On the eve of the final College World Series in Rosenblatt Stadium, college baseball’s leaders looked back at the growth of the sport and the “personal” nature that allowed the sport to get to such a point.
Dennis Poppe, the NCAA vice president for baseball and football, Tim Weiser, chair of the Division I baseball committee, and Dave Keilitz, executive director of the American Baseball Coaches Association, addressed a wide variety of topics with the media on Friday afternoon, ranging from the critical (the lack of #1 seeds who made it to Omaha) to the sentimental (thoughts on the last CWS at Rosenblatt.)
The three were in agreement that scholarship concerns are the biggest problem facing college baseball currently. “(If) I could do one last thing as executive director of the ABCA, I would increase scholarships. It would elevate our game,” wished Keilitz. “We lose a tremendous number of elite athletes to football and basketball because we don’t have full rides.”
All three panelists explained that the scholarship issue is one under constant discussion by the committee and the NCAA, but a set improvement to the current policy is not in sight.
While the lack of scholarships is hurting the sport, college baseball is growing substantially, and the move from 48 to 64 teams over a decade ago is seen as one of the biggest reasons why.
Poppe gave insight as to how large the growth spurred by the tournament change has been. “In 1998, when we had 48 teams, the tournament incurred a deficit of about $227,000. We expanded, which doesn’t make sense, to 64 teams. And we immediately started turning a profit and we started becoming a revenue generator,”
There were many detractors to the 1999 move to 64 teams, but Poppe said that the chance was one the sport had to take because it got the product of college baseball out in front of more fans. “It allowed the tournament to gain some momentum at the ground level,” he explained. “The fans got to see the games. They got to be involved with the championship.”
It is the fans’ personal relationship with the tournament through the four team regional that has Poppe somewhat hesitant to move to a NCAA softball model of seeding, as suggested by several in the sport. “(This current system) allows those fans to get to the games,” said Poppe.
Weiser pointed out that the current system is a determent to coaches, especially those on the West Coast, who find themselves seeing very familiar teams in the Regionals. “Let’s see if we can move away from that geographic process and do more of that seeding and not be as concerned about trying to keep things localized so we don’t have the travel costs,” Weiser explained. “That’s easy for me to say because I’m not paying the bill.”
All parties acknowledged that the current Regional system fell in line well with the NCAA’s ongoing focus to minimize travel costs for teams. Another benefit to the system has been the variety and parity of teams involved in the tournament.
“I think what it really did is give an awful lot of more teams hope that they could (make it to the tournament),” said Keilitz. “Back in 48, I’m not saying it was a closed shop, but if you took every year…the number of repeaters every year was huge.”
The growth of the sport hasn’t been lost on the newest NCAA President, Mark Emmert, who met with Poppe last Thursday. LSU was under Emmert’s watch as Chancellor during their three CWS titles in 2000, 2003, and 2004. “(Emmert) gets what the College World Series and Omaha is all about,” announced Poppe. “And it was real comforting to know that he understands it.”
While the last CWS at Rosenblatt has many sentimental, Poppe, Weiser and Keilitz agreed that college baseball is moving in the right direction. The tournament may have a new home, but the “monkey pile and “bad hats” (Poppe’s terms) of a newly won CWS title will never change.
“This has developed into an iconic sporting event that everyone wants to play in,” Poppe proclaimed.