The national championship in college baseball continues on Tuesday evening in Omaha as the LSU Tigers take on the Florida Gators in the College World Series Final. The final series of the 2017 college baseball season is an all-too-common match up taking place between two teams from America’s southern states. This year’s College World Series featured seven southern teams and one west coast team, and in the last 30 years, only one team from the Big Ten Conference has made it to Omaha. In addition to start date, the time on the calendar for many other events including the MLB Draft create an unnecessary distraction for players across the sport. In order to make America’s past time relevant on the national stage, changes must be made.
In major league baseball, pitchers and catchers report to spring training in February in warm destinations located in Florida or Arizona. Meanwhile, many teams in college baseball begin their actual regular seasons in February. Luckily for teams located in warmer climates at lower latitudes, this start time for baseball comes at little or no inconvenience to players or fans. In colder climates, February still marks the dead of winter, when baseball still is the last thing in fans’ minds while shoveling feet of snow out of the driveway, or while watching their team progress towards March Madness on the hardwood.
As a result of these climate differences and the start date of the season, many teams in America’s Midwest and northeastern states are required to take their teams on the road for the first 4-6 weeks of a season. Conference play, which often begins in March, still begins during the ending days of winter and early days of spring, far from desirable for a college baseball player to begin playing meaningful games, and far from desirable for a fan wanting to support their school or team at the diamond. This lack of desirable conditions and lack of interest in fan support creates an insurmountable disadvantage for many northern schools in the sport of baseball, making the sport largely irrelevant in large pockets of the United States.
The MLB Draft takes place every June amidst the NCAA Tournament of college baseball. This event marks dreams being made for many players throughout the sport. Unfortunately for many players hoping to reach Omaha, draft date can often create a distraction as a team continues its route through the NCAA Tournament. Once again, the schedule of college baseball creates an unnecessary challenge for its players and teams.
Two solutions are quite obvious for improving the quality and overall scope of college baseball. Both of these changes are related to the schedule of events which take place throughout the duration of the season.
Move the season start back one month
The college baseball season currently begins in Mid-February, which is often still in the thick of winter and amidst the pinnacle of college basketball. This climate challenge, in addition two more than two months of overlap with basketball, create a backseat location for college baseball that the sport never really moves out of until the middle of conference play. By moving the season start from Mid-February to Mid-March, baseball only then shares one month of play with basketball (instead of two) and will have no conference play collide with dates on the calendar for basketball.
This solution also allows northern teams to play more games in desirable climates in their states, most notably conference play, which would begin in April instead of March. Northern teams would only require two or three weeks of southern play, and the beginning of conference play would also mark the beginning of spring weather in many northern states. This improvement in weather not only makes baseball-playing conditions more favorable for potential top recruits and players, but makes fans more willing to attend a game. Better players, conditions and more fans mean a higher quality product, which can only grow the sport.
MLB Draft following the CWS
Currently the MLB Draft takes place one week before to the College World Series in Omaha. Moving back the MLB Draft from June to late July allows players and teams to focus on their own college teams as the number one priority, without distractions from impending moves related to their minor league playing careers. No other sport has a draft mid-season, so why does baseball? If the sport is truly about creating prospects for the next level, the MLB should understand the difficulty these dates place on players and teams, and move the date of the draft back by 6-8 weeks.
Make college baseball great again!
College baseball has provided some of the most fun sporting atmospheres I have witnessed in my life. With these two fixes in the sport, college baseball can shine on its own stage longer, and be on a stage which is more capable of producing a national product, rather than a regional niche sport. By moving the start of the schedule back, and the MLB moving back their draft, college baseball can be a priority nationwide that it already is in many southern states. By becoming a priority in all states, and not just those in warm climates, promotion of the sport will rise, potentially leading more young athletes in cooler climates to consider the sport of baseball. Many of these regions have seen a drastic drop in baseball participation at youth ranks and these few moves in the college ranks could motivate more young athletes to pick up a bat instead of a basketball or putting on pads. Lets make college baseball great again, and be the truly national sport it deserves to be!