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East Carolina Hall of Famer and
former baseball coach Keith LeClair.
 (Photo: ECU Media Relations)

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From The Dugout

By Keith LeClair

Simple solution for frigid conditions

It's the second week in February, which happens to be the week the Pirates and most other college baseball programs open their season.  As I am writing this column I can see a hard, cold rain pelting the back of my deck.  In fact, if the temperature drops much lower, the rain we are receiving will be coming down in the form of snow.

This brings up some serious questions about why college baseball insists on starting their season in the middle of the winter.  Not only that, but why try and compete for fans during the middle of basketball season?

I have asked this question over and over throughout my career, only to get the same answers:  It would cost too much to move the season into the middle of March, April, May, June and parts of July.  Last week I asked this very same question to coach Mazey, and I agree with his response 100 percent.

As it stands now, northern schools are at a huge disadvantage when it comes to competing in college baseball, for two reasons:

  • One, most of the northern schools have a hard time getting outside on their fields until the middle of march, thus putting them on the road for most of the first part of the season and limiting them in the number of the games they play.  Many northern schools play four games a weekend and up to as many as six in a week, just to get the NCAA allotment of 56 games.

  • Second, southern schools raid the northern regions of the country for the best talent in those areas.  No kid who loves the game wants to spend the majority of his spring inside practicing and playing most of his games on the road.

This is why many northern schools have dropped baseball, because financially they just cannot afford the cost of what it takes to be competitive.  Even in the southern region of the country it's very difficult to draw fans on cold days at 3 PM.  That's why most often in the south, you won't see attendance numbers jump until it warms up and teams start playing night games.  Plus, a lot of folks are still caught up in basketball's March Madness.

So what's the hold up you're probably asking?  I have my personal take on the issues that I will share with my readers, and some folks may not like what I have to say, but that's half the fun.

Whether we want to admit it or not, college baseball has become predominately a southern and west coast sport.  That can be seen in the number of teams that qualify for the NCAA Regionals and advance to Omaha.  Many coaches and administrators from these parts of the country do not want to see this change.  It is in some way like the BCS in college football.  The more schools you can eliminate from a competitive perspective, the better chance you have of competing nationally and advancing to Omaha.  I won't say this has the money ramifications that the BCS holds, but the principles are the same.

That's only part of the problem with college baseball and its ability to move the season back.  Other factors that come into play are obviously money and how to keep student athletes on campus during the extended time period once the spring semester ends.  This is by far the biggest challenge in moving the season back.  The other problems are not nearly as difficult in finding a solution.  Those issues would be the Major League draft that takes place in June and summer collegiate leagues that are run in June and July.

Now that I have touched on many of the obstacles that stand in the way of moving the college season back, let's tackle the solutions.

First, we have to set a starting date for all teams to abide by, right?  Well my suggestion would be a universal starting date of March 15 for all teams — north, south, east and west.  This would allow more northern schools to upgrade facilities and put lights on their fields to attract fans.  The regular season would run from March 15 until June 15.  From that point on, conference tournaments would take place leading into the Regionals, and by July 7th, Omaha would begin for the eight schools competing for a national championship.

Now the dates are set.  Our next obstacle to tackle is how this can be financially feasible for all teams.  The majority of cost will be on meals during this time from once the semester ends until the season is over.  The timeframe we are looking at for most teams in the south would usually be from May 12 to June 15, when the regular season is over.  You wouldn't need to budget money into the conference tournament because that is already accounted for before the season starts.

As for northern schools, this time would be even less since they start school later and exams usually run into the end of May.  The reason I calculated only these days is because once the Regionals start for the 64 tournament teams, they are on NCAA money.  So we are really looking at about 15 to 30 days worth of subsistence expenses for most programs to come up with.

I would estimate the cost for each program from $9-$18 K, which could easily be generated through marketing and added season ticket sales.  This would be well worth the cost to bring college baseball into the national spotlight and allow northern teams to build their programs on a level playing field.

This would only enhance the game and promote the national TV coverage that college baseball so desperately needs.  This is also one avenue that could help defray costs for moving the season back.  If you look at what takes place in Omaha drawing over 25,000 fans and the national TV coverage that it receives, why can we not capture that throughout the season like all the other sports, meaning football and basketball?

The next potential roadblock will be working with Major League baseball and the draft.  I already have a solution for this potential problem.  My suggestion would be to hold a high school and junior college draft around June 1st and a collegiate draft July 1st.  I think Major League baseball would like this resolution, allowing them to focus on one group at a time.

As for the collegiate summer leagues, they would need to use more Division II and III players until the Division I season is over.

I know I have just made several people furious, but college baseball has to look out for the best interest of the sport.

Well folks, as you bundle up to go see the Pirates this weekend, remember it doesn't have to be this way.  If any of you get too cold, just stop by my heated van and warm up.

Tickets are cheap.  God bless.

If you have a question or comment about the Pirates in particular or baseball in general, fire your best pitch at Ol' Condo: Sound off to Coach LeClair...

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02.23.07 10:27 AM


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