TAYLOR COUNTY—A proposal to delay the beginning of the college baseball season by four weeks, very similar to the one that WVU head baseball coach Randy Mazey has previously suggested, is gaining steam and grabbing serious consideration from some of the sports’ most notable coaches.
Kendall Rogers of D1Baseball.com reported last week that the projected start date under this new plan would be the third week of March instead of the second week of February. Subsequently, the NCAA
Tournament would be pushed back to the end of June with the College World Series taking place in July.
Mazey has long been an advocate of moving college baseball more into the summer months and although similar plans have been suggested in the past, they have failed to generate widespread support.
The latest framework, dubbed the “New Baseball Model”, is guided by Michigan head coach Erik Bakich, among others. The 35-page document addresses the four critical areas concerned with pushing back the college baseball calendar: the COVID-19 pandemic and potential NIL legislation, financial sustainability, academics, and general student welfare.
Under “financial sustainability,” the report stated, “Division I baseball operates at a significant financial net loss among almost all 299 teams. Games in February and early March eliminate regional competition for northern and midwestern programs due to cold weather. Travel budgets are inflated as a result. Schools hosting these home series not only compete with colder weather, but college basketball season and March Madness as well, reducing ticket sales and concession revenues from ‘actual’ attendance.”
In the “Executive Summary” section, it specified that “cold-weather programs” spend more than $200,000 in air travel during the first four weeks of the regular season, whereas warm-weather programs spend as much as $10,000 to $20,000 in guarantees per weekend to bring the colder-climate teams in for games.
The proposal goes on to state that as a result, pushing the calendar back a month could help programs save a considerable amount of money. It also contends that revenue would more than likely increase at many warmer-climate programs during the months of May and June, referencing minor league attendance figures from last year.
“Once you add the financial component, which has been a missing component to this model for warmweather schools in the past, now it’s a game-changer, especially at this time and where we are in the world, with athletic departments and institutions and schools just really taking a hard look at their budgets,” Bakich explained
In 2019, a mere 14 Division I baseball programs averaged more than 4,000 fans per game, and only 36 averaged 2,000 or more fans per game out of the nearly 300 programs. The report claims that there are missed revenue opportunities in ticket sales, alcohol sales, concession sales, and merchandise sales under the current college baseball schedule design.
WVU, for example, drew 5,899 fans for their three-game series against TCU in early May and 4,678 for a two-game series against George Washington on May 16th and May 18th.
But a Monongalia County Ballpark record 4,355 fans showed up for West Virginia’s NCAA Tournament Regional game against Fordham, and WVU’s three NCAA Tournament games drew 12,401 fans, for an average of 4,133 spectators per game.
Also lending credibility to the above proposal is WVU’s attendance average in 2019 (broken down by month):
February – 388
March – 1,182
April – 2,158
May – 2,116
June – 4,134
In addition, many people believe that the Mountaineers would have exceeded 5,000+ spectators for their NCAA Regional game against Fordham if Mon County Ballpark had more seating available.
For years, Mazey has supported playing the college baseball season in the warmer months of May, June, and July, and he talked in-depth about the subject during his postgame press conference following a win over Pitt last year at PNC Park.
Then a couple of weeks ago during a video conference call with the media, he brought the subject back up again.
“You guys know what my proposal is for playing in the summertime,” said Mazey. “The only way we are ever going to get anywhere is by generating revenue in our sport and right now we don’t do it.”
The Mountaineers played a rare February home game against Canisius on February 14th and had two March games against Kent State and Liberty before the season was ultimately canceled just prior to the conference opener at Texas Tech on March 13th.
In the middle of May, a three-game series at Oklahoma was to wrap up the regular season with the Big 12 Championships scheduled to take place last weekend. The NCAA Tournament was also scheduled to begin this weekend, with the College World Series concluding on June 12th-24th.
“I think three or four years ago, Randy Mazey, the coach at West Virginia, kind of picked up this flag and waved it by himself,” Auburn head coach Butch Thompson was recently quoted as saying. “It didn’t get anywhere, but I think everybody listened. I think what helps it this time is because he mentioned it a few years ago. It looks like it has some backing from the Northern guys, but I don’t think this is just a Northern deal. It’s something that we all can find some agreement in, even if we’re in the South.”
One other factor that could give this newest schedule proposal an additional boost is MLB.
Major League Baseball has discussed moving its draft from June to July with the objective of reducing the number of Minor League baseball players, and even some of its teams.
A reduction in farm teams would require fewer college players and less competition for college baseball in the summer, if the sport decides to move its calendar back into July.