Reshuffled College Schedules: Impetus For Baseball Season Change?
West Virginia head baseball coach Randy Mazey has long been a proponent of moving the college baseball season to the summer months. While he is not going to push his idea during the current COVID-19 pandemic, it does seem as if the potential reshuffling of schedules for a number of college sports could be another boost for his plan somewhere down the road.
“I hope so. I haven’t pushed it, because number one on everyone’s agenda is the health and safety of people,” WVU’s eighth-year head man emphasized. “But when all this came down, by Thursday night I had a Big 12 mock schedule beginning on June 1 and running through July. If somebody had ever entertained that thought, I could show them it was possible. I wasn’t pushing it by any means, but it was possible.”
Mazey’s vision for college baseball is one that would put it in a position to be more of a featured sport with its own season – one that is more suited to playing games in good weather and generating more fan interest. He sees starting the season in late April or May, with the NCAA Tournament and College World Series occurring in August. That’s nothing new from Mazey, who has been advocating such a schedule for years.
Having thought through the scheduling process many times, Mazey was quick to come up with another alternative once June and July were ruled out of the question for resumption of the season.
“When it got pushed back even further, I did another mock schedule that started in August and got all the Big 12 team’s football schedules. I did one in which no team would play a series at home during a home football weekend, and that was possible. I also did one where you could play a home baseball weekend on a home football weekend,” he explained.
While that sounds like a competition for fan attention, it actually had a lot of synergy behind it.
“I thought that if we played Oklahoma in football on a Saturday and we hosted Texas in baseball and played a single game on Friday night and a doubleheader on Sunday, I think every home game would have looked like the (NCAA) regional we hosted last year,” Mazey continued. “Normally the biggest crowd of our spring is on the spring football game weekend. If you have 40,000 to 50,000 people coming to town and a lot of them get here on Friday night, what better way to spend it than to come see a Big 12 baseball game?”
While those plans were temporary, and aimed at salvaging what remained of the 2020 season, Mazey remains undaunted as to the importance of moving the season in the future.
“The only way we will ever get anywhere is to generate revenue in our sport, and we don’t do it,” he noted.
The idea that college baseball programs could make more money by playing in its own season, rather than competing with college basketball in February and March and subjecting fans in many regions to weather conditions more suited to football is logical. So too is the idea that baseball could fill more television slots in a time when collegiate activity is at a minimum. With the current schedule, only a handful of games are on broadcast or major cable and satellite outlets, but moving them to the summer would provide many more windows of opportunity. The money wouldn’t be anywhere near that generated for football or men’s basketball, but it might well be enough to boost many schools above the break even line, or at least minimize losses.
That, along with hoped-for increased attendance, ticket sales and ancillary income, would provide more revenue for a sport that makes money at only a very few schools. Estimates are that fewer than 10 percent of the nearly 300 Division I baseball programs turn a profit, and that’s the high end of the scale.
Thus, the benefits of a season move seem many for college baseball. The drawbacks, such as the current positioning of the Major League Baseball Draft, is a hurdle, but with changes coming to that entity in terms of cutting the number of players selected and the proposed massive contraction of minor league baseball, pro options can’t be a consideration for universities looking to maximize revenues. College sports, facing the COVID-19 financial crunch, should be looking at every alternative.
Mazey emphasized repeatedly that he wasn’t using the current pandemic as support for his proposal, and that now was not the time to aggressively push it to the NCAA. However, a vast majority of college coaches have supported the move in informal polling in the past, and Mazey is looking forward to the time when it gets a fair hearing.
“The one encouraging thing that came out of the NCAA announcement about spring sports is that since college baseball is a unique entity, we are going to have to take another look at it. I’ve been waiting 35 years for somebody to take a look at college baseball at see the challenges we have that other people don’t. We’re the only sport with a roster limit. In a normal year we lose 20 percent of our incoming players and 20% of our roster [in the draft]. We don’t know what our team will look like from year to year. So I can’t wait for the day when people get together and look at what’s best for college baseball moving forward.
“Since I’ve been involved in college baseball over the last 30 years, it’s always been ‘no, no, no’ and ‘cut, cut, cut’. We’ve cut scholarships from 13 to 11.7, we cut games, we’ve limited the number of players you can have on scholarship, we tried to get a third (paid) assistant coach and that didn’t pass. Every answer that we’ve gotten has been no. Hopefully one day the people will get together and logic will prevail.”
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WVU had three seniors on its 2020 roster who have the opportunity to come back for a redo of their final year in college. All three – Braden Zarbnisky, Kevin Brophy and Dillon Meadows – were important cogs in the Mountaineers’ 11-5 start to the 2020 season, and all have pro potential. Making the decision to stay for an extra year or move forward into an uncertain draft environment that doesn’t even have a firm date or number of rounds set yet is one that Mazey doesn’t want to push them into.
“I just told them not to make decisions before you have to. Don’t make a decision based on emotion,” said Mazey, who dispenses life lessons as easily as he tutors players in his long toss program. “Until we know what is going to happen, there is no use for them to make a decision. They do all want to come back. They are all potentially guys would could sign free agent contracts, or they could come back and be contributors to our team. They are in a waiting game just like everybody else. But I would love to have all three of them back. They were all having really good years for us.”
Zarbnisky was leading the team in batting (.431) OPS (1.024), runs (16), total bases (35), and steals (13). Brophy was hitting .246 with four extra base hits and eight RBI.
On the mound, Zarbnisky had a team-best two saves, had not allowed an earned run and had a 0.95 WHIP in four appearances as the closer, making him a top early candidate for the Olerud Award, given to the top two-way college player in the nation. Likewise, Meadows had also not allowed an earned run and had a WHIP of 1.00 in seven innings of work.