I did not make this headline up
someone else comes up with a simple solution to something that's definitely a problem
Barry Larkin isn't walking through that door.
The AP published a fascinating article yesterday about Big Ten baseball's next move after years of thwarted attempts to level the playing field that has me wondering about what the point of a baseball national championship is, anyway.
The Big Ten is essentially a mid-major in baseball for structural reasons: the season starts in February, the Big Ten plays virtually its entire nonconference season on the road, and recruits gravitate towards places that don't force them to spend a month of time when they're hypothetically in school hanging out in Florida.
The obvious solution in this era of year-round schooling for virtually all athletes is to push the season back, but the teams who like the current North-screwing setup outnumber those screwed. They like getting a ton of home games by default and not having to compete against major athletic departments in the North. Surprise!
So the Big Ten is rumbling about radical departures—literally:
Minnesota's John Anderson, the winningest baseball coach in Big Ten history, is pushing for his conference to break away from the NCAA's traditional February-to-June schedule and play when the weather in the north is more favorable. In short, the Big Ten's boys of summer would be on the field in summer.
Such a move would cost the Big Ten schools any shot at playing in the NCAA tournament. That doesn't bother Anderson.
"There were four SEC teams in the College World Series last year. We're never going to catch those people," he said. "The system works for them, and they're not going to want to change it. People are going to criticize this idea, but we need to get people talking about it."
No Big Ten team has made the CWS since Michigan in 1984, so it's not like they'd be giving up much. Players headed to the Big Ten are not doing so because they're banking on NCAA tourney appearances anyway. Meanwhile, the Big Ten Network is hurting for content in the summer. It might not hurt recruiting much if Big Ten teams could promise a ton of televised games and a format specifically designed to appeal to pro teams—wood bats, maybe, the conference can afford it.
Short of that the Big Ten is working on a weird proposal to allow up to 14 non-conference games in the fall that would count for the spring/winter season as well. Purdue coach Doug Schreiber came up with that idea when he wasn't busy emailing Corn Nation about Big Ten schedule strength misconceptions. That email spells out how deeply screwed the Big Ten is by the current system:
So, according to your rationale, Big Ten teams need to play a murderous, non-conference schedule prior to their conference season when 95% of these games will be on the road. It may help with improving the RPI's a little, but probably not the overall winning percentages, which will cancel out the tough schedules being played.
The choice here is between a lot more home games and something to do in the summer and the dream of reaching the CWS after a drought approaching 30 years. I'm with Anderson: withdraw from the current system, set yourselves up as pro-friendly as possible, use the Big Ten Network as a club, try to get other Northern schools to join you, and raise your profile regionally by being interesting when nothing else is going on (August). It's not like things can get worse.
Let's get even more radical, in fact. BYU's soccer team is not a part of the NCAA. They play in the PDL, "the top-level U23 men’s league in North America," alongside a vast menagerie of local club teams and MLS youth sides. [More on the transition here. It's really interesting.] If the Big Ten baseball is going to forgo the NCAA tournament in favor of a summer-based schedule they might as well go whole-hog with it and leave the NCAA entirely.
They could then use their huge pots of money to their advantage by offering 18, 20, 22 scholarships instead of the 11.7 (IIRC) teams are currently limited to. Leaving the NCAA might also allow them to tailor their schedule to something more MLB-friendly, or even join a relevant minor league so they could compete for a championship bigger than the Big Ten. Players could sign with pro teams and still maintain their eligibility. It could serve as a giant middle finger to the Southern teams. Hearing them complain about the lack of a level playing field would be delicious.
Even if that's judged too radical, it's time to stop working with the current NCAA system.
For some reason they put a statue of Barry Switzer outside of Nick Saban Memorial Hospital. Seriously, why did Alabama put up a statue of Barry Switzer? I'm so confused.
- SEC teams can only sign 25 a year, down from 28. You can still backdate early enrollees.
- There's going to be some sort of conference overview of St. Saban Memorial Hospital.
- Attending summer school counts as enrollment—no more Elliott Porters.
- Anyone transferring to an SEC school must have at least two years of eligibility—no more Jeremiah Masolis.
That last one is kind of beside the point, but since these grad exemptions are pretty close to free agency it's understandable why they were an issue to be addressed. The arrival of Masoli and Florida pirating an all-conference cornerback from Utah were evidently unsettling, so no more of that.
It's the oversigning stuff that's everyone main focus, though, and passing those bylaws has been met by another raspberry, this one media-based. A Jeff Schultz from the AJC:
The SEC, as the highest-profile college football conference in the nation, had a chance to make a loud statement at its meetings this week. It kind of wimped out. Rather than attack the oversigning problem with significant legislation, it decided only that it would lower the annual scholarship offer cap from 28 to 25.
Let me translate: Coaches now have a lower limit as to how unethical and morally reprehensible they can be. Feel better?
This was sort of like the real SEC passing a rule: “We recognize that insider trading is a problem. So we’re going to cap profits from said illegal transactions at $2.7 million.”
While both parties are right that the Big Ten's approach cuts down on the churn and the SEC is not going that far, the legislation they passed will have a real impact. As mentioned in the earlier post, if this had been around the last four years Auburn would have signed 19 fewer kids—almost an entire class—Alabama 13, South Carolina 11, and so forth down the line. Cropping the limit from 28 to 25 cuts the cuts by about half at the worst offenders.
Meanwhile, adopting the Big Ten approach (you can only sign three more kids than you have available scholarships, and you have to petition the conference to do so) doesn't necessarily cut down on attrition. It just moves the abattoir from "whenever we find out if this guy qualified" to late January. While a combination of both rules is ideal, either in isolation is exploitable.
So this is exploitable, yes, but less so than it was before. It's something between pure public relations and Total Internet Victory. Partial internet victory is still kind of something—whine for five years and people will give ground. Nick Saban was pissed off when this happened. That's a heuristic that indicates a step in the right direction. While it could be better, complaints about the proposal are making the perfect an enemy of the good.
Someone else comes up with a simple solution to something that's definitely a problem. That said, I love love love the idea the first commenter on the above-linked Oversigning.com post lays out:
If we are going to create a new system, why not get rid of the 85 scholarship limit. What makes that number so valuable? Why not just set an annual signing limit of (pick a number) 30 to 35. Make the grants for 5 years and allow 5 years of participation (eliminate redshirts and medicals).
Under the system describe above the onus is placed squarely on coaches to evaluate, motivate, train and retain signees. May the best coach win.
30 to 35 is excessive, especially if you're giving everyone five years. That almost doubles the number of kids on scholarship, which will be fought by smaller schools and make life under the dominion of Title IX even more difficult for non-revenue men's sports.
HOWEVA, There is a number (somewhere from 22 to 25) that provides rosters approximately equivalent to today's and rewards keeping kids around in case they become useful. Once you find that number all of this goes away because you no longer have the perverse incentives the current system offers. In this hypothetical world people are mad at Nick Saban for being ruthlessly better at avoiding attrition. Another guy later makes a point that's especially salient what with all the chatter about full cost of attendance scholarships:
Scholarship limitations are not in the best interest of the SA. Scholarship limitations are about parity, which in is in the interest of the institutions. To make arguments about over-signing being evil is like saying we want what is best for the SA as long as it does not hurt my school. Which is to say the main goal is not the SA’s best interest, but the institutions.
If big programs want to move towards a system that places student-athlete welfare first, leaving San Jose State to pound sand, that benefits everyone worth benefiting.
(A few details I'd propose:
- Transfers in count as fresh enrollees.
- There would be a limit, probably 85, that once under you could offer scholarships to walk-ons if you wanted.
- You might have to offer some sort of leniency for schools that recruit a lot of JUCOs. This system places a premium on keeping kids around for four and five years and turns a JUCO from a easily replaceable quick fix to a guy who's an empty scholarship for two or three years. Guys who go to JUCO are mostly reclamation projects that college football should be striving to help, so maybe you can get a scholarship here and there back "early."