FARGO — When it comes to northern college baseball teams that live where it snows, the COVID-19 pandemic may produce a silver lining of sorts. A movement for a later start to the season appears to be gaining traction.
It has for years been the civil war of schedules.
Southern teams like the February start because it gives them a head start on their northern brothers. Northern teams, conversely, normally play their first 20 to 30 games on the road. In the case of North Dakota State, the Bison on any given year leave campus for the first eight or nine weeks of the season that comprises at least 30 games.
But with the pandemic ripping into athletic department budgets, revenue has taken a hit across the country. That includes the southern baseball schools, who draw better later in the spring than they do in February and March.
“This is legitimate,” NDSU head coach Tod Brown said. “No matter where you’re at in the country and what school you’re at, you’re going to draw better in April and May than you do in February and March.”
Not only is weather a factor but college baseball programs go up against basketball in February and especially March with the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Brown said as of last week four of the five Power Five conferences were on board with the later start.
“Enough to get it voted through,” he said.
Kansas State's Pete Hughes had a lot to say about the new college baseball proposal. He's a big fan. A major reason: He thinks baseball could become a revenue-generating sport at K-State. Check out this longread w/thoughts from him + AD Gene Taylor. https://t.co/pvgEaWYtsv— Ryan Black (@RyanABlack) May 29, 2020
A potential scenario would be for it to be voted on in the NCAA circles in January and implemented for the 2022 season. The regular season would extend through June with playoffs and the popular College World Series in Omaha, Neb., in July.
Brown believes that time frame would turn Big Ten Conference baseball programs into a revenue sport. At NDSU, it would be more about cutting its costs.
For instance, instead of flying to Florida for a long weekend in February, it could bus to Missouri or Kansas in March and get the same general weather. The Bison would still be on the road to start the season but it would be for two to three weeks and the net overall gain would be around 10 to 15 more home games, Brown said.
Opponents to a schedule change point to amateur summer baseball leagues like the Northwoods League. It has teams in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, leagues that rely on college players and would no longer have access to them until at least July.
It’s not a debate in Brown’s mind.
“Summer baseball is using our players to make money,” he said. “We send out about 17 to 20 players every summer to play in a summer baseball league and those teams are using our players to make money. They don’t pay them. They just line up host families, they’re housing them for free so they’re getting our players for free. They’re selling tickets, selling alcohol and corporate sponsorships and making tens of thousands if not 100s of thousands off of our players.”
Instead, Brown said, college teams should be attracting paying fans to its games in June. At NDSU, that would mean a cooperation with the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks of the professional American Association, which normally starts its season in late May, for the use of Newman Outdoor Field.
Brown figures there would be five to six weekend dates that could have potential conflicts.
“It’s something we would have to sit down and work out on a yearly basis,” he said.
The schedule change movement has been led by University of Michigan head coach Erik Bakich with a 35-page proposal called “New Baseball Model.” Recently, Division I programs Bowling Green and Furman dropped baseball.
The pandemic may not be the sole reason, but the result is non-revenue or low-revenue programs appear to be vulnerable.
“Weather is going to determine for us northern programs more opportunities to play in good weather which grows into better crowds,” Brown said.