Viewpoint: Mazey Makes Case For Later Schedule
Wintry weather has been a major storyline during the first three weeks of the college baseball season, and a Southern snowstorm this week has wreaked havoc on the schedule again this weekend. Last Friday, Aaron Fitt argued in favor of West Virginia coach Randy Mazey’s proposal to move the college baseball season back (Mazey proposes an April 1 start date and a College World Series in August). On Saturday, Kendall Rogers posted a rebuttal, arguing against such a radical shift.
Mazey crafted a long letter in response to Rogers, addressing some of his critiques and laying out some of the finer points of the proposal. Below, we present Mazey’s letter in its entirety (lightly edited, but not for content).
Rogers and Fitt also welcomed Mazey to join them on a podcast to debate the change-of season proposal. As Division I Baseball Committee chairman Dave Heeke said on Twitter last weekend, this proposal needs serious consideration. We’re doing our part to advance the dialogue.
Thanks for your article on my proposal to push college baseball to the summertime. I’m always interested in hearing the points made from the other side. I knew when I did this that it would be met with opposition because it has been met with opposition for the past 30 years when a group of very prominent coaches first started talking about it. I actually enjoy discussing it logically with the people who don’t agree with me, because those are the people that I need to discuss it with the most. And if you know me at all, you can convince me of anything if you back it up with good sound logic. In return, when I try to convince people of something, I don’t do it based on personal feelings, I do it with a well thought out, logical plan. So, if I may …
As a college baseball fan myself, I completely agree with you, students add a lot to the atmosphere of a college baseball game. Some good-hearted “ragging” of the other team is a part of baseball and, if done properly, can add some enjoyment to the game for the fans, and the students are usually the ones dishing out the ragging. I would like to make a few points, though. I have coached in the ACC, SEC, Big 12, and several other conferences and have been to literally every venue in all of those leagues, and I would say that the student population for games at those places is maybe 20 percent of the crowd, and in most of those venues, way less (Our marketing department allots 20 percent of the tickets at a home football game to students and 15 percent for basketball. Baseball wasn’t ever considered.). Add that to the fact that the students get in for free, and at a lot of places bring their own food and drink, the school is not making much revenue, if any, off of the student population. Those same schools that have the best student following are the schools that usually host regionals, which get sold out easily without the students (school is not in session during regionals and super regionals). If students do come to regionals, they are either in summer school or do make the commute to see their beloved school play, and of course some do. I’m sure that any athletic director will tell you that if you have a crowd of 5,000 people, they would prefer that the majority of the 5,000 are paying customers. That’s why they only allot a certain amount of tickets to the students to start with, so they can maximize their profit—it just makes good business sense. Very similar to every flight you get on, there are only a few seats reserved for those people who are using frequent flyer miles instead of paying money. If half of the passengers weren’t paying, airlines would go out of business.
That brings me to one of my points at the forefront of my proposal: finances.
I have shown in my proposal that very few college baseball programs make money (I am actually in the process of delving deeper into exactly how many), and for most, the deficit is considerable. For example, at West Virginia last year, the financial loss from having a baseball program was seven figures (including salaries, scholarships, and operating budget versus revenues and concessions), and we had the best year in the history of the program in terms of attendance. As an athletic director whose job it is to turn a profit for the athletic department, how could you not look at ways to make money in baseball? With the new legislation that was recently adopted to provide athletes with cost of attendance expenses, schools in the power five conferences immediately have to add another seven figures of expenses to the athletic department budget right off the top.
Let’s compare running an athletic department to running a business in the private sector. Let’s say that someone owned 20 different businesses (similar to an AD who is running 20 different sports) and only two of those businesses were making money (football and basketball). You really only have two choices; find which of the remaining businesses have the best chance to turn a profit, or dump the businesses that are losing money for you. Baseball, I feel, is the next best chance to make money. I agree with you, Kendall, that interest in college baseball is at an all-time high, but that all-time high is not even close to the interest that Major League Baseball gets. Fan interest for college football is similar to that of the NFL, fan interest for college basketball is similar to that of the NBA, but fan interest for college baseball is not even on the radar compared to MLB. As a matter of fact, fan interest for college baseball is WAY less than even minor league baseball (as shown in my proposal). Every school in the Big Ten at the time of my study was getting outdrawn by their closest minor league team, some were getting outdrawn by four or five times the amount of fans. My point is that the all-time high that we have right now has the potential to be WAY higher. The fans are out there, they just choose to go watch minor league baseball right now because it’s warm outside, you can drink beer, and you can take the whole family because it’s not a school night.
As a side note, I have set aside July Fourth weekend as rivalry week in college baseball. Ohio State vs. Michigan, Oregon vs. Oregon State on July Fourth? At West Virginia in 2013, in a game known as the backyard brawl against our biggest rival, the Pitt Panthers, when the first pitch was thrown at 3:00 p.m. on March 12, the temperature was around 34 degrees and freezing rain, there were 18 people in the stands. I couldn’t figure out what they were doing there. I wouldn’t have gone and I love college baseball.
I have also done a cost analysis for our current players taking a summer school class in each session of summer school, and also made some minor adjustments in the travel schedule (last year we played our first 20 games on the road, this year 22 out of our first 23), and as a result of my analysis, at West Virginia last year, had we played in the summertime instead of the wintertime, we would have actually saved money. Most people say playing baseball in the summer would cost too much money, but they say that because they’ve always said that. I put a pen to the paper and actually ran the numbers and that’s just not true. Obviously the numbers are somewhat different for every school.
Finances are not my only factor in my proposal, however. I want this proposal to make sense to everyone; the NCAA, ESPN, college presidents, athletic directors, faculty athletic reps, fans, coaches, and players, so I looked at the factors that would make sense to all groups. I don’t want to sound like a Northern coach just grumbling about it being cold outside (I actually did my proposal while coaching at TCU. At the time I had no idea I would be eventually coaching in the North), I want to legitimately make college baseball a revenue sport that is in the best interest of everyone.
Here are the factors (other than finances) that I see as relevant to everyone:
Student Welfare. This is the hot button topic with the NCAA. How could this shift in schedule benefit the students? First off, I have safety concerns. As I write this, it is 1:43 a.m. Monday morning, February 23, and we are on a bus to Morgantown on our way back from the Pittsburgh airport after a series at Georgia Southern. The roads are icy and covered with snow, it is still snowing hard, and I am worried to death about the 35 guys behind me that I feel responsible for. None of us ever want to be a part of that story.
Also, I have a letter from Dr. James Andrews that states he is in favor of college baseball being played in the summertime to lessen the risk of injury to college baseball players. I’m no expert on injuries, but he is, so I’m going to have to agree with him on this one. I do remember an evening in Fort Worth when we were hosting San Diego State in a three-games series, and on Friday night, Stephen Strasburg went to the mound against us, and when he came out of the dugout to start the eighth inning, the temperature on the scoreboard said 38 degrees. I think it’s just a matter of time if someone of his stature were to get hurt on a night like that to file a lawsuit against the NCAA. Also, if I’m not mistaken, both starting pitchers this past Friday (both premium arms with a potential pro future) in the Florida versus Miami series were taken out of the game, one in the bullpen and one in the first inning with muscle strains. Coincidence? Maybe. Game-time temperature? According to a tweet I read, 37 degrees in Gainesville.
Academics. This one is a no-brainer. Our kids are college students first, baseball players second. This season, our kids will miss 16 days of class between the time the season starts and final exams. We are not giving them every opportunity to succeed academically. We have our academic advisors and tutors and make every attempt to help them, but in a survey given to my team (without them knowing it was my proposal), they felt that missing classes was unfair to them and limited their ability to do well in school. This is a combination of academics and student welfare if they feel (which they do) that they are being treated unfairly.
Also, under the new proposed schedule, students would be asked to take a summer school class in each session of summer school, preferably an internet class. If each one of them were to take an additional six credit hours each summer, most kids, if not all, would graduate in four years, some faster. A lot of kids would have their degree before they ventured into professional baseball. A few years back, the Scott Boras Corporation did a study of major league players and their academic background. That year, there were 824 players in MLB (if my memory serves me right) and take a guess how many of the 824 had a four-year degree at the time?
Six! Not 6 percent. Six total! That amazes me. Most of those 824 will be finished playing before their 30th birthday, then they jump into the real world without a college education. Will they go back to school at age 28 with a wife and two kids for a year and a half to try and graduate? The statistics say that most of them don’t. That’s unfortunate but fixable.
Most schools in the power five conferences offer a very nice fifth-year aid package for kids who are trying to finish school after their eligibility is exhausted. I know for a lot of schools, the kids get their tuition paid (some have to work for it, others don’t). At WVU this past year, we had three former players in school trying to get their degrees and we were paying their full tuition at over $20k each. Under my proposal, fifth-year aid would be a thing of the past. More cost savings.
Competitive equity. This has not been my focal point for my proposal, but it is a part of it. The NCAA coined this term when it reduced scholarships from 13 to 11.7 a while back. In essence, they were trying to let the mid-major schools catch up to the baseball powers by allowing them to get some of the better players that the bigger schools did not have room for or scholarships for any more. Boy did it work! Back when I played at Clemson, if we played a mid-major school, we usually beat them. These days, a mid-major school can beat you any time you play them. The NCAA definitely created parity between big and mid. Now the disparity is between North and South. If you read my proposal, you will see that for a period of 20 years in the College World Series, 146 out of the 160 participants came from the South. Two years ago, of the 34 at-large bids available after the automatic bids were secured, 27 went to Southern schools.
In the first weekend of this season (2015), the win-loss record of Northern teams versus Southern teams was 83-163. I would venture a guess to say that in the past 2 winters, very few Northern teams got to practice or play on a real baseball field prior to their first game (we didn’t get to). When we open the season, we normally play against teams who have probably already played 10-15 intrasquad games outside on their own field. I’m not complaining, just stating the facts. Could you imagine if a basketball or football coach never got to practice on a real field or court prior to their first game? If their receivers never got to catch passes like our outfielders don’t get to catch a fly ball? Can you say, ‘uproar?’ When we are all trying to win every game we can to get a shot at the postseason, every game counts, so if you get off to a bad start, it makes a real difference when it comes to at-large bids.
Those are my main factors; hopefully they make some sense because there is logic behind them.
The last issue I would like to address is the weather down South in the summer. I’m with you on this one Kendall, the deep South in July is a beating. I would rather be in Morgantown in March than Houston in July. But I will put my personal feelings aside on this one in favor of logic. I did a little digging again, here’s what I found:
In the months of June, July, and August, the Houston Astros have 43 home games on their schedule this coming season: 31 night games and 12 day games. The Arizona Diamondabacks have 39 home games: 29 at night, 10 during the day. The Miami Marlins have 40 home games: 26 at night, 14 during the day.
Both those are the big leaguers, they have it made compared to the minor leaguers. The Gulf Coast League schedule for this upcoming summer is out and although I didn’t look at the schedule for every day this coming summer, I picked two days: July 1 and Aug. 15. On both of those days there are eight games scheduled, all starting at 12:05 p.m., in the midday heat. In the Arizona League last summer, all of the games that were played on July 1 had a temperature in the box score of anywhere between 105 and 108 degrees. In the Texas League, there are 4 games scheduled on July 13 this coming summer, three night games and the one day game being in San Antonio.
Like I said, I feel like that is a beating in the heat, but that is professional baseball. This is the life that our players are aspiring to, which also begs the question if they are prepared or not.
I do think, however, that if you ask every player that currently plays college baseball if he would rather play a game where the temperature is 38 or 98, I would be surprised if even one player out of 1,000 would choose the 38 degree option.
OK, that’s my logic. I don’t want you to think that I’m being argumentative, just logical. Like I said, I am glad when someone brings up a point that goes against my proposal, and I’m glad that it is someone like you who is so well versed in this game. The more I explain my position, the more passionate I become that this would be the best thing for our sport. By the way, in an informal poll that was sent to the 60 coaches in the power conferences last season, more than half have voted for my proposal.
Any chance you’re coming around?