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Change-of-season plan would move CWS to July
by John Manuel
OMAHA--When Cal State Fullerton wrapped up the national championship with a sweep of Texas, it ended the College World Series one day early.
Still, the June 27 date of the game was the latest a college baseball season had ended since the first CWS, back when George Bush was a Yale first baseman.
College baseball's season has gotten later and later in recent years. In 1998, the last year of the 48-team tournament field, the CWS ended June 6. At the time, the American Baseball Coaches Association was lobbying the NCAA for a three-week change-of-season plan.
The NCAA approved the ABCA plan, but only after chopping it down to one week instead of three. The NCAA added another week, though, when it approved the expansion of the regional field from 48 to 64 teams, adding a week of super-regionals.
So the season keeps getting later. The goal is to move the college baseball season further back to have better spring weather, and for the sport to get more attention as its season overlaps less with college basketball.
The changes, though, have not been enough for many Northern schools. They look at the list of CWS champions and see that schools such as Holy Cross, Michigan, Minnesota and Missouri combined to win eight of the first 20 national championships. Then they see Wichita State ('89) as the only school outside the Sun Belt or California to have won a title since Ohio State in 1966.
To that end, Big 10 Conference commissioner Jim Delaney has championed a new change-of-season plan (BA, Feb. 2-15), which the NCAA decided to study with a special issues committee. The committee's findings were presented to the Division I baseball committee during the CWS, though no action is expected until September.
The committee's recommendation would adopt a uniform March 1 start date for Division I, and the College World Series would end in mid-July‹July 10, to be exact, if the measure is adopted for the 2006 season.
Sweat The Details
Big West Conference commissioner Dennis Farrell was in Omaha for the Titans' championship, and he doesn't want to do anything to harm strong programs as chairman of the issues committee. But he knows his committee's task‹to try to create equity in college baseball.
To that end, the committee has options. For one, it can keep the current 56-game schedule, adopt the March 1 start date and push the CWS back.
If a mid-July end to the CWS proves too late to pass NCAA muster, then games could be cut from the schedule, or teams could be asked to play 56 games in a shorter time span.
"I don't think too many people would be excited about the compaction of the schedule, because of the increased class time that would be missed," Farrell said. "And the coaches would be opposed to a reduction in the number of games played.
"There's a compromise in there somewhere. We have a pretty good agreement on the common start date. We feel like that's a significant step toward leveling the playing field."
Farrell left Omaha for a meeting of conference commissioners in Boston, where the committee's proposal was widely panned. It was not a good start to the NCAA legislative process.
"The commissioners expressed some opposition to a two-week extension, in terms of the cost of keeping more teams long after the spring term has ended," Farrell said. "The view of other commissioners is, their leagues are not going to compete for a national championship no matter when the season is. So why create more costs?"
There's The Rub
Many major conference coaches, such as South Carolina coach Ray Tanner, understand that the weather disadvantages of Northern teams leave college baseball unbalanced. "And the further away we get from basketball," Tanner said, "the better it is for our sport."
But the prevailing attitude about this latest change-of-season plan is that college baseball's status quo is better than what this plan would create.
It would be better if Big 10 or Big East schools were annual participants in Omaha. But let's see more of those schools make a strong commitment to baseball first, before making significant changes to a successful, profitable event like the CWS. A later season doesn't guarantee that Northern schools suddenly would fund 11.7 scholarships and win recruiting battles that keep top players in the North from fleeing for Sun Belt schools, or from signing in the draft.
Moving the series back into July also affects other aspects of college baseball. Summer leagues, which provide important experience for players in terms of playing time and using wood bats, would be ravaged, as would USA Baseball, which has maintained a strong commitment to college players.
A better compromise would be adopting a uniform start date but leaving the CWS where it is. It would actually be better to cut games from the schedule than to possibly ruin summer leagues and jeopardize the CWS.
Delaney has talked of pulling the Big 10 out of D-I baseball and leading the drive for a Northern championship, one that would be separate and certainly not equal. The issues committee was created to keep that from happening, but it's still tweaking its recommendations, which the NCAA may or may not enact.
"We've done a lot of work to this point," Farrell said. "I won't say it's a last-ditch effort; you never say never. I share the opinion that this is the best time for us to try to make the sport more national, and none of us wants to have it all be a waste of time."