The Big Ten Should Take Its Baseball And Go Home Comment Count

Brian March 1st, 2012 at 11:38 AM


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.



March 1st, 2012 at 11:49 AM ^

Can you all guess the one team in the conference that would have the least incentive to go along with this proposal?

The irony, given Anderson's comments, is that it's the team that plays most of its schedule in the Metrodome.

The Gophers only have 3 road games this year before going to East Lansing in mid-April. Plus, they get a couple games each year at Target Field (which is AWESOME BTW - I saw them play Iowa there in 2010).


Wolverine in Troy

March 1st, 2012 at 1:30 PM ^

The new Metrodome, or "People's Stadium", will have a fixed roof if the current proposal is approved. However, it won't be complete until 2016.

When they knock down the Metrodome, the Vikings will be using U of Minnesota facilities until 2016.


March 1st, 2012 at 11:49 AM ^

If the Big Ten is talking about departing from NCAA standards to improve the quality of the sport for themselves, they might as well also allow beer to be served at games.  I can't imagine going to a baseball game without beer.  And that is why I never go to college baseball games.


March 2nd, 2012 at 9:26 AM ^

The NCAA does not really regulate the venue at regular-season games.  The reason there is not alcohol for sale at Michigan on-campus athletic events is that there is a Big Ten rule preventing it.  Not every conference has this rule, of course, but very few on-campus venues actually sell alcohol.  They are out there, though--just not in our conference.



March 1st, 2012 at 11:51 AM ^

That's an awesome idea Brian. They could even schedule games against teams in the midwest league (low single-A ball). It would be a boon for both the Big Ten and minor league baseball.

Heck, if they're not part of the NCAA, they could even give these guys a larger stipend, and become a semi-pro league.


March 1st, 2012 at 6:44 PM ^


We don't want to completely piss off the NCAA, so I think making sure these athletes are still unambiguously amatuers will be key.


22 Schollies: If we do this, the rest of the NCAA will probably follow, so it will be a short advantage.

Wood bats: Absolutely

Television: Televise every game, home or away. If it's away, try to get a deal to share revenue to show it on the BTN.

Number of games: By breaking away, we won't be restricted to only playing 56 games during the year. Play 100!

Number of coaches: By breaking away, we won't be restricted to the number of coaches either, right? Hire away!


March 1st, 2012 at 12:41 PM ^

Actually, I could see the MAC following suit afterwards.  They have quite a number of good baseball schools (given past success in both MLB and playoffs), and have to deal with the same obstacles with location.

I really like this idea, Brian.  The more I think about it the more I like it. It will set a precedent, and further demonstrate the leadership mentality of B1G.



March 1st, 2012 at 12:51 PM ^

I was thinking that you could get about 8 conferences to sign on--80 to 100 teams total--if you did it right.  Call it "Wood Bat College Baseball," and I think you could get all of the Midwest (B1G, MAC, OVC, Horizon, Summit) and most of the Eastern conferences on board (like the Atlantic 10, the Ivy League, Patriot, possibly the Big East) and maybe even the Missouri Valley.

Even if you only get half of those conferences, this could work out very well.


March 1st, 2012 at 11:54 AM ^

The wrench in this is Nebraska, which has gone to the CWS far more recently (2001, 2002, 2005) and, of course, sees the thing hosted 50 miles from their campus. 


March 1st, 2012 at 11:55 AM ^

Summer Leagues are some of the best exposure players can get. Change the league and we eliminate any Cape Cod experience. Furthermore, the % of players in the Big Ten that have high aspirations outside of baseball is large. Taking away the ability to have a summer internship in their field can severely hurt them come job search time with little to no experience


March 1st, 2012 at 2:01 PM ^

At least in this context. 

We're talking about making a brand new B1G summer league (and even affiliating with minor leagues, etc.).  There is already a national sports network (Big Ten network) that can televise these games (where can you find summer league baseball on TV/Cable) and these schools already have large followings.  I think that lots of fans would travel to see Michigan in the Wood Bat College Baseball World Series.  (And heck, they could even host it in Omaha because that stadium is empty the rest of the time...a glittering stadium by the way.  I got to walk out of my hotel right in front of it every day when I was at a conference last summer in underrated town if you ask me...but I digress.)

Depending on the field, the summer internship issue has merit.  To me, this is the concern that could torpedo the whole idea.  For this reason a plan would have to be made to address these concerns.  I actually stayed on campus to do research during the summers (except for one summer right after my junior year, where I was at a national lab).  But while working on campus, my schedule was fairly flexible.  So I could have structured my week so that I played games on Fri-Sat-Sun and worked Mon-Thurs and taken some work with me on the bus.  So I do think that there could be a workaround for that.  And if the league becomes semi-pro, there may even be roles for the team members to work as a part of the team management structure (help the business structure of the team function efficiently on the road).  It also occurs to me that some fields (engineering comes to mind) recommend that you get a co-op for part of your experience and take time off from classes to work in the field.  I think a lot of it is in how you package it and plan it.


March 1st, 2012 at 6:02 PM ^

would make it better, but I'm still against it. I'm from Omaha and have only missed one CWS since I was 8, that being last year in the new stadium. While Omaha would support it because it's arguably the best amateur sports community in the country, it wouldn't be nearly like the CWS. For me, seeing Michigan compete in Omaha against Texas, Cal St. Fullerton, or Miami would be a dream come true. Completely removing that possiblity is the worst case scenario, simply having the opportunity to make it to the CWS is enough for me.

The dream of every college baseball player is to play in the CWS, and you want to take that away?!


March 1st, 2012 at 11:56 AM ^

The NCAA is too rigid for the midwest teams for baseball.  Let's do this.


Also, they could look at something similar for football.  I'm sure that top football commissioners could create a better system than the current NCAA model.




March 1st, 2012 at 11:56 AM ^

I'd also like to mention that playing fall games is dumb. The weather is more questionable, kids are in school, and everyone is focused on football. What Big Ten baseball needs is games in the summer. A mid-April to August schedule would be ideal.


March 1st, 2012 at 1:06 PM ^

Those limits were drafted with Title IX in mind, but it is not a Title IX limit, per say. Basically, Title IX only mandates that schools put forth their best effort to allow equal oppertunities for intercollegiate competition; when it was first drafted the Office of Civil Rights took that to mean equal scholarship support, among other things. The NCAA reacted with strategically set scholarship limits.

Also, I would add that as long as these baseball players are students wearing block-M's and competiting at Wilpon/Fisher, they'll be subject to Title IX jurisdiction. It's probably a very small kink in Brian's bigger plan, but it would at least have to be looked into.


March 1st, 2012 at 1:18 PM ^

While originally a Title 9 issue (baseball was not allowed to be a headcount sport - too many players on avg team, like football, not enough large women's teams to baleance out...), the actual number 11.7 is an NCAA number for competitveness. 

The original number of scholly was 15 I believe???  Too many small schools complained that the big dogs were stockpiling too many great players **especially pitching**, leading to uncompetitive results.  The NCAA reduced the schooly number to "kick more kids out" into the smaller school mix.  I.E.  3rd best starting pitcher prospect might get 1/4 scholly at premier school, but might be 1st best starter prospect and get 3/4 scholly at mid-major...


March 1st, 2012 at 12:00 PM ^

At first, I was pretty meh towards the idea of doing the summer thing, what with losing any chance of going to the CWS.  But...our last really good shot at it, in '06, saw a team that had to face a murderer's row to even get out of the regional...which we didn't.  We're the poor conference in all this, and the South ain't going to help us out.  I don't expect the West or Southwest teams either.

The second idea I really like.  Pairing up with some major summer league teams would be a huge way for us to recruit and incentivize players to come in.


March 1st, 2012 at 11:59 AM ^

Stephen M. Ross needs to sell his share of the Dolphins and build us a domed baseball stadium. Then we could host nonconference games early in the season.


March 1st, 2012 at 12:00 PM ^

But it's a good idea. And might be the first step to programs breaking away from the NCAA, where others will follow, and either ending it or make them start to be reasonable and responsible. The only way that happens is if people leave.  Baseball would be a nice start.


March 1st, 2012 at 1:06 PM ^

You hit exactly on the reason I'm reading and commenting. Baseball doesn't interest me much; I don't watch, I don't play occasionally in the summer, nothing*. I am, however, very interested in the Big Ten being willing to "take its ball and go home", as Brian put it.

*Ironically, it looks like my employer this summer will be a single A team, though.

Feat of Clay

March 1st, 2012 at 12:00 PM ^

It would be awesome to have a RATIONAL baseball season.  Seeing baseball games at U-M is fun and cheap, but half the time you're watching in a freaking parka. 


March 1st, 2012 at 12:07 PM ^

With the increased exposure - it could be a like a minor league system with wood bats where   players actually have the opportunity to earn a degree. It's a big risk for some players to just jump straight in the minors - if they don't make it, they end up 23, 24 and have to go back to college and that's if they have the motivation to do that. I like this idea.

Wonder how it would effect Softball, Title IX scholarship restrictions, etc.


March 1st, 2012 at 12:09 PM ^

As mentioned above, Nebraska might disagree, but I can't recall many MLB players who came from the Big Ten.  The last one I remember is Jim Abbott, our 1 handed Wolverine, but I don't pay that much attention to B10 baseball.


March 1st, 2012 at 12:10 PM ^

I wholeheartedly support exploring this idea. I think there would need to be some tinkering with the length of the season. For instance, I don't know how much sense it makes to play through July. But a pre-season in March, with games in April, May, and June would be great. Also, not being held hostage by the NCAA makes a ton of sense.


March 1st, 2012 at 12:12 PM ^

It seems to me that if another conference was agitating to do the same thing in a sport the Big Ten had an advantage in, we'd be all over that conference and calling them lots of unfriendly names and saying how dare they attack the system.  I'm not sure the precedent of taking the ball and going home is a healthy thing for the rest of the NCAA sports especially when there's enough pressure over the whole "hypocritical system and we should pay athlete's" angle.  

I think the idea is interesting and I like that the threat of it could make the NCAA actually be reasonable and stop bending over for the sake of the SEC's various competitive advantages, but on the whole I think the systemic negatives outweigh the baseball positives.


March 1st, 2012 at 1:05 PM ^

I wouldn't, if the Big East or Conf USA or the Mtn West or whomever wanted to start their own thing in football, I am perfectly fine with that.  The BCS or whatever really doesn't need anyone outside, Big Ten, PAC, Big 12, SEC, ACC and ND to still be completely legitimate.   It is not that big of deal this is not the Civil War and we are not seceding from the Union.


March 1st, 2012 at 12:19 PM ^

When I played college ball, I loved my trips to Florida and such.  The better talent will end up going to the South more times than not, but that is where most of the baseball talent resides anyway.

Either way, B1G teams will not be competing for CWS very often.


March 1st, 2012 at 12:20 PM ^

As a former college baseball player who played on the east coast, against many Big 10 teams, and grew up in California, I can speak in a very educated manner on this topic.  Even if Michigan played in a fully domed stadium or played during another season where weather did not play a role, it would not do anything to get the Big 10 even close to the southern and western powerhouses.  Sure, baseball is a sport where anybody can beat anybody on a given day, especially when that once every 10 year phenom pitcher from the midwest takes the hill against Stanford, Florida, Fullerton, etc.  Therefore, individual games can be won, but in regards to having the quality program that can consistently make a legitimate Omaha run and stand up to the big boys, it will never happen again unless the stars allign perfectly.

Problem: The major problem that sets Big 10 / east coast baseball apart is that youth and high school baseball in these other regions is on an entirely different wavelength.  This wasn't necessarily the case 30-50 years ago before the wealth/population/baseball craze boom hit the west coast.  Cal State Fullerton gets 90% of its players from within  a 30 mile radius, all while splitting recruits with UCLA, Stanford, USC, etc., and still puts up national contenders almost every year.  While Michigan may get most of the All State Michigan players, I can guarantee you from experience that all but maybe a 2-3 would struggle making so much as all league in certain parts of this country.  Sorry to say, but with the major boom of competitive travel baseball in the south and west, this disparity is growing even wider.  Moreover, there is no way that a west coast / southeast baseball player will turn down UCLA and Stanford, or Vanderbilt/UVa to come up to Ann Arbor to play baseball.  They will with football so they can play in front of 115,000, but they sure aren't going to leave behind better coaching and better weather for imrpoving their game, to come out to these frozen winters.

Solution:  Be content with the fact that Big 10 baseball will never be a consistent competitor with these baseball powers much in the same way that these other areas will never be able to compete in a sport like hockey.  Nevertheless, since baseball is a sport where short runs can be made when the stars allign, enjoy that one run every 5-10 years that Michigan may make in a regional.  Maybe one day, lightning will strike, and they will get to Omaha.  But to think that tweaks can be made to college baseball to level the playing field is just foolish.  The playing field will not be level until the day that a generation of kids all decide to play baseball over football and basketball.  Given the weather issues and lack of coaching out here, I wouldn't recommend that.


March 1st, 2012 at 12:34 PM ^

I agree that Big Ten teams will never be able to compete with SEC and California teams in baseball no matter what they change.  But that's a great reason to stop trying do something different.  Comparing baseball in CA to hockey is Michigan is a great comparison, but bad for your argument since colleges in CA and the South don't have college hockey teams.  They know they can't compete, so they don't. 

If we started this summer Big Ten baseball league, more players from the Midwest will stay in the Midwest because they can play in the summertime.  Good baseball players from warm weather states who aren't pro material will be more likely to take a scholatship from Michigan or Minnesota because of the education than Fullerton or Ole Miss or something like that. 

I like the idea a lot.

Silly Goose

March 1st, 2012 at 12:47 PM ^

I'm not really sure that the hockey argument works, since the teams in the south could have hockey teams (Alabama-Huntsville) they just choose not to. It would be more like if the NCAA required hockey teams to play outside, so only schools that had weather under 32 degrees could really play or else the ice would melt.