College : : Story
Sunday, May 02, 2010

Anderson Worried About Big Ten Baseball

Jim Ecker        
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Minnesota Coach John Anderson is concerned about the future of college baseball in the Big Ten Conference and throughout the northern states.

Anderson, 54, has become an expert on the topic since he became Minnesota's head coach in the fall of 1981 when he was only 26 years old. He's won more than 1,000 games with the Gophers, been inducted into the ABCA Hall of Fame, seen three geographic rivals drop their baseball programs, and witnessed the Big Ten's struggle to keep pace with powerful baseball leagues in the south, southeast, southwest and far west.

He's campaigned for national legislation that would level the playing field, calling for action before it's too late. He'd like to see more northern schools gain access to the NCAA tournament and College World Series, and he's also calling for uniform national rules that would govern the over-commitment of scholarships.

And if that doesn't happen?

"I think you're going to see more programs dropped and de-emphasized," he said Saturday after the Gophers split a Big Ten doubleheader with the Iowa Hawkeyes. "We have to do things in college baseball to make the game better in all parts of the country, if we want to preserve our game and we want to grow and we want to continue to be popular.

"If we don't, that's shortsighted, and you're going to see more dropped programs, in my opinion," he said. "I think it's really going to be interesting over the next four or five years to see what happens."

Anderson has seen the University of Wisconsin drop its varsity baseball program since he became Minnesota's head coach. Then Iowa State dropped its program, followed by Northern Iowa. The Gophers has been playing all three schools, making it harder now to plan a competitive schedule without traveling all over the country.

There was a time, believe it or not, when the Big Ten was strong in college baseball. Minnesota won NCAA titles in 1956, 1960 and '64. Michigan prevailed in 1953 and '62, and Ohio State was crowned the national champ in 1966. That gave the Big Ten six titles in 14 years, but the conference has not captured another title since the Buckeyes won theirs 44 years ago.

"In the '50s and '60s, the Big Ten was the dominant baseball conference," Anderson noted. "Number one, because we had population in this part of the country. You have good academic institutions -- good land-grant institutions -- and they made commitments to their baseball program. And then the south and the southeast and through the Big 12 and that area started making a commitment to their programs, and they had the weather. That's what really changed things."

Anderson can't change the weather, but he'd like to change the way scholarships are awarded. In particular, he's an advocate for changing the way some leagues and some schools can "over-commit" their number of scholarships, while others (including Big Ten schools) cannot.

All NCAA Division I baseball schools are allowed the equivalent of 11.7 full rides. Most of the major conferences around the country, however, can "over-commit" beyond the 11.7 scholarships and worry about it later, he said. Big Ten schools, however, cannot.

Let's take the example of School XYZ, located somewhere in the south. It has a talented junior class and thinks several of those juniors will be drafted and turn pro, so it recruits and signs extra players to fill the expected void, committing beyond the 11.7 grants before it knows if those juniors actually will leave school or not. If they do leave, School XYZ is covered. But if they don't, School XYZ has committed more than its allotment of 11.7 scholarships for the following year and must make adjustments. In short, somebody who was promised scholarship money won't get it.

Now let's take the example of schools in the Big Ten Conference. They are not allowed, by league rules, to over-commit, so they have to sit tight and see what happens with the draft, injuries, academic problems and defections. And by the time they know where they stand, most of the good players have committed to play somewhere else.

"There's some schools signing 25 to 28 players in the early signing period, because they know they're going to lose 'X' number of players, and they sort it all later," Anderson said. "They worry about it later, and I think that's a huge advantage for those schools."

Anderson is staring at that problem right now with Seth Rosin, one of his top pitchers, and Michael Kvasnicka, one of his best hitters. They are both juniors and could turn pro after this season, but Anderson cannot earmark their financial aid for new players until he knows for sure. Meanwhile, School XYZ in the south has it covered, even though an innocent player may suffer.

"I think we need a national rule where we can all do the same thing," Anderson maintained.

He's suggested a solution: Let all schools over-commit by a certain amount, perhaps two scholarships per school, to make it fair for everyone. The Big Ten has resisted the temptation to over-commit on philosophical grounds, and has a rule to punish schools that do.

Anderson also thinks the Big Ten needs greater access to the NCAA tournament. He fears the league will get only one bid to the 64-team tournament this year, based on low RPI numbers and the lack of quality wins in non-conference games. On top of that, the Big Ten representative probably will get shipped to a regional that's held in another part of the country, where it would have to face a top seed on its home field. That greatly reduces the Big Ten's chances of making the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

"We have to do something to level the playing field," he said. "We have to get more northern teams access to the NCAA championship. We've got to get somebody to Omaha.

"You're a sitting duck right here, because athletic directors today -- with the economies and the state budgets and the economic challenges that we have today -- when you look at it and we're spending the kind of money we're spending to have indoor facilities, outdoor facilities, the travel to play a competitive schedule, but yet you get one team in the NCAA tournament, or two teams out of 10, and the other conferences are getting 7, 8, 9 teams.

"You've got athletic directors sitting there thinking, 'Is is really worth the investment, because we're not getting the return,'" he said. "That's why those programs got cut, because of gender equity and trying to fund all your sports. They looked at it and said, 'Yeah, we can spend all the money in the world, but we have no access.'"

A level playing field. That's all he wants.

"I looked the other day," he said. "Texas has played 30 home games and nine on the road. Yet we're comparing apples to apples at the end of the year (when teams are picked for the NCAA tournament)? I don't think so."

He looks at the huge success of the College World Series and sees millions of dollars in revenues, yet sees the NCAA restricting a 35-man roster to just 11.7 scholarships.

"It's the lowest ratio of any NCAA sport in aid to participants, and it just doesn't make any sense to me," he said. "The kids -- the student-athletes -- aren't getting, in my opinion, enough of the pot. They're playing the game and they're making all the money for them."
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