CONTINUUM CLASSIC: Why nobody pays attention to College Baseball, outside of the CWS

In honor of the College Baseball season starting tomorrow, here’s a post originally published on June 1, 2012:

In basketball, the NCAA tournament is in many ways a far bigger event than even the NBA Finals as the marquee event for the sport.

In football, the passions in some regions for college teams are larger than that of any NFL team. Okay, with the possible exception of Green Bay. Maybe.

Baseball, however, has it’s amateur competitions mostly forgotten. Yes, the draft is shown on MLB Network (at least the first round or two), and it isn’t too hard to find a college game on TV if you know where to look… but it is a afterthought unless it’s draft day (and even then, there usually are just as many high schoolers who are getting drafted) or the College World Series.

There are several reasons for this:

  • As I mentioned, lots of players are drafted out of high school, so the level of competition in NCAA isn’t quite what it is in football or basketball.
  • With the exception of the best of the best, it’ll be several years before you see a top college player in the big leagues, since they will go to the minors for seasoning. This ends any type of “hype” that can be built up around future pros, and why the MLB draft is so little followed beyond seamheads.
  • Aluminum bats. They may have been changed over the past decade or so to act more like baseball bats and not like trampolining home run machines, but there is still the PING! that, while tolerable when heard in Little League, seems to be grating when you see grown men swinging them around.
  • Lack of regional parity. If it seems like the BCS division of football is dominated by southern and western colleges, it’s even worse in baseball. After all, they can practice all year round, and don’t have to worry about the weather. A look at the winners of the College World Series over the years shows it. There hasn’t been a CWS winning team from above the old Mason-Dixon line (39 degrees and 43 minutes N) since Oregon State went back-to-back in 2006 and 2007. Before then, though, there hadn’t been one since (The) Ohio State University won it in 1966. Heck, there hadn’t even been a northern team that came in second place since Eastern Michigan lost to Arizona in 1976.
  • Baseball, unlike basketball and football, became a professional sport fairly early on, meaning the long traditions found in college hoops and gridiron aren’t as common in baseball, since they didn’t have time to form before the rise of the pros. The only big tradition it has that is known nationally is the fact that the College World Series is in Omaha, and ALWAYS in Omaha.

So what can be done? Well, MLB is apparently discussing helping fund scholarships and a transition to wooden bats in NCAA, which could be helpful. However, I think College Baseball will remain what it is: fun to watch come the College World Series, but generally ignored outside of that.

Stony Brook: The North will rise again

Stony Brook made it to the College World Series yesterday, defeating perennial power LSU, on LSU’s home turf, and in near-dominating fashion too. The super-regional series went to the full three games, but Stony Brook easily could have swept, having blown leads several times in game 1 before LSU won it.

This is, even in the relatively-niche college sport of baseball, a big deal. The Seawolves (previously best known for having been the college team of Joe Nathan) were a number 4 seed in regionals, and, as ESPN constantly pointed out, that makes them the equivalent of a number 13 or lower/higher (it’s hard to keep your directions straight with seeds sometimes) making it to the Elite Eight during March Madness. In 2008, Fresno State became the first and only regional 4-seed to win the entire tournament, but Fresno, unlike Stony Brook, had been to the CWS before, and had in fact ended up coming in second on three previous occasions. Stony Brook… hasn’t. In fact, they hadn’t even made it to the Super Regionals before this year.

(more after jump)

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Why nobody pays attention to College Baseball, outside of the CWS

In basketball, the NCAA tournament is in many ways a far bigger event than even the NBA Finals as the marquee event for the sport.

In football, the passions in some regions for college teams are larger than that of any NFL team. Okay, with the possible exception of Green Bay. Maybe.

Baseball, however, has it’s amateur competitions mostly forgotten. Yes, the draft is shown on MLB Network (at least the first round or two), and it isn’t too hard to find a college game on TV if you know where to look… but it is a afterthought unless it’s draft day (and even then, there usually are just as many high schoolers who are getting drafted) or the College World Series.

There are several reasons for this:

  • As I mentioned, lots of players are drafted out of high school, so the level of competition in NCAA isn’t quite what it is in football or basketball.
  • With the exception of the best of the best, it’ll be several years before you see a top college player in the big leagues, since they will go to the minors for seasoning. This ends any type of “hype” that can be built up around future pros, and why the MLB draft is so little followed beyond seamheads.
  • Aluminum bats. They may have been changed over the past decade or so to act more like baseball bats and not like trampolining home run machines, but there is still the PING! that, while tolerable when heard in Little League, seems to be grating when you see grown men swinging them around.
  • Lack of regional parity. If it seems like the BCS division of football is dominated by southern and western colleges, it’s even worse in baseball. After all, they can practice all year round, and don’t have to worry about the weather. A look at the winners of the College World Series over the years shows it. There hasn’t been a CWS winning team from above the old Mason-Dixon line (39 degrees and 43 minutes N) since Oregon State went back-to-back in 2006 and 2007. Before then, though, there hadn’t been one since (The) Ohio State University won it in 1966. Heck, there hadn’t even been a northern team that came in second place since Eastern Michigan lost to Arizona in 1976.
  • Baseball, unlike basketball and football, became a professional sport fairly early on, meaning the long traditions found in college hoops and gridiron aren’t as common in baseball, since they didn’t have time to form before the rise of the pros. The only big tradition it has that is known nationally is the fact that the College World Series is in Omaha, and ALWAYS in Omaha.

So what can be done? Well, MLB is apparently discussing helping fund scholarships and a transition to wooden bats in NCAA, which could be helpful. However, I think College Baseball will remain what it is: fun to watch come the College World Series, but generally ignored outside of that.