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.