How NCAA Might Alter College Baseball
By Bo Carter
(Our Man in Omaha: One in a Series)
OMAHA — Debate continues to rage over the major power shortage at the 2014 NCAA Baseball World Series.
It took most of nine games and all of 100-plus innings in CWS play for Texas’ A.J. Hinojosa to park a solo shot to left that proved to be the difference in a 1-0 elimination game with stubborn and pitching-solid University of California-Irvine.
That’s just one example. As well-struck ball after another died in a waiting glove, medium-deep in the outfield, NCAA coaches, administrators, local civic leaders and ESPN brass worried that when scoring goes down, does the scoreboard take public interest down with it.
“It’s a travesty what we’ve done (to the bat) in college baseball,” UCI Coach Mike Gillespie told ESPN.com.
How can the tourney keep fan interest in this era of video games and action movies?
Damani Leech wants to know the same thing. He’s a former defensive back at Princeton, a respected member of the USA Baseball executive committee and Managing Director of the NCAA. He has been peppered by media queries about close contests with almost no power numbers and a single homer (there were three hit in 14 games here last year).
While Leech scratches his shaven head for answers, he is not alone in the quandary. Nor is Gillespie alone in his concern. Another veteran coach — Augie Garrido of Texas, along with Gillespie, have a combined 90 years as head coaches – thinks offense has been regulated out of college baseball.
Biggest concern seems to be that the home run has been eliminated as an offensive weapon. At this writing, Hinojosa of Texas had one; TCU’s Kevin Cron had the other. Last year, in 14 games, there were three homers.
Leech and other NCAA decision-makers are looking at several possible solutions. In no particular order, they are:
(a.) Adding life back into the aluminum or alloy bats. They have been almost neutered by regulations since the 21-14 slugfest title game by Southern California over Arizona State in 1998 by lowering ball-off-bat velocity;
(b.) Moving in the permanent fences at TD Ameritrade Park, which could cost mega-dollars. Minnesota coach John Anderson, a former member of the NCAA baseball committee who worked on the design of TD Ameritrade Park, told ESPN.com that if the new bat standards had been known during the planning stages, the stadium probably would have been built differently;
(c.) Lowering the seams on the baseball. This may seem trivial but the high-seam ball allows pitchers to get more spin on their deliveries, thus more “bite” to avoid full contact with bat barrel. This measure is already approved for 2015 competition but it remains an experiment, as the low-seam ball has not been fully tested in game-type conditions.
I agree with examining all those adjustments, except maybe altering the stadium. Moving fences would require moving outfield seats and concourses. Even these configuration changes would not account for 30 mph south winds here, so don’t look for major stadium changes. Otherwise, let’s keep all options open for continued discussion.
During 44-plus years of following college baseball I’ve seen that “live” bats and “juiced” balls come and go. Now, the pendulum has swung too far. There has to be a happy medium someplace.
As one who likes to see some scoring and the long ball, there has to be a solution other than “gorilla ball” of the 1988-99 era, when base stealing and relief pitching had little or no impact on the game.
Pitching and defense are great, but let’s have some of those good, old 8-7 or 6-5 outcomes to keep the fans entertained and the hitters encouraged – at least a little.
Bo Carter is former sports information director of the Southwest Conference and Big 12. While covering the CWS for sportsandoutdoors.guru, he serves as secretary of the College Baseball Writers. Follow Bo on Twitter at #bcarter52 and Facebook at Bo Carter (Carrollton, Texas).