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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Why is the College World Series So Late?

Unless the colleges participating in the CWS are on trimesters and, as a result, let their kids out in late June, most schools participating finished their academic years at some point in May. Which raises the question as to why the "Super" Regionals have just finished up and why the College World Series will begin in the middle of June?

While Major League Baseball is very popular in the U.S. (if not the number one sport), college baseball always has been a poor cousin to college football and college basketball. It's almost as if the lack of popularity of college baseball supports an often-heard maxim down south that there are two sports, football and spring football, and that the fans of the former foresake their college baseball team to watch spring practice. Alternatively, after two intense seasons watching big-time sports, they take the spring off. Either way, the average sports fan can name many college football and basketball players and coaches, but I'll bet even the best fans can't name ten college baseball coaches and players.

Which leads me back to the premise of this post -- why is the CWS so late? And does anyone really care other than those who play, their families and friends and certain members of college athletic departments? Does college baseball suffer from the professional ice hockey syndrome -- that the only fans are the ones who go to the games? And why does it make sense to start the CWS in mid-June? No one is around, and most students are off to summer school or their summer jobs? The magic of March Madness is totally lost on the NCAA and its member schools.

Why is baseball so baffling? The World Series starts so late at night that young fans can't watch more than the first few innings, and the games take so long that even an average fan must turn them off in order to be in reasonable shape for work the next morning. Its college counterpart is equally inept and drawing a longer-lasting fan base, although in fairness professional baseball has historically eclipsed college baseball to a degree not found in football or basketball. Still, starting a tournament when most schools aren't in session (other than summer session) strikes me as silly. Again, another opportunity lost to garner young fans.

Will I watch? Perhaps and perhaps not. But what's compelling about this tournament to watch it?

There's one and only one March Madness. What do you call this?

The NCAA's June Swoon?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because you have to have a regular season first, and unless you're in the sun belt, playing baseball in January just isn't going to work. Warm-weather teams have a competitive advantage already because they can practice outdoors sooner. To make the CWS earlier, you either need to bump back the beginning of the season--which won't work north of Oklahoma--or shorten the season, which is pretty short already,

11:28 AM  
Anonymous MOBalum said...

It's June Lunacy, baby! If you saw the excitement of the fans at the regionals or super-regionals (which were packed to capacity, unlike the early-round lacrosse games on campus sites), you know that college baseball inspires huge passion at the schools that play it well. It's a niche sport to be sure, much like college hockey in a different (and more media-friendly) part of the country.

As to your original question, the baseball season has been moving back farther in recent years at the behest of the Big Ten and Big East schools who feel that weather in the spring semester makes it impossible for their schools to compete on an even playing field. (Never mind that they have no problem with the BCS and TV contracts presenting an uneven playing field for football recruiting, and never mind that HS kids play baseball year-round in Texas, California, and the Southeast so there's a natural talent advantage no matter when the season starts. And never mind that Oregon State is the defending champion; I believe Corvallis' longitude is greater than 40 degrees north.) It'll get worse next year with a new start date in late February; I believe they add a week to the schedule so teams don't have to abuse pitchers (or play fewer games).

But I have to say I'm disappointed in the tone of your post, which seems to say that the sport is silly because no one pays attention to it. You're an Ivy League basketball fan - other than Ivy grads and Kyle Whelliston, does anyone follow the sport? And yet it retains its beauty because it is what it is; a group of real students playing a sport they love, playing it well, and playing in front of passionate folks who care. College baseball, unlike football and basketball, showcases top players who choose to go to school - these guys have been drafted out of high school but once they took a college class, they're ineligible for the pros for three years. They made that decision and they're real students. Schools like Rice, Vanderbilt, Stanford, Tulane, and Notre Dame regularly inhabit the rankings with real students - the smaller private schools CAN compete with the Texases, Florida States, and Arizona States of the world. They do it with honest-to-goodness student-athletes - Rice's freshman starting pitcher Ryan Berry is a civil engineering major who had to miss a start because of his lab schedule, for crying out loud! (He met the team on the road pitched on a Saturday instead of his usual Friday start.) Watch the CWS and see the player interviews, you'll be impressed.

College baseball seems to share some attributes with soccer in this country. Those who see the beauty of the sport love it with a passion, but all too often the only opinion displayed by members of the media (mainstream and otherwise) is one of ridicule.

Try it, SportsProf - you just might like it. First pitch Friday, 2 pm EDT. (Well, probably more like 2:07)

6:50 PM  

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