The Case for College Baseball: Why It’s America’s Most Underrated Sport
There are many unanswered questions about the upcoming MLB season. First being, when will it actually start? While many of us took a great deal of interest in the early off-season moves, due to the MLB/MLBPA lockout, the start of the season is in question. Spring Training has already been delayed. Where does this leave a baseball fan who’s been patiently waiting all winter, but is uncertain about the upcoming season? If you tune into College Baseball, that long winter ends much sooner.
Opening Day for College Baseball was this past Friday and opening weekend had plenty of surprises. This weekend offered two premiere Top 25 match-ups: #7 Oklahoma State at #3 Vanderbilt and #24 Long Beach State at #4 Mississippi State (defending National Champs). Both Vandy and Miss St. lost their debut home series 2-1. The unranked Liberty Flames take a 2-1 series against the #9 Florida Gators in Gainesville.
There was also the State Farm College Baseball Showdown, an exciting opening weekend mini-tournament in Arlington, Texas. The CBS included #14 Texas Tech, #15 Arizona, Oklahoma, Auburn, Kansas State and Michigan. Arizona came in hot and swept all three of their games. Auburn and Oklahoma went 2-1.
All these opening weekend upsets will likely result in the reshuffling of the rankings this week.
How It’s Played
Those unfamiliar with the college baseball schedule, they play a three game weekend series, as well as two mid-week games (Tuesday and Wednesday). Most teams play a 56 game regular season schedule over that spans from mid-February to mid-May. Conference tournaments take place in late-May, paving the way for the NCAA Baseball Tournament. Like the NCAA Basketball Tournament (March Madness), baseball also begins with 64 teams. However, each team is put into a grouping, called a Regional. The top 16 teams are the host of the Regionals and they include four teams each. The winner of each Regional moves on to the Super Regionals, where the top 8 teams host a grouping of four teams. Each round of the tournament is double elimination. This means a team winning a Regional or Super Regional could lose a game.
After two rounds, the final 8 teams head to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. If you ever want to pick up a really good book on the CWS, I strongly recommend The Road to Omaha by Ryan McGee. You get a full run down on the history, traditions and stories that make the event so unique. Several years back, I wrote an article describing the CWS as “the most underrated spectacle in sports.” I stand by that statement today. The College World Series belongs right there with March Madness. It’s the game of baseball at it’s very best!
Challenges to the Sport
Weather is perhaps the biggest challenge to College Baseball having a larger national following. It’s also why programs from warmer climates tend to have an advantage. For most schools in the Northeast or Midwest, the early season schedule is a challenge. In recent years (even decades), the top college baseball programs are found in the Southeast, Southwest and West Coast. While the Big Ten is considered one of the strongest conferences for football and basketball, it’s a little more rare to find their teams in Omaha. Michigan’s 2019 run was more of the exception than the rule.
In College Baseball, it’s the SEC, PAC-12, ACC and Big 12 that tend to dominate. Mid-Majors can make a splash too. Just ask the 2016 College World Series Champions, Coastal Carolina. It’s the SEC, however, who’s been dominating in recent years. The dedicated SEC fan base may have a little something to do with their success as well. The defending Champion Miss State Bulldogs packed Dudy Noble Field with 34,325 fans over their opening three game series. Ole Miss had 11,621 attend Saturday’s game against Charleston Southern. Check out the Ole Miss “beer shower” for a a glimpse of a unique ballpark tradition. LSU has notoriously large crowds. Florida built a brand new ballpark (Florida Ballpark) that debuted last season with expanded capacity (7,000 and up to 10,000).
The Season Ahead
The 2022 season may be a rare opportunity for College Baseball to capture the imagination of a larger fan base. As MLB negotiations don’t seems to be making progress, it’s very likely there’s a significant delay in the MLB season. While the pros will likely arrive at a deal at some point, in the mean time baseball fans can easily shift their attention to the collegiate game. If they do, they certainly won’t be disappointed.
**Picture from the djournal.com**