DALLAS -- The NCAA Division I Baseball Issues Committee, which is working on a revised playing and practice season model for the sport, faced some questioning over its preliminary recommendations during the Division I Issues Forum January 10 at the NCAA Convention.
Based on extensive research, the baseball issues committee is recommending February 1 and March 1 as uniform start dates for the first permissible practice and competition, respectively, while maintaining the current 132-day season with a maximum of 56 contests. If March 1 falls on a Saturday, Sunday, Monday or Tuesday, competition would begin on the Friday closest to March 1. The committee's proposal also means the ending date for upcoming seasons would be pushed deeper into the summer.
For example, the last possible date for the College World Series in 2007 would be July 2. In 2010 and 2011 the baseball season could conclude July 5, or July 4, respectively.
Dennis Farrell, the chair of the Baseball Issues Committee and the commissioner of the Big West Conference, attributed that to scheduling anomalies in those years. Normally, he said, championship selections are announced on Memorial Day weekend with the tournament beginning a week later. Under the committee's proposal, selections would be pushed back a week later.
The proposal's extending the season prompted the most pressing questions.
"Eventually this has to come to the Division I Board of Directors, and I will bet you that presidents will be looking at the very last day of play as critical in the basis for decision-making,'' said University of Arizona President Peter Likins, who also is a Division I Board member. "That anomaly is disturbing.''
Another concern from the floor was the financial impact of housing and feeding a baseball team beyond the academic year. The Baseball Issues Committee said a survey of athletics administrators showed an average cost of $6,624.60 per week.
While it was pointed out that only a few institutions would be affected, since only 64 of the 285 Division I programs advance to the baseball championship, most institutions would incur at least some costs with the season being pushed back a week later.
"Conferences will move their conference tournaments later, too,'' said Tom Burnett, commissioner of the Southland Conference. "The discussion of the average expense of keeping a team an additional week may apply to more teams than perhaps those who advance through the playoffs.''
To counter that argument, the baseball issues committee has said that some institutions may save money on team travel earlier in the season, and some institutions may generate more revenue from additional home games in better weather.
The proposal, which the issues committee is targeting for the 2005-06 legislative cycle, also generated discussion about reducing the number of maximum contests.
"I know it's taboo to talk about the 56 games, but when we talk about the greater good and the start date and where we're ending, perhaps even those who benefit from the geography of being able to play 56 games have to admit that we perhaps need to come off of 56,'' Burnett said.
In its research, the Baseball Issues Committee found that programs located in the Sun Belt traditionally begin the season in late January or early February. Most of those games are played at home. Many Northern programs start the season in late February or early March, playing on the road for up to a month until the climate improves locally.
The committee also found that some warm-weather programs play more than 40 of their 56 games at home, while some Northern counterparts play more than 40 on the road. In Division I college baseball, the home team wins about 60 percent of the time, which creates a competitive imbalance.
The Baseball Issues Committee noted that 65 percent of the warm-weather programs wanted the season to start no later than February 15, while many Northern institutions preferred to begin contests on April 1.
The March 1 start date is a compromise that the committee believes best suits all of Division I baseball, especially since neither Northern nor warm-weather schools wanted to reduce the number of contests played in the regular season. Almost 80 percent of the Northern institutions supported the March 1 start date and 58 percent of the Sun Belt schools in the survey preferred moving the start date back two weeks.
Some institutions are apprehensive about creating a compacted schedule because it could make some teams play five times a week, meaning more missed class time.
Officials from Omaha, Nebraska, the host city of the CWS for the last 55 years, have indicated they can accommodate a later ending of the event.
Other questions raised during the issues forum concerned the negative impact on student-athletes who want to work in the summer, and how a July ending to the season would affect student-athletes who want to attend summer school.
In its survey, the Baseball Issues Committee found that a majority of college baseball players continue playing their sport in summer leagues, so a later finish wouldn't have that much of an impact on players.
There was also a question of how a later ending to the season would affect the support staff such as athletic trainers and sports information staffs.
In addition to the discussion on the Baseball Issues Committee proposal, participants at the Division I Issues Forum also heard from panels on academic reform and the Fair Labor Standards Act. Attendees also received an update on legislative actions the Division I Management Council had taken the previous day.
University of Hartford President Walter Harrison, chair of the Committee on Academic Performance, led a review of his group's deliberations over where to set the cut points in the Academic Progress Rate under which teams would be subject to contemporaneous penalties. Though Harrison's committee would not make its recommendations to the Board until after the forum, he was able to walk forum participants through most of the options it was considering.
Comments from the floor included a plea from Big Ten Conference members to set the contemporaneous-penalty bar at a meaningful level.
"We're at a critical juncture," said Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany. "We've put our offense, defense and special teams in place, but now we're in the red zone. When I think of contemporaneous penalties, I think about penalties, not warnings."
Scott Kretchmar, faculty athletics representative at Pennsylvania State University, supported Delany when he said from the floor, "Schools that admit student-athletes who don't fit the university mission need more than a warning. We've discussed reform for a long time. It's time to step forward and say we're past warnings."