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CBD Interview with Minnesota’s John Anderson (Part 2)

College Baseball Daily continues our series of interviews with coaches across the country today with the second part of an interview with Minnesota’s John Anderson. The Golden Gophers are coming off a 25-24 campaign and a 14-11 mark in Big Ten conference play. The second part of the interview focuses on the addition of Nebraska, RPI changes, Big Ten scheduling ideas, and conference realignment talk. 

CBD: Obviously the 2012 season sees the addition of Nebraska to the Big Ten, what does their addition to the league bring to the table?

JA: Having Nebraska in our league obviously makes our whole league better. They have a great athletic program there, they’ve built a quality facility there, they were in the Big 12 and they’re committed to baseball. I think their presence in the league is going to raise the focus of our league, it’s going to raise the competitiveness of our league, I think it’s going to make us more competitive not just in our league but across the country and so I think they’re a tremendous addition. It’s going to make our league better.

I’ve been around the league since 1974, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Over the last ten years I think this league right now is as good as it’s been. There’s new coaches, there’s a lot of really good coaches in this league now. People have built new facilities, they’ve re-committed to their programs. Purdue is building a new $15 million stadium. Michigan State renovated theirs. Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State’s got a $40 million facility. You bring Nebraska in the league. I just think the league top to bottom is so much better than it was ten years ago and now bringing Nebraska in there is just going to make it more competitive.

There’s no easy W’s in the league any longer. Every weekend is a battle and that’s good. It makes for a competitive conference. Everybody in my opinion has upgraded their baseball programs in this league since I’ve been around it. We’re probably the one program that hasn’t facility-wise, compared to all the rest. Everybody’s done something. Obviously we play in the Metrodome and it’s a tremendous advantage to us. We’re the only school in the league, in the northern part of the country, nobody else is going to be able to play 27 consecutive home games from the last weekend in February through March. We’re a little different category in that regard and that’s one of the reasons we haven’t probably been quicker to replace our facility because the dome has kind of been the stop gap for us. It’s masked the problem to some degree. But now we know that what the loss of the dome created for us last year and now we know that with the Vikings on the horizon for a new stadium, we’ve got to get busy and build a new stadium here so we can continue to compete in the league because Nebraska recruits in this state, the national recruiting, our best kids in this state are getting recruited by everybody in the country and we’ve got to get a new facility built on this campus. Not just for national competitiveness but just to keep up in our league.

CBD: What are your thoughts on the RPI changes that were made in the offseason and how you think that will affect in particular the northern teams.

JA: If you talk to mathematicians and you really study the RPI formula, the problem we have in our game and what the RPI doesn’t take into account is we don’t play the same number of home and away games. If we played the number of home and away games like the Major Leagues, everybody plays 81 home and 81 away, you wouldn’t need an RPI, it would take care of itself. But you don’t. I don’t think the RPI historically has taken into account the difference between a northern school playing 18 home games and somebody playing 36 to 40 in the south. At the end of the day how do you compare those two teams and decide who should be in the NCAA tournament? Do you take a team from the SEC that had a losing record in the league, didn’t get to the conference tournament but has an RPI of 33 versus taking a Michigan State who had an RPI of 70. Who is the better team? The old RPI really favored the teams from the top RPI conferences that really helped the bottom of those leagues’ teams RPIs be higher.

I’ll give you an example. Stony Brook last year, 42-12, isolated geographically, did everything they could, didn’t have a home facility because they’re building a new one. They played at all different places, was 42-12. Phenomenal year. I know they have a number one guy and a couple other guys that are very good players there. They lost their conference tournament so they had to get an at-large. The problem is you look at their RPI and their old RPI was 81 and people look at that and say, “They don’t deserve to be in there.” But if you really look closely at their team and you talk to people who played them, they should have been in the NCAA tournament because they had a good team. The problem is that you have LSU at 25 who only won six games in their league, didn’t make their conference tournament and they think they should be in versus Stony Brook. In the new RPI formula where you’re starting to weight road wins at a higher level, 1.3 and a home win at 0.7. You take their data and plug it into the new formula, all of the sudden they jump up 30 points to 51. I guarantee as a 51 they’re looked at entirely different by the people on the committee.

I think the northern teams have a better chance now to get on the board and get selected and to look better when compared to the bottom half of the top RPI conferences in terms of trying to pick those last ten or twelve teams. I’ve been on the selection committee, that’s really the most difficult part of the process, picking this least 10 or twelve at large teams. I think the RPI is not perfect, I’d like to have seen it go a little bit further in terms of tweaking but it’s surely better than we have. I think it will help the committee pick those last ten or twelve teams and I think it does give the northern schools some hope. Better than what we have. It’s not going to affect the top sixteen teams in the country, it’s not going to affect the top leagues. Not much is going to change there but I do think you’re going to see people schedule differently.

Instead of playing 35, 36, 40 home games, now some of those schools are going to go in their region and say I can go down the road, if I’m LSU I can go to Louisiana-Monroe and I can try to beat them on the road and get 1.3 instead of beating them at home at 0.7. I think it’s going to encourage more people, that’s the other thing we were trying to do, encourage more people to go away and especially the top RPI teams, go on the road and play some other people so they have a chance to improve their chances. Before it was, “I’m not coming to your place, I want to play at home.” I think it will encourage some of that. I think you’ll see some changes in scheduling. I think it’s going to give some home, it’s still not perfect but it’s better than what I think we had.

CBD: The Big Ten commissioner floated the idea of having a couple of slots for northern teams automatically into the Super Regionals. Is that something that you think needs to be looked at? What changes need to be made to help the teams that have the weather issues early in the season that can’t get out on the field?

JA: I think that proposal was aimed at trying to get some access for the northern schools and non Sun Belt schools. I don’t think it got serious consideration from the committee for a number of reasons. Where do you draw the line? Kentucky is in the SEC. Are they part of those one or two extra spots or are they on the other side? Where do you draw the line in terms of who has access to those two spots and who doesn’t? Does Oregon, Washington, Washington State? They’re probably above that line, where do they fall in? Do they get into those two spots as well or do they stay in the Pac 10? Then when you get to the College World Series, how do you put together a ten team bracket? The thing goes on long enough now. How do you do that? Some of the challenges: the thing would have to be longer, you’d have to play more games. I think I’d be more in favor of trying to go back to more regional play like the old days. Just think if you had Stony Brook that happened to get in the NCAA tournament, maybe they had a chance to host or at least play in their region of the country against people in their region. What happens if they win that regional and go to Omaha? Can you imagine the story that would create nationally and the hope it would give other people? It would be national news and the publicity out of that instead of the same ‘ol, same ‘ol.

I would prefer to see us go back to more regional seeding, in the old days when we had eight regions in the country and you had eight people. I proposed to the committee, it got lots of discussion, nothing has been decided… the game of baseball is decided all year long on two out of three series, whoever wins two out of three. I would like to see the championship go to that format. We should play the championship in the same way we decide the champion and how we play all year long, instead of these four team regionals. If you get in the losers’ bracket it’s almost impossible to get out of that. So let’s play two out of three. Stony Brook, maybe they go to Virginia and play two out of three against Virginia and they play at Virginia. Let’s have 32 first round two out of threes and then sixteen two out of threes and get your eight to Omaha, then you’ve got to add a week to the championship which you can do that, but at least you would allow 16 more schools to host and try to find schools and try to geographically find match ups. Like the last time we were in the tournament two years ago we went to Cal State-Fullerton. You try to get your parents to go out there on short notice, it’s $1,000 airfare. It’s a change of timezones, it’s impossible for them. If we’re going down the road or Kansas State’s coming here or in the old days when Nebraska was in the Big 12 and you’re playing a two out of three, I’ll go anywhere and play a two out of three. I’ll put my best guy on the mound, you put your best guy on the mound and we’ll see what happens. Sometimes you have a number one guy, if you can beat their number one guy, you’ve just got to win two games. But at least I get to put my best pitchers out there against your best guys and let’s see who can get it done. That’s what I’m more of a proponent of. You can still seed the top eight, you can still seed the top 16. I’ll go anywhere, I’ll go to LSU and play two out of three but I don’t want to try to have to play them when they’re one of the top national seeds, go to their ballpark, face their number one guy in the first game, lose, then try to come back through the losers’ bracket to get another shot at them. I think it’s impossible to get to Omaha that way, for the most part. That’s what I would prefer rather than Jim’s [Delany] proposal.

At least some blend, maybe not just eight regions but a blend of where we can create some matchups and give some people some hope and let them stay in their regions. But you can still eventually get back, you can still have the 16 top national seeds and you can seed the whole field, one plays sixty-four, in the middle two and three seeds, you can mix and match and create some matchups. The difference between the two and three is not that significant. All that matters is that you’re home or visitor. That’s basically what it comes to. I don’t see a big difference between the two and three seeds. I think you can create some really good matchups. Thirty-two teams host, you could grow the game, move it around, get it in some places that have never been able to have an NCAA tournament game. I’d be more in favor of that. The question now is, the CWS can’t be moved because of television and ESPN and all their programming and people don’t want to go any further in the summer so we’d probably either have to get rid of our conference tournaments or reduce the number of games from 56 to 52 and play one less week or start the championship one week earlier. You’d have to get your 52 games in and if you want to have a conference tournament you’d have to get it done in one week less. I think it still has discussion, it’s still being discussed. It has a lot of positive support for it. They haven’t acted on it yet but it’s on the table. That was my idea, I threw it out there, I was surprised, I talked to a lot of coaches and they loved the idea. Auguie Garrido, I saw him at the World Series last year, I brought it up to him and he said, “John, I love that. That’s the way we play our game the whole year. That’d be awesome and that’s the way we should play the game.” I think it has some traction and I think it would give us some additional hope for the people in the non-Sun Belt areas of the country.

CDB: With all the conference realignment talk and it’s all centered around football and the t.v. money for football. But as baseball coaches and the coaches for the other sports, do you get a lot of input into that?

JA: No, we don’t get any input into it. We learn what you learn. It’s hush-hush and it’s hard to get any information. I think we all know the conference realignments aren’t over. Where is it headed? Are you going to have four major conferences some day? Are they going to divorce themselves from the NCAA and create their own structure because of money just like the BCS has done? Is that the next step? The superconferences get together, they realign and say, “We’re going out on our own, we’re creating our own rules and we’re doing our own thing. We don’t need you NCAA, we’re going to run our own championship. Instead of paying you, we’re going to do it ourselves.” Is that going to happen in the next five or six years? Maybe. I think college athletics, let’s be honest, because of television and the amount of money in television, social networking and the Internet today. The old days of college athletics and what you saw in conference is going away. I think it’s all going to change. Whether it’s good or bad? I’m not sure about that one. There’s probably some good to it but there’s also some bad. You’re probably going to lose some of your traditional rivals, that people for 100 years have followed. You’re seeing some of that in the Big Ten in football. We’re going to a new model, you’re not going to play everybody and some of the traditional games, they’re going to try to maintain them but it’s not going to be the same, it’s not going to be in the same division. It’s still going to be big games but I think it’s going to be different. How does that impact baseball and what happens in baseball and other sports? That’s going to be interesting to see. We have an odd number in baseball right now, we have a nightmare scheduling in our league because number one, we don’t have enough weeks to play everyone because of weather, that’s one problem. We want to have a conference tournament, at least the majority of the coaches do. I’m not in favor of it but the majority of the coaches are. So we’re not playing two teams in the league. We don’t have enough teams to go to divisions because we only have 11, now we have to have a bye every weekend because there’s always an odd team out. That creates some real scheduling nightmares because in our part of the country everybody’s playing every weekend and so you look for conferences all over the country and now you’re talking about finding a school that’s a long ways away that has a bye weekend and you come to my place this year and next year I go to yours. Now you’re adding some expenses, you’re getting outside your region to play at a time when you can play in your region. So that’s the negative side of it for me. Maybe we’ll get a 13th or 14th and maybe we’ll get some divisions going here. I don’t see Wisconsin bringing baseball back honestly with the culture today and the financial challenges and gender equity. I don’t see that happening. That odd number our in league is a problem for sports like baseball because we can’t go to divisions. I think you have to look at that too. Just by bringing Penn State into the league, look at what happened to our costs to travel and play in our league for all of our other sports. It’s a difficult place to get to, it’s more missed class time. It’s expensive. Now you’re going on the other end with Nebraska. It’s going to create some financial challenges for schools like ours with 25 sports and the wider and broader the conference gets the more it costs to play and compete. So, is the return that great that you can afford to do that for all your sports or because of expansion and costs do they start eliminating sports because they can’t afford them all anymore because the thing is so large? Those are the questions that’ll have to be answered over time and that’s my concern about expansion. Maybe they get to the point where they can’t afford to have 25 sports because they can’t afford to play because they’re spread out too far. Costs are too high just to travel to compete with one another. It’s going to be interesting.

CDB: Talking a little bit about television, what impact have you seen from the Big Ten Network on assisting your recruiting efforts and getting your school, when you play on television, out nationwide versus more regionalized for recruiting in the past?

JA: There’s no question it’s had an impact. We hear from kids now that we never heard from before and they watch us on the Big Ten Network. Our conference has gained some credibility because of it because we’ve had more exposure. You can watch the Big Ten Network anywhere in the world if you think about it. You’ve increased your opportunities to expose your conference and your institutions and your programs and your history and traditions so much further than we ever had. So it’s impacted, no question about it.

Your alumni, families, if they’re from out of the region they can follow their kids. I’m amazed at the impact it’s had.

I remember in ’10, the last weekend we were on television at Ohio State for the last weekend, we won the league there, then we were on for the conference tournament and we ended up winning the conference tournament and then we went to the Regional in Fullerton, all those games were on ESPN or ESPNU. I was amazed at the number of people that were following our team on television. It was the most ever in the history of our program, over that three week stretch. It was amazing.

I remember talking to a reporter back here, Pat Reusse and he said to me, I was doing an interview from Fullerton, he said, “John, there’s a buzz here about Gopher baseball that I’ve never heard before because of television.” Now people had to stay up late because it was California time but he was amazed by the number of people that were talking about Gopher baseball. In years past with no television, no one would know what we were doing out there. The scores wouldn’t be out the next day because it was late. The Internet has created more opportunities to expose your program so the exposure has increased 100 percent because of the Big Ten Network and that’s a positive in this league. We can sell that in recruiting. Kids follow our program. I’m amazed at the number of kids that we get emails and contacts from that we never would have in the past.

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