What’s The State Of College Baseball?

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OMAHA, Neb. — It’s been a while since we’ve had drama at the State of College Baseball press conference on media day at the College World Series.

Trust me, that’s a good thing.

There have been years when the State of Baseball presser was filled with drama and some hard questions that needed answers. Remember back when the transfer rules were changed? Or the bats changed? Or better yet, when we moved to TD Ameritrade and former NCAA baseball head honcho Dennis Poppe had to answer questions about the new ballpark and if we’d ever see more than a couple of home runs hit?

Thankfully, no questions about the ballpark and the lack of the long ball were posed to the dais, showing signs that perhaps we’ve moved beyond that topic.

This go-round, most of the questions pertained to pitch counts, the MLB draft, scholarships, technological advances in the sport, and most intriguing to me, the potential of seeding 1-16 in the NCAA postseason, like softball, as opposed to seeding 1-8 as the committee does now to keep the regionalization of the college baseball postseason intact.

A few weeks ago when I spoke with NCAA Selection Committee chairman Scott Sidwell, he voiced clear support for seeding 1-16 and said he would support that change when discussing it with other committee members.

While a change to the 1-16 postseason seeding isn’t imminent, it certainly could be in the near future. The committee once again discussed the potential change during the selection process a few weeks ago, and Sidwell says the group is close to making a recommendation to the higher levels within the NCAA. It’s still to be determined when that could be approved by the NCAA, but next season isn’t completely out of the question.

The change would be welcomed with open arms by the college baseball community.

“I think through the summer and certainly into the fall, we’ll take a look at it. We’ll look at it from a historical perspective and see what other committees have thought about it, why did it not pass then versus what are the chances of passing it now? And certainly we’ll get some comments from the ABCA. And I think one of the big things is having the coaches think it’s the right thing to do as well. If the coaches feel like it’s the right thing to do, it has a much better chance of being something we do long-term.”

Sidwell took things a step further.

“It’s certainly on the agenda, and we look at it to have some flexibility in geographical interests and travel issue and cost effectiveness and all of those kinds of things as well,” he said. “It’s something that gets talked about regularly, and I think the baseball committee is ready to make a recommendation to the next level of approval.”

For the record, no coach I’ve spoken with about this topic over the past few seasons has been against the idea of seeding 1-16, so one would think it would have widespread support among members of the ABCA.

While that’s a topic that should bring a smile to the faces of college baseball fans everywhere, here are some additional takeaways from the NCAA’s annual meeting.

• I’ve gotten a lot of questions over the past week about the potential of reseeding the field after regional play and once teams reach the College World Series. Sidwell told me that hasn’t been remotely discussed by the committee, so for those of you dreaming about that, it’s not happening anytime soon, as it’s not even on the committee’s radar. And for the record, I’m against reseeding after regionals or entering Omaha. Let’s take Davidson for example. Davidson went on the road and knocked off the No. 2 national seed to reach the Super Regional round. Given that accomplishment, should the Wildcats really be forced to then face another ultra-challenging road block with a series against the highest remaining national seed? To me, by beating UNC, Davidson earned what’s perceived to be an easier road (a series against A&M) versus a road series against Oregon State.

• Former committee chairman Tim Weiser got the discussion started a few years ago about potentially going to a 3-3-3 format in the postseason, meaning each round leading up to the CWS would be a three-game series. That idea garnered some support from coaches because of its ability to increase the sport’s footprint to other areas of the country. However, Sidwell said the current committee hasn’t discussed that possibility.

“From the committee’s perspective, it’s not something we’ve discussed that a change of format is coming to us,” he said. “Certainly, there may be some things that are bubbling up there in discussions beyond us, but it hasn’t been formally brought to the committee in my time on the committee.”

• One of the more interesting topics discussed at the ABCA Convention out in California earlier this year pertained to the minimum 25 percent scholarship rule and how many roster spots those scholarships could be divvied out to. At the convention back in January, ABCA Executive Director Craig Keilitz was confident about the legislation getting passed and those two rules eliminated. However, the rules committee tabled it this summer and he doesn’t like the outlook for now. With that said, only 65 percent of Division I coaches are for eliminating the 25 percent minimum scholarship rule. Dissenters say the rule has helped mid-majors gain better footing, which is hard to argue against when you look at the number of perceived mid-majors making serious strides in terms of commitment and quality of players.

“I don’t know if I feel good at this time. It’s been tabled the reasoning behind it is that our academics continue to go up,” Keilitz said. “The thing I don’t like about it is that baseball is the only equivalency sport that has that, you know, stipulation on scholarships. I think both of those rules should be eliminated. However, our coaches, based on where they are – the haves, the have nots, the north, the south – there’s discussion on that, and our coaches are around 65 percent in favor of eliminating them. So, it’s not a completely clear-cut favorite amongst our coaches, but the majority would like to see it eliminated.”

• Different NCAA Selection Committees have started unveiling some seeds as their respective seasons have progressed. For instance, the basketball committee released some seeds leading up to March Madness. Don’t expect that type of transparency to come to baseball, though Sidwell remains open to it if it helps grow and create interest in the game. Meanwhile, Prettyman seems clear on where he stands on the issue.

“Just to make a point on that, baseball is a funny game because we, the committee, got criticized a little bit for putting teams in that lost their last 8 out of 10, or whatever,” Prettyman said. “Things can happen at the very last minute that can change the whole complexion of the postseason when you’re playing three to five games a week. To try to scope out a month ahead of time who’s going to be in that final group is probably not prudent for this game.”

• The American Athletic Conference put forth a proposal over the last few years to expand the NCAA postseason field from 64, but Sidwell and Keilitz said there’s no movement on expanding the field at the moment. Sidwell didn’t rule out expanding the field in the future, but said it would require enough of a national movement to warrant the committee’s attention.

• There’s no added traction on the addition of a third paid assistant in college baseball. College football was given an additional paid assistant this past summer, but the addition of a college baseball assistant was not discussed or voted on. Keilitz said that issue is one of the most difficult he’s dealt with since taking over at the ABCA and said there’s no additional traction at the moment. Keilitz added that it needs to happen when you consider the ratio of coach to player in the sport, but there are several considerations, such as gender equity, budgets, and other items.

• While states across the country are instituting pitch counts at the high school level in the near future, don’t look for the NCAA to do the same. Prettyman said he didn’t see that coming to college baseball anytime soon, but said some in the NCAA’s sports science department continue to look at it. Keilitz added that a vast majority of college baseball coaches already operate in accordance to USA Baseball/MLB’s Pitch Smart standards, thus coaches likely would be against passing pitch count rules.

• The ABCA is in the discovery phase, led by Vanderbilt’s Tim Corbin, of finding ways to improve pace of play in college baseball. Corbin spearheads a pace of play committee, and that committee continues to look at way to speed up the game from a technological standpoint. There’s progress in this area, but there’s still more work to do.

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