Coach Mazey’s Proposal, Point-by-Point

D1Baseball.com, the fantastic new website that’s been helping spark discussion of the summer season, posted several items of interest yesterday. One was a piece from Randy Mazey, the West Virginia head coach who’s crafted a proposal in support of an April to August calendar. Aaron Fitt and Kendall Rogers, the site’s top two writers, also posted a podcast on which Mazey, who seems like an awesome guy (he’s on twitter), expands on what he wrote. They also started a forum thread for anyone interested in discussing with other fans.

In this post, I’ll try to respond to Mazey’s points. I won’t get to everything, but I’ll cover as much of what he says in the piece and on the podcast as I can, starting with the ideas I think make the most sense. He’s spent several years coming up with a comprehensive proposal, and it’s worth some in-depth consideration. I’ll put his points in bold and mostly paraphrase him, since I don’t want to copy and paste from another site, even one that I’m linking to. I encourage you to read the original and let me know if I’ve misrepresented him.

When I think Mazey makes a good point, I’ll say so. If I think he’s wrong, I won’t hold back. I’d expect nothing less from him if he was responding to something that I wrote. I encourage you all to do the same in the comments, on twitter, or via email. As Mazey and many others have said in the past week, this proposal deserves nothing less than a spirited debate. So let’s get started.

Mazey (paraphrased): It’s rare to find a college baseball program that turns a profit. Most operate deep in the red. Last year at West Virginia, for example, we ended up with a seven-figure loss despite a banner year on the field and at the gate. This kind of thing can’t continue.

Me: It’s hard to argue with that. Maybe there’s something about the maze of college finances that makes this a little less alarming than it seems, but I doubt it. Programs can’t keep operating at this type of loss. Power conference teams should be okay, but even they’re dealing with new expenses, as Mazey mentions. And as for low-majors and northern schools? If expenses keep rising and we can’t find ways to bring more revenue into the sport, a lot more programs will end up like Temple’s, Providence’s, and Vermont’s.

A spring season means kids miss a total 2-3 weeks worth of classes, and that’s just not giving them a fair shake academically. Not to mention the fact that our sport’s three-year draft rule means a lot of guys who go on to pro ball never finish their degree. Letting them take a summer class or two and not having go away for games during the school year would help fix this.

Again, not much I can argue with here. A summer season would preclude internships, summer jobs, and other things guys do to help build a life after baseball, but you’ve gotta have a degree to worry about life after baseball in the first place. Being on campus to take an extra summer class could definitely help more guys to finish on time.

College baseball’s been working towards better competitive balance for a while now. It’s better than it used to be, but we’ve still got work to do.

True. And a summer season would help Northern coaches a lot. I’ve been trying to think in national terms here, but when I put on my New England hat, there’s a lot for Division I teams to like about this. It’ll be much easier to sell recruits on your program if you’re able to travel less and promise 70s and 80s even in June and July. You’ll need to do a lot more than this to boost fan interest (even on beautiful days in May, Northern college baseball stadiums aren’t exactly packed to the gills), but it’s a start on the road to greater national relevance, which is the biggest thing behind whether fans will care.

Yeah, a summer season would hurt student attendance, but fewer students come out than for football or basketball anyways. The schools who do have good student sections sell out regionals anyways, and they might as well save the tickets for paying fans, not people who get in for free.

Since we’re trying to maximize revenue here, it does make sense to have as many paying customers as possible. I also get that most college baseball student sections aren’t exactly the Cameron Crazies. But to me, this is a reason to work harder on getting them involved. To get as many paying customers as possible to come out to the park, we need a lively atmosphere that separates us from a boring minor league game that’s drowning in artificial noise. Let’s build berm and party deck-style seating and reserve it just for students. Let’s have pre-game tailgates and free t-shirt giveaways. Maybe even alcohol sales for the over 21s. (Hey, do you want them to show up or not?) Yeah, some baseball programs struggle to get students out, but they’re a huge part of the raucous atmosphere that’ll make the folks who pay want to go see the college game and not the minor league team down the road. If it were up to me, I’d play as many games as possible when students are actually there, and I’d do everything I could to get them to come to the park in droves.

Playing more warm-weather games will reduce the injuries guys suffer in the cold. I’ve got a letter from Dr. James Andrews that supports my proposal as a way to do this. A guy with high draft status who gets hurt playing in the cold could even sue the NCAA.

I’ll plead complete medical ignorance on this one. Though it does seem like a similar argument could be made about heat stroke, cramping, and dehydration during 100+ degree games in late July. But more importantly, are you saying I can sue the NCAA for making me play in 38-degree weather?

This proposal isn’t about the weather, it’s about boosting revenue.

He mentioned this on the podcast, and I was glad he did, because I think it helps his case. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, this is a once-in-a-generation winter. If problems like this actually plagued college baseball, we’d have had this debate years ago. If we push the season back because of a couple awful weeks in 2015, we’ll be spending a lot of Februaries and Marches twiddling our thumbs in playable weather and wishing baseball would start already.

That said, a lot of his points are about weather. (Like when he talks about players getting hurt in the cold, or the time he mentions the dangers of traveling on icy roads.) And his side of the debate picks up momentum every time a cancellation or snow-covered Southern field flashes across someone’s twitter timeline. If he’s to be honest, I think he should do more to remind people of what an anomaly this winter is. This type of thing isn’t inevitable just because we play in February and February’s a winter month and February sounds cold an OMG there’s an inch of snow on a field and WHO WOULD BE DUMB ENOUGH TO SCHEDULE COLLEGE BASEBALL IN THE WINTER. We are, as a matter of fact, and we have been for decades, because in most of the country, this sort of thing has never, ever happened. And it’s safe to say that it won’t happen again for years and years to come.

Minor league baseball, even at the lowest levels, outdraws most college teams. This is solely because of the weather, so if we push the season back to April, we’ll see the same attendance figures as MiLB within a few years.

Also from the podcast (and he does specify that the February to June calendar is the only reason he can come up with for the disparity). He says at one point, “If we did what they did, we’d get [the same] interest.”

Personally, I don’t think it’s that simple. It might be easy to look at college football or basketball and wonder how any sport’s minor-league version could outdo its NCAA counterpart. Baseball, however, is a special case. Minor league baseball is one of the greatest success stories in American sports. It attracts millions of fans a year because it draws on a long history of high-level baseball and family-friendly entertainment. It boasts new stadiums in almost every one of its 200+ markets, along with proximity to the big leagues and the benefits of wearing an MLB club’s logo on its sleeves. Simply put, it’s a force to be reckoned with. Whether us college baseball fans like it or not, MiLB brings a lot to the table our sport never could. What’s surprising isn’t that college baseball doesn’t stack up attendance-wise (we blow them away in terms of television presence by the way), it’s that we’ve done so much to close in on a bar that minor league baseball has set very high.

Play the College World Series in the first week of August.

It’d be hotter most years (Omaha’s average temp’s climb several degrees higher in August than June), but there are more storms in August and Omaha’s Omaha, right? Here’s what’s got me skittish. This is what the ESPN people told Mazey when he took his proposal to them: “They basically said, ‘Don’t mess with our Little League World Series.’”  I know it’s a ratings monster, and that’s what ESPN cares about, but if I can help it, I’d rather not put our World Series side by side with it.  Sports Center anchors and the national media patronize our sport enough. We’ve been working for decades to get our sport taken seriously, so let’s avoid having it look like Omaha is just the Big Kids’ World Series that everyone watches and cares about less.

Fans won’t start coming out to support the team in the middle of the season. We need to move the start of the season back after March Madness to get people to support it.

He mentioned this a few times, but I really don’t agree with the reasoning here. It’s really important to his argument, too: he needs a reason to explain why Northern fans who don’t even show up in beautiful May weather now will start doing so if we push the season back. But saying the reason they don’t is that they can’t be there early in the season? In my experience, the middle of the season is exactly when people start getting interested. Weekend series with marquee conference opponents are what put people in seats, especially when conference titles and tournament berths are on the line. Not many people are going to come out to see their team beat up on some SWAC school in week two, regardless of whether you play those games in the cold before March Madness or in the sun afterwards. That said, Coach Mazey’s been around a lot of fanbases in his career, so maybe he knows better than I do.

“The last issue I would like to address is the weather down South in the summer. I’m with you on this one Kendall, the deep South in July is a beating. I would rather be in Morgantown in March than Houston in July. But I will put my personal feelings aside on this one in favor of logic. I did a little digging again, here’s what I found: In the months of June, July, and August, the Houston Astros have 43 home games on their schedule this coming season: 31 night games and 12 day games. The Arizona Diamondabacks have 39 home games: 29 at night, 10 during the day. The Miami Marlins have 40 home games: 26 at night, 14 during the day.”

I’ll let Drew_DH11, a commenter over at the D1Baseball forum, field this one:

The heat issue fell short as he tried to use the idea that the Diamondbacks, Marlins and Astros play their games in the heat in July. All 3 of their stadiums have retractable roofs and they use Air Conditioning during that part of the season! Something tells me there is no way in hell that colleges are going to build stadiums with retractable roofs.

In the interesting of not misrepresenting him, I’ll note that he goes on to also mention how the Double-A Texas League plays some day games (fair, but I’m guessing that’s mostly on get-away days). He also notes that the Gulf Coast League plays all its games at 12:05. But there’s a reason the GCL can play their home games in the middle of the Florida sun.  No one goes!  They don’t even keep attendance figures! If the entire point of this proposal is to get more fan interest, the Gulf Coast League shouldn’t be our scheduling model. Nor can any other minor league or summer league, because they don’t have to accommodate ESPN’s demand for wall-to-wall programming. And speaking of summer leagues…

They’ll be fine. They can use JuCo, NAIA, D2/3 players, and high school signees.

(Remember that bit about holding nothing back? Here goes.)

I’m sorry, but this is just silly. Coach Mazey’s really reaching here when he tries to answer one of the biggest objections to his proposal. People watch the Cape Cod League because it’s a pathway to the majors. People watch every other league because they get to claim they’re “just like the Cape Cod League.” It has just enough whiff of the minor leagues to get people out to watch. Now don’t get wrong, I love every one of these leagues, as well as lower-division baseball. I’m a college baseball fan because I grew up watching Division 3 and the NECBL. But I’m not the one you have to convince.

It’s flat out disrespectful to everyone who loves and benefits from collegiate summer baseball to say that when the quality of play plummets, the scouts stop showing up, and the players stop getting drafted, things will just carry on like nothing’s changed. Randy Mazey’s a smart guy, but he’s kidding himself if he thinks summer ball will survive his proposal.

~~~~~

It’s a lot harder to build a sound argument than it is to break one down, and I certainly haven’t spent years developing my own comprehensive plan to grow college baseball revenues. If I did, it wouldn’t be nearly as thoughtful or provocative as this one. Mazey’s proposal isn’t perfect, but he makes a lot of great points, and I hope it stirs up debate among fans, administrators, and his fellow coaches. College baseball programs can’t keep operating six or seven figures in the red. If we want to find solutions that’ll help our sport to prosper, we’ll need creative people like Randy Mazey to lead the way.

@NECollegeBsbl

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