I don't post topics very often, but was surfing somewhere near the edge of the internet and came across a very intriguing baseball history article about Ty Cobb. The article was derived from a speech given at Hillsdale College by author/professor/journalist Charles Leerhsen.
His book, Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty, is one of the first (only?) original sourced reports I've read about Cobb. The speech is an excellent primer for the book, or a great short read for those that don't have the time/interest.
In addition to unraveling some of Cobb's infamous traits, the book is an interesting study of journalism, particularly the laziness of sports journalist. That at least, was a topic I figured most of the board would appreciate for all the (just) lamenting we do.
I’ve been wanting to write up a diary on the ridiculously early start dates for spring sports and how they affect the lacrosse, baseball and softball programs.
Personally, I’m excited the season is here so soon and that lacrosse already has a significant win under its belt. But, it sucks when May rolls around and their season is already over. And for a sport that is always seeking new audiences, it doesn’t make sense that they pit themselves against the still-ongoing winter sports season.
I believe the February start dates are hampering these sports’ popularity. The structure of the semester as well as the sports’ postseasons are creating a situation in which the first games creep earlier and earlier and significant portions of their schedules are played in the depths of winter. It’s miserable for the athletes to play these games and even more miserable for the fans to watch them. As a result, spectators don’t show up and this makes it difficult for these programs to get the attention and support they deserve.
Yesterday was Valentine’s Day and softball and lacrosse have already played multiple games. Baseball starts on Friday. But the winter sports season isn’t close to being over yet. March Madness doesn’t start for another month and the Frozen 4 won’t be played for another seven weeks. Let’s take a look at these team’s schedules to see just how ridiculous they are. **I left the golf, tennis and track & field programs out of this analysis primarily because I don’t understand their seasons. Plus, I am more familiar with lacrosse, baseball and softball which I consider to be more spectator-oriented**
Lacrosse is already 1-1, opening their season last weekend, February 6th at UNC. It was clear and cold. Despite the early February weather, 2,000 fans came out to see the game, which isn’t bad (and yesterday they had the fortune of playing in the friendly climate-controlled confines of Oosterbaan Fieldhouse). UNC is a program that usually brings in good crowds, especially in late-spring warm-weather matchups versus its hated rivals Duke and UVA. But, look at what the Michigan game was up against: that night the top 10 Tar Heels hoops team was hosting ACC foe Notre Dame. The lacrosse game wasn’t streamed either - the athletic department’s streaming service showed a gymnastics meet instead. Even if it was streamed the game was on at the same time as Michigan’s only regular season basketball game vs in-state rival Michigan State, so the small community of Michigan lacrosse fans on this board likely would’ve focused on that instead. Oh and the Carolina Panthers were in the Super Bowl that weekend. If you were a casual observer of UNC sports who had an interest in lacrosse, you likely had much bigger things on your plate that weekend.
This year, Michigan plays five games in the month of February, and a total of seven games before the ides of March. That’s half their schedule. This was unheard of in Division 1 even just a few years ago. They also only play one game on their spring break trip and they play zero regular season games in the month of May, when it’s actually nice.
Why does the season start so early you ask? Well, the college lacrosse season is built around Memorial Day which has been the traditional date for the national championship game. The schedule is created backwards from that. But, in the last several years the NCAA tournament field expanded to 16 teams and then again to 18 with play-in games. Also, the ever-shifting conference landscape has created bigger and bigger conferences and now most of them hold end-of-the-year conference tournaments to determine their champions and AQ bids. As a result there are virtually no dates in late April/early May to host home games. Teams compensate for this by scheduling games earlier and earlier which is how we end up with pre-Super Bowl lacrosse. If we’re playing lacrosse games before the NFL is even finished, then there’s something wrong.
Here are some examples of how this is hurting the game. On Saturday, #11 Loyola beat #7 UVA in Charlottesville in 25 degree weather. Only 1,200 fans were in the stands - in milder weather later in the season, that game brings in another thousand fans at least. Even worse, last week Hopkins and Navy played another chapter in their historic rivalry - on a nasty cold Tuesday night. Inside Lacrosse reported that in several recent meetings of the two teams attracted more than 10,000 fans. Hopkins-Navy is basically the equivalent of the Michigan-Notre Dame football rivalry, but on an awful, cold Tuesday night in February 2016, only 665 fans came out to see it. They might as well have played it on Christmas morning in a dark basement with the lights out.
Here is a great discussion on how even the coaches and players hate it. http://www.insidelacrosse.com/article/video-coaches-on-february-lacrosse/33897
Winter and early spring in North America, especially in places like Big Ten country, is not a particularly nice time to do things outside. Nor is it a nice time to do summer-time activities like play baseball. This of course is a major obstacle for the northern teams, most of whom spend the first month of the season on the road in warm places like Florida, Texas and California.
College baseball is ruled by southern schools and those in places like California and Arizona. They can play outdoors year round and can recruit talent that often times is in its own backyard. A look at the past winners of the College World Series show that a northern team has not won the title since Ohio State in 1966 (Fresno St, Oregon St, Wichita St, Vandy and UVA are all non-super warm climate teams who have won, but in that time period there are no winners from east of the Mississippi and north of the Mason-Dixon).
The warm weather schools also don’t suffer road fatigue the way the northern schools do. Look at Michigan’s first month of games - they play five straight weeks of road games. That’s 19 consecutive away games including a pair of Saturday doubleheaders. Before they play their first home game on March 25th, they will have logged thousands of miles going to Florida, Hawaii, Oklahoma and five different cities in California. Contrast that with the schedules of teams like Texas, LSU and UCLA who host games in February and hardly have to go anywhere when they do go on the road.
Michigan baseball has a nice long homestand in April, but they play 36 games of their 50 regular season games on the road. If they make the tournament and CWS they could be playing as late as June 29th.
Like baseball, softball spends the first several weeks of their season in far-off warmer corners of the planet because it’s simply too cold to play in the midwest in February.
This year, Michigan kicked off the season in Tampa. Then they go to Tallahassee. Then it’s on to Palm Springs, Los Angeles, Fullerton and then Louisville. They finally play their first homestand on March 16. Out of 50 regular season games on the schedule, 34 of them are somewhere other than Ann Arbor. Their last home game is May 8 before finishing up the regular season on the road and then heading to the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
Softball is dominated by Western teams. Before Michigan won its first national championship in 2005, no team east of the Mississippi had ever won the Women’s College World Series. A look at the past winners of the WCWS shows that Michigan is the only northern team that consistently competes for the national title. Having one of the best coaches in all of sports may be the thing that helps Michigan get over its climate handicap.
If Michigan goes deep this year, as expected, they could be playing as late as June 8th.
From a markets perspective, the spring sports season is saturated. The month of March is dominated by the NCAA basketball tournament, to the point that most people stop paying attention to the NBA and NHL (I definitely do). After that we have Major League Baseball’s Opening Day. Later in April, the NHL and NBA begin their marathon playoff slags that go to June. Also in the spring we have other American sports traditions like the Masters, the Triple Crown, the Indy 500 and the NFL Draft. Niche and non-revenue sports are going to have a hard time trying to compete in this media landscape.
But there is a simple solution - move the seasons back, even just a few weeks. If these sports play most of their meaningful games when people will see them, their popularity is likely to grow. While the field is crowded in spring, there is a significant drop-off in late May. By the end of May the NBA and NHL have whittled down to only a few teams and their games are often few and far between. They’re done in mid June at the latest and unless it’s an Olympic or World Cup year, there is only pro baseball for the next three months until football starts up again.
Sports-wise there is little to do on college campuses once the basketball and hockey programs finish up their regular season. But, by the time it’s actually nice enough to sit outside and take in a game, the baseball, softball and lacrosse teams are wrapping up their seasons. Summer in AA is great, but I would’ve loved to have played some home lacrosse games in early May and been able to go see some baseball and softball games in June.
For lacrosse, the answer is simple - just move the championships back a week. Memorial Day can still be a huge weekend for the sport - they can even play the first two rounds of the tournament on the Saturday and Monday - the way they do with the Final 4 now. This would essentially shorten the tournament and open up more days in early May for on-campus games. More importantly, it would eliminate the need for early February games. They could also create a hard start date of March 1st (more realistically February 21st) and require all teams to play 3 or 4 games on their spring break.
Baseball/softball should also push back a few weeks. I would love to see them start the season in March and play both the CWS and WCWS on the July 4th weekend or even later. The northern teams should lobby hard for a calendar change like this so they don’t have to spend the first six weeks of their seasons on the road.
Alternatively, they could move to a summer season. There has been talk on mgoblog that the Big Ten should consider scrapping baseball/softball as spring sports and create a summer season. Of course the downside of this would be that B1G teams wouldn’t be able to compete in the NCAA tourney/CWS. And it would make it difficult for these student-athletes to rest and get important summer jobs and internships. Nevertheless, I am intrigued by this idea. I think it would add an interesting feature to college towns in the summer and would make the sports more popular.
And while these sports are non-revenue, I wonder if they would make more money if they were played in the summer. And that’s really the only language the NCAA understands.
Of course, these sports will always have to compete with other college and pro sports for the hearts, minds and eyes of fans. But, I think the current set-up makes it difficult for these programs to succeed. The NCAA should make it easier for athletes and fans to enjoy the spring sports season.
Antwaan Randle El, one of the best players in B1G history, and arguably Indiana's finest football player, now wishes he had played baseball instead of football.
"I ask my wife things over and over again, and she's like, 'I just told you that,'" Randle El said to the newspaper. "I'll ask her three times the night before and get up in the morning and forget. Stuff like that. I try to chalk it up as I'm busy, I'm doing a lot, but I have to be on my knees praying about it, asking God to allow me to not have these issues and live a long life. I want to see my kids raised up. I want to see my grandkids."
Wow, if this isn't a damning indictment on where things might be headed with former players.
I still love Michigan football, but when Ditka said he wouldn't let his own kid play football, that convinced me that the sport might be in trouble in the long term.
This afternoon Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz were enshrined in baseball's Hall of Fame. All deserving in my, unimportant, opinion. It's a pretty solid class, and it's very impressive what the pitchers accomplished during the height of the steriod era.
Baseball was my first love growing up, and I was convinced, like many others, that I, too, would one day be a big leaguer. I followed the game religiously. This, and last years class, are the first two that I watched for a meaningful amount of time (26 y/o). So, these hall of fame classes are getting more special for me.
What says you? Any favorite memories from these guys? As a Sox fan, I'll never forget Pedro's '99 All Star start and tossing Zimmer to the ground.
According to multiple reports, Dave Dombrowski, with owner Mike Illitch's approval, will move to trade David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and possibly Rajai Davis and Alex Avila.
USA Today article (HERE)
The Tigers, barring a veto from owner Mike Ilitch, are going to surrender and be sellers within the next 10 days at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. For the first time since 2008, the Tigers have no choice but to inform teams that two of their marquee commodities will be dealt by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. The Tigers, according to several people inside and outside the organization familiar with their strategy, plan to put ace David Price and power-hitting outfielder Yoenis Cespedes on the trade market.
Detroit News article (HERE)
The Tigers are in a unique position in that they have six free-agents-to-be — including two elite ones in ace David Price and slugger Yoenis Cespedes. Closer Joakim Soria is a shade below. They also have three pieces that could help the right contender in Rajai Davis, Alex Avila and Alfredo Simon. The market this year is as rich with buyers as ever, and the Tigers are the seller with the most appealing inventory.
Found this on BTN Plus. MGoBlue has not made a release for all of the BTN games yet, but BTN Plus has already posted them if you look through the calendars.
Here are the televised games that Softball will be playing. Keep in mind that every single year, more games are added during the B1G season so I'm sure more will be popping up.
|3/14||vs Kent State||1pm/BTN+|
|vs Kent State||3pm/BTN+|
|3/18||vs Bowling Green||4pm/BTN+|
|4/7||vs Eastern Michigan||6pm/BTN+|
|4/15||at Michigan State*||4:30pm/BTN+|
|4/21||vs Michigan State*||6pm/BTN|
|4/22||vs Central Michigan||6pm/BTN+|
Here are the televised Baseball games. Yikes. Hopefully more games get picked up.
I have a very hard time believing FSN Detroit does not pick up Michigan vs MSU at Comerica Park.
|4/1||vs Central Michigan||4pmp/BTN+|
|4/10||at Penn State*||6:30pm/BTN|
|5/12||vs Eastern Michigan||6pm/BTN+|
|5/14||vs Oklahoma State||6pm/BTN+|
|5/15||vs Oklahoma State||6pm/BTN+|
|5/16||vs Oklahoma State||2pm/BTN|