitz conducted a straw poll to gauge support for maintaining 56 games, and the result was 163-1 in favor of keeping the 56. There was some discussion about playing fall exhibition games in addition to the regular 56-game spring schedule, but don’t expect any movement on that for the next couple of years.
The coaches voted on their top priorities, and keeping 56 games was No. 1. It was followed by expanding the spring schedule from 13 weeks to 14 weeks, preferably by adding a week onto the end of the season. Next was increasing scholarships from 11.7 to 14, a notion that received broad support, even from coaches who currently have less than 11.7 to work with. Coaches also want to tweak the recruiting calendar by changing the 10-day dead period in September to a quiet contact period, they want to allow volunteer assistants to do some recruiting, and they want to add a graduate assistant to their staffs.
All of those issues except perhaps the scholarship increase could be broached at the July meeting of the Committee. Keilitz said he was not yet sure whether or not the timing would be right to push for a scholarship increase.
Two notable rules committee issues also were discussed. The rules committee passed a measure this summer to change the way bats are tested. Rules committee chairman Tim Corbin emphasized that the bat standards would remain the same as they have been since 1999, but an improved testing method will ensure those standards remain effective in light of bat companies’ new composite technologies.
And perhaps the most interesting development of the summit was the support for Wichita State coach Gene Stephenson’s proposal to implement a 20-second pitch clock. Coaches and NCAA officials are very concerned about picking up the sport’s pace of play and shortening the length of games, and a straw vote for Stephenson’s proposal revealed a strong majority would support the measure (despite Texas coach Augie Garrido’s joke that Stephenson owns a clock factory). There is precedent for this idea: The Missouri Valley Conference used pitch clocks for two years, and the National Baseball Congress World Series still uses a 20-second clock between pitches. A failure to deliver a pitch in time results in an automatic ball. Expect the rules committee to address that proposal when it meets next summer.
Keilitz has a diverse constituency–and coaches contacted today continued to sing his praises as an ambassador for the sport–with many different conflicting interests. But the consensus is that the overall mood of the two-day summit was exceedingly positive, which speaks volumes about the health of the sport and the quality of its leadership.
"I thought it was really a neat meeting, one of the better things I’ve seen in my career as far as people having an opportunity to express themselves," Louisiana State coach Paul Mainieri said. "For the first time I felt that all the head coaches–no matter where their school is located–had an equal opportunity to stand up and have a voice to express their opinion, and there were people there listening who could effect change. I also realized going in that not everyone would agree on most issues because of their unique circumstances. I worried that it was going to turn into a big griping session, but I didn’t take it that way at all. I thought there were several very productive ideas that were verbalized. It was really good."
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