LSU Tiger hurler Devin Fontenot, a junior, will have to wait until the spring semester of 2021 to get back out on the field of play. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)
With NCAA baseball unable to finish the 2020 season, several universities across the nation are worried about revenue coming into their programs.
The response: a proposal by a group of coaches from the Power Five conferences to push back the start of the 2022 season to the third week of March. The group is led by Michigan’s Erik Bakich.
Moving the season back is not a new issue to NCAA baseball. Schools from throughout the northern part of the United States have always felt a disadvantage to schools in the south.
The biggest issue for those schools have been that they must travel to the south and the west at the start of baseball season because of weather conditions in January and February. Even though that is still a concern for those coaches making the proposal, the biggest issue now is budget.
“We operate at a significant financial net loss among almost all teams,” Bakich said Friday. “There are only a few that operate where they are actually making a profit or covering their costs. The majority of college baseball is a drain on athletic departments, and in the post-COVID era that is not a good combination when universities are looking to improve their fiscal bottom lines.”
Along with Bakich, Vanderbilt’s Tim Corbin, Louisville’s Dan McDonnell, TCU’s Jim Schlossnagle and UCLA’s John Savage started looking at ways to help out baseball schools throughout the country immediately following the shutdown in March.
According to the proposal titled “New Baseball Model”, NCAA baseball would increase their pre-season prep time from five weeks to nine weeks. The season itself would begin the third week of March and end in the third week of June.
Post-season would begin right after and conclude with the College World Series in the third week of July. Currently the season starts the third week of February and finishes at the end of June.
Bakich pointed to trends that show bigger crowds in April and May as opposed to February and March. He also noted the potential to draw even bigger crowds in June.
“We looked at why that is,” Bakich said, “and even in warm-weather places it’s still cold in March. But it’s also basketball season. A collegiate fan can only invest their energy in so many places.”
“We operate at a significant financial net loss among almost all teams,” Bakich continued. “There are only a few that operate where they are actually making a profit or covering their costs. The majority of college baseball is a drain on athletic departments, and in the post-COVID era that is not a good combination.”
The proposal is said to possibly save northern NCAA baseball programs up to $200,000 just in travel costs. Two schools that have dropped their baseball programs recently are Bowling Green and Furman.
Another concern for Bakich and a number of NCAA coaches across the country is the small amount of time that players get to prepare for the season. He believes that extending pre-season will help avoid injuries, especially to pitchers.
“The typical spring training for a professional team is six to seven weeks,” Bakich said. “We as amateurs get less ramp-up time than professional players, and that’s a problem. What we’re doing is flat-out dumb.”
Bakich also noted that with a later start, players would have about four weeks where there would be no conflicts with academics.
One player that may be affected by the proposal, if passed is LSU standout Devin Fontenot. The 2021 junior hurler says that either way, he will be prepared for the campaign next year.
“I don’t think it is that big of a deal,” stated Fontenot. “It that is what we have to do, then that is what we will do. I am not really concerned about it. I will go back next season and get back to playing and going to class. I would be a senior in 2022, so depending on the draft this year or next year, it may not affect me at all.”
For now, it is just a matter of drumming up support from athletic directors across the nation. The hope is that there will be enough university presidents behind it to get it through the NCAA legislative process.
The proposal is not without is opposition. A number of coaches believe that costs saved during the season would be counteracted with costs to house and feed players on campus for the extra month. Also, opponents point to the conflict with summer leagues like the Cape Cod League.
“It is not a one-size-fits-all model,” he said, “but it is a one-size-fits-most. It’s the best thing for our sport and the for the growth of college baseball.”