A baseball game in mid-February seems unnatural for the obvious reason. If it’s not cold and icy, it can get that way in a hurry.
But also consider this: Between the start of the college baseball season and MLB opening day, the sports calendar is crammed.
The closing stretch of the NBA regular season, the increasingly popular NFL Draft Combine, the start of college football spring practices and college basketball March Madness all draw attention during that six-week window.
So, as college baseball has quietly gotten underway — and worked around bad weather in the process — the inevitable question arises: Why does the sport start so early?
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“My sense is that baseball has traditionally been a spring and summer sport, and within college athletics, we want it to be tied to the academic year,” said Damani Leech, NCAA managing director of championships and alliances.
The customary start date received a jolt last week when West Virginia head coach and former TCU assistant Randy Mazey penned a 2,744-word letter to D1Baseball.com, advocating for an April-to-August schedule.
Division I Baseball Committee chairman Dave Heeke, the athletic director at Central Michigan, chimed in earlier last month, too, tweeting that a later schedule “needs serious consideration.”
Mazey’s general idea also has the support of his ex-boss, TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle.
“I think there’s a lot of hoops to jump through to make it happen, but there’s no doubt that [pushing the schedule back] is the best interest of the sport, nationwide,” Schlossnagle said Tuesday after his team’s 3-1 win over Rice.
It was TCU’s first game in six days, as weather the last two weeks has caused a jumbled schedule for the Horned Frogs. To help make up for the lost games, TCU scheduled two games against Abilene Christian: April 6 in Abilene and April 22 in Fort Worth.
They play at USC on Friday in Los Angeles, where it’ll be sunny and in the 70s all weekend. But to even leave town, the Frogs had to fly to California on Wednesday, instead of Thursday, with an impending third round of wintry weather across North Texas.
Last week, their flight back from Arizona State was delayed two days, their Tuesday game was moved to Wednesday and their home series against Cal Poly was canceled.
But Schlossnagle’s support for a later season is more about increasing exposure for a game that gets lost in the shuffle because its schedule isn’t aligned with the majors.
“We don’t showcase our sport,” he said. “You think about it, college football is played during the NFL season. College basketball is played during the NBA season. College baseball is really over by the time the major leagues get going.”
That’s the crux of the argument for Mazey, who envisions the college game becoming a summer-long attraction with similar attendance figures to the minor leagues.
Currently, the college regular season ends around the middle of May, with the College World Series culminating about a month later.
In 2014, 50 minor league clubs averaged more than 5,000 fans per game, according to BallparkDigest.com. Only seven college programs finished above that threshold last year.
“I don’t want to sound like a Northern coach just grumbling about it being cold outside,” Mazey wrote. “I want to legitimately make college baseball a revenue sport that is in the best interest of everyone.”
The first step in making that happen would be for either a conference or the Division I Baseball Committee to draft a formal proposal, Leech said. So far, that hasn’t happened, but if it did, most of the factors Mazey listed would be evaluated. That would include, according to Leech, an evaluation of how the sport’s current schedule became what it is.
Leech didn’t rule out the possibility of a change but described it as a “heavy lift.” The challenge would be convincing a majority to stray from tradition.
“The biggest hurdle,” Leech said, “would be the philosophical issue of folks being concerned with it being disconnected from the academic year.”
Ryan Osborne, 817-390-7760
TCU this weekend
Friday: at USC, 8 p.m. RHP Mitchell Traver (TCU, 2-0, 0.00 ERA, 18 K) vs. TBD
Saturday: at UCLA, 8 p.m.
Sunday: Vanderbilt, 1:45 p.m. (Dodger Stadium)