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College baseball into July? Coaches say it would save money

OMAHA, Neb. – A group of Power Five coaches led by Michigan’s Erik Bakich is proposing a later start to the college baseball season to trim expenses in the post-coronavirus era, make the game more fan friendly and reduce injury risk to players.

Under the 35-page proposal titled “New Baseball Model,” there would be nine weeks of preseason practice instead of five, the regular season would run from the third week of March to the third week of June and the College World Series would wrap up the last week of July. The regular season currently begins the third week of February and the CWS runs into the last week of June.

Past efforts to push back the season were rooted in cold-weather schools’ concerns about competitive equity because they had to travel to warmer climates in the South or West to play games the first month of the season.

The impetus this time is budget management.

“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.”

Bowling Green and Furman recently announced they've dropped their baseball programs to save money.

Bakich said he, Vanderbilt's Tim Corbin, Louisville's Dan McDonnell, TCU's Jim Schlossnagle and UCLA's John Savage began looking at changes to help the sport shortly after the college season was shut down because of the coronavirus outbreak in March.

The core group held Zoom calls with coaches from top baseball schools from all regions, and the discussions resulted in the proposal.

Bakich said the next step is to recruit athletic directors who will take up the cause, bring it to faculty athletic representatives and presidents, and get it entered into the NCAA legislative process. The hope is the new schedule would be in place in 2022.

Bakich said five-year attendance trends show college teams draw bigger crowds in April and May than they do in February and March, and the potential is there for even bigger turnouts 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.”

The proposal said northern teams could save about $200,000 in travel costs by not having to go South and West early in the season and there would be more regional scheduling.

A 17-year Major League Baseball study showed the majority of arm injuries happen in spring training or shortly after the season starts. Bakich said there are no comparable studies for college baseball injuries because of privacy laws.

“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 said players miss one or two days of class each week they travel by airplane for games, and schools on a semester schedule would play about four weeks without academic conflicts if the season started later.

Opponents argue pushing back the season would harm summer leagues like the Cape Cod League. Bakich pointed out that players from about 235 Division I teams — ones that don't make the NCAA Tournament — will be able to report to their summer teams by late June or early July. Non-Division I players will have opportunities to fill out summer rosters.

There also would be costs to keeping players housed and fed on campuses a month longer.

A later start probably won't interfere with the MLB draft. College coaches believe MLB is leaning toward holding the draft in July instead of June going forward, and the possibility of minor leagues being contracted could impact the structure for rookie development.

Bakich said the proposal, first reported by D1Baseball.com, has received widespread approval from coaches.

“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.”