Big Ten Baseball: A Scheduling Conundrum

August 1, 2010

While this isn’t a pressing issue at all, there is an upcoming problem facing the Big Ten’s baseball scheduler. Unlike most other sports teams in the Big Ten over the last few years, baseball has been blessed with an even 10 teams. With Wisconsin not fielding a team since the early 90s, and the addition of Penn State shortly thereafter, the conference has been able to avoid bye weeks.

Starting next year with Nebraska’s move to the conference, the baseball standings will stretch to an 11th team, complicating scheduling that’s already hampered by weather. A bye week is now mandatory as only 10 teams can play each other while the 11th sits dormant.

That bye situation is tougher to deal with than it might seem. This means that you must have an odd number of byes every week if you have more than one team with a bye (11 teams with 2 byes means 9 teams for 5 games, someone still not playing someone). This necessity for at least one bye per week makes the 8 week schedule impossible. At least one week will require an even number of byes.

Adding a Week to the Conference Season

With that, the primary option would be to change the length of the conference regular season*. There’s two ways to do that, adding the week to the front of the regular season or dropping the conference tournament. Both of those have their pros and cons.

In moving the start to the conference season up a week, the conference tournament and it’s RPI boost/potential extra bid to the NCAA tournament is preserved. That’s arguably a good thing. The downside to starting the conference season a week earlier is the plight that is northern baseball. That weekend is usually teams’ first attempts at baseball outside, and the weather that weekend has a history of snow and rain outs. This past year, teams were lucky. Hedging that bet might not be best for teams.

The second option is to drop the conference tournament and add a ninth week of games where the conference tournament once stood. This idea seems reasonable as the conference tournament hasn’t really been a force in getting extra teams into the NCAA that win. Indiana is the only recent team to get a huge RPI boost in winning the auto-bid, but they were two-and-out of the NCAAs. The tournament also isn’t a money-maker for the conference, especially when you put the predetermined spot on a campus that’s not participating.

But despite some of those slight positives, would-be tournament teams do lose the opportunity to boost their RPI, and teams lose that chance to play their way into the NCAAs. Both of those are tough losses for some programs.

I think the option of changing the season length like this would be the most logical option, but let’s look at other ideas.

*I’ll point out that if the expansion of the season (post Uniform Start Date) added a week to the beginning of the season instead of the end of the season, as argued by many of the northern baseball schools. Had the rules committee, the city of Omaha/CWS, and ESPN been able to broker the deal to have it added to the end of the season, all this would be moot

Six Conference Series

A second option that would be viable is to drop the conference regular season to just 7 weeks, and have teams play only 6 conference series before the tournament. This gives teams the opportunity to try and schedule another pair of non-conference series, one during what used to be the first weekend of conference play and another during their bye.

This gets a bit tricky as many of the northern teams have enough trouble trying to schedule opponents for home series (see the tomato cans like IPFW and Oakland that Michigan has scheduled recently). Finding a quality opponent willing to travel north that late in the season is going to be near impossible. That leaves RPI vacuums from the Horizon League, Missouri Valley, Summit League, or Ohio Valley Conferences as likely culprits to drain teams’ RPIs.

To alleviate this problem, the conference could go back to 4-game weekends and just leave the bye as an actual bye week. This would put the conference season back to 24 games, where it was before expansion. This seems like a capable scenario, but it’ll be interesting to see how coaches view this. The reason 4-game series were dropped was to reduce RPI loss against the lower teams in the Big Ten and to save their pitching depth, as 4 games tended to drain everything they had.

Divisions Fail

As far as divisional structure, things get no better here. With 11 teams, one division is going to have an odd number of teams. This just complicates all of the previous scheduling to the point of not working at all.

For example, if the 6-team division plays each of it’s five division rivals, it has played 5 series. The 5-team division will have played 4 series. How do they make up that lost series? Do they get a bye weekend and the 6-team division not? Is that fair? I would say definitely not. And it’s not like they could play an extra week of divisional games (like playing a divisional opponent a second time). One team would have a bye and still not play an extra series.

This just can’t work.

Conclusions

The only way I see the conference schedule working out is by adjusting the season length. I don’t think coaches would really go for the 4 game weekends, and I’m not sure I see the coaches wanting to drop the conference tournament. This means that adding a week to the beginning of the conference season is the only logical approach.

It sounds like baseball fans need to invest in a better set of blankets. That weekend in early March isn’t the home opener against a tomato can that you can just skip guilt free.


Big Ten Thoughts

March 8, 2010

While I cover Michigan over at mgoblog, I’m going to try and move some of my Big Ten thoughts over to here for the time being. They don’t quite fit the mgoblog scene, but with BigTenHardball gone and BigTenBaseball virtually gone, I think I’ll at least throw some conference wide thoughts out somewhere.

So for now, this will be a place to occasionally – we’ll see if this lasts – discuss some Big Ten baseball for me.

Power Poll

With three weeks of the season in the books, I thought I’d take a look at the Big Ten baseball conference and give my thoughts on where every one stands. I’m breaking this down into two different sub-polls, one on one game only and the other on series. This is who I think would win either of those scenarios, not how well of a season they’re having. This is to be thought of as "if they played today."

Big Ten Power Poll

# One Game   Series
1 Ohio State   Ohio State
2 Michigan   Michigan
3 Minnesota   Michigan State
4 Michigan State   Indiana
5 Indiana   Minnesota
6 Iowa   Iowa
7 Penn State   Penn State
8 Illinois   Illinois
9 Northwestern   Northwestern
10 Purdue   Purdue

Ohio State gets anointed to the front of both lines reluctantly. They’re offense is so strong that they’d be hard for any Big Ten team to beat consistently. Unfortunately, they are the flag bearers for the Big Ten nationally this year. They play no one of import until they have a pair with Louisville late in the season. But that has the pollsters apparently not paying attention to their loss against Saint Louis, allowing OSU to hold on to a #23 rank by the writers.

I had to go with Michigan’s pitching staff second in both sub-polls. They’re the class of the conference, but I don’t think the Wolverines have quite the offense capable of holding off the Buckeyes, especially in a one game series.

From here the sub-polls diverge. Minnesota is the strongest overall team, but their pitching hasn’t held up. If they can focus everything on one game, I take them over any one else. If they have to play a couple games, the Gophers just find new ways to struggle.

Michigan State has the second best pair of starters in the league, and in a one game series, you better believe it will be a low scoring pitchers’ duel. The bull pen isn’t great though, and it’s already caused Coach Boss to over extend Bucciferro for a supposed 150+ pitch start.

Indiana is either pretty good or really lucky this season. And while I say really lucky, you could say that their late inning losses may actually be a bit unlucky. Coach Smith is making something out of nearly nothing this season. This weekend, he threw a couple of guys against Vanderbilt that hadn’t pitched since high school. They managed to take Vandy to 11 innings, while still collecting 2 quality wins on the weekend.

Iowa has the best win in the conference with a win over then ranked #25 Kansas. Between Jared Hippen and Phil Schreiber, Iowa has to decent options at starter, one lefty and one righty respectively.

The Nittany Lions of Penn State are leading the conference in RPI after their second week of games. They went 2-1 in the Challenge, and they split again this weekend in Lamar, where they beat McNeese State and Dallas Baptist, both pretty good baseball schools. The Lions did lose two to Lamar, but Lamar isn’t some slouch team either, as they beat Rice earlier in the week.

Illinois has just one win on the season, coming over Notre Dame in their opener of the Challenge. They’ve had their chances, leading in several different ball games, but they can’t close out their opponents. They still have the talent that they should be able to beat out NU or Purdue.

Northwestern fell a bit this weekend after their good showing in the Challenge. This week featured a loss to Oklahoma State and Minnesota. The Wildcats don’t have much on offense, and their pitching is experienced but not very talented.

Purdue is a black hole. The Boilermakers were swept in the Challenge and just lost two of three at Southern Illinois. As T-Mill at Hammer and Rails told me, their 285 RPI might be rather generous, despite the ranking only being out of 295. This could be a long season in West Lafayette.

I’ll probably do another one of these in two weeks or so, just so we can check in before conference season starts.

Bid Hunting

I think it’s pretty safe to assume that the Big Ten is shaping up to be a one bid league. No team is tearing it up and dominating like Big Ten leaders have in years past. Minnesota is one hell of a funk. Michigan lost it’s star and their offense has been sulking over it since. Ohio State has a good offense, but their pitching is thin. Their offense has off days as well, complicating issues. I can’t see any way that multiple teams will make the tournament at this rate.

The only hope is that one of the teams that can keep raising it’s RPI can take a big win or two over the next two weeks. That team, and one of the other high RPI teams need to run away with the conference, and the team that didn’t get that big win before the conference season starts must win the tournament.

The best opportunity for that will be Michigan beating Coastal Carolina and Ohio State to take a mid-week game from Louisville in May. If those two can get those signature wins and run away with the conference, and that is quite possible, I think both can get in.


Buckeye State Baseball Links

November 30, 2009

Helping out with Buckeye State Baseball’s link page. Not much to see here other than a long list of links.

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Sick at Home – MS Paint

September 8, 2009

alexhunt

With the hilarious MS Paint going around mgoboard and me being stuck at home sick, I needed something to keep me occupied. I give you Lexi Zimmerman vs Nebraska. I’m still disappointed with the neck line and face, but I thought the lower body worked out really well with the shadowing.


Foray in Michigan Volleyball

July 25, 2009

pvballMy baseball coach’s daughter playing for my high school now. Jesus, I remember when she was like 12. Now she’s their ace.

As mentioned previously, I’m also looking to expand coverage of the Michigan Volleyball team.  I’ve found in my home town, the sports of baseball and volleyball go hand in hand.  The two sports are on complete opposite ends of the sports scheduling spectrum, making it easy for the two teams to see the other play.  As a baseball player, I was never stuck in practice and unable to see the volleyball team play.  Same went for the volleyball players who would fill the baseball stands.  And yes, we did pack each others’ games.  By my senior year, the baseball team packed the student section with the “bleacher bums” equipped with t-shirts made by the volleyball players.  Come spring, they were our “bleacher babes.”  It was a great (however stereotypical suburban high school) relationship between the two teams.

It also stretched past the fields.  Many of the baseball players, including myself (however badly that ended up in retrospect), dated volleyball players.  Two of my best friends in life are still a pair of volleyball players from my time at high school.  The two teams just gelled, and it has had a lasting effect on my sports fandom.

It’s not just me.

I’ve always been a fan of playing volleyball and volleyball-esque games.  Since becoming inundated with the game through my then girlfriend, I would estimate I’ve played more volleyball than any other sport.  It started with playing volleyball a town over at their lighted sand courts, but in college, it hit a new high.  I joined Alpha Delta Phi (yes, the one with the volleyball court out front).  While opinions of us may vary depending on who you talk to or who you may know, the volleyball court is probably the most defining feature of our house.

Many of my greatest memories of the house happened while playing on the volleyball court.  While there were obviously great bonds built, every year those started at the same spot.  Every August, as move in is just beginning, volleyball becomes the focus.  Guys in the house, passerby’s on the street, volleyball is that fun distraction that drew us all in.  It’s where we’d catch up with our brothers and friends we’ve missed over the last four months.

As college went on, I was introduced to wally-ball.  For those of you not familiar with this particular intramural, you’re really missing out.  It’s volleyball meets racquetball.  You play in the racquetball court and off walls.  The season I played co-ed with my house and the sister sorority de jour was one of my favorite experiences in IM sports.

After I left Michigan, I worked in Chicago for a year and had a brief stint with a men’s club team there.   My work schedule limited my participation, but it was interesting none-the-less.  While being one of only two straight guys on our team of 12 was awkward, being able to smash down as an right side hitter was a great release from the rigorous travel schedule at work.

Since returning home to Houston, I’ve tried to make a point to get out at least once a month to the volleyball courts.  I’ve also made it a goal to see more high school and college games.  Last year, I was lucky enough to catch Michigan play at the Rice Invitational.  I think I was the only non-parent at the game.  I watched Bower and Paz, two players I will probably write a bit more about soon, rip up Louisiana Lafayette in 3 straight games.   It was awesome.  It was also the last time I got to see Kerry Hance – dig through enough old haloscan comment sections of mgoblog v1.0 and it may reveal some drooling over her on my part.  But sigh, she’s graduated on to bigger and better things.

08 Team, There’s Kerry, front and center… (pic from mgoblue)

I occasionally posted a brief fanpost on maizenbrew or mgoblog, but I never really got into the blogging thing.  That post, along with my blogging of the baseball Big10 tournament in 2008, though, lead me to start the blogging of baseball full time.

So that brings us back to now.  After a season of baseball blogging, I’m looking to also bring in volleyball.  I’m not really sure how I’m going to go at it though.  I’m running into several problems, most notably lack of media coverage.  I’m hoping the opening series at the Nebraska/Runza/AVCA Showcase will make it onto CBS College Sports or ESPNU.  This being THE tournament of the volleyball season (imagine the preseason-NIT but bigger), there is a good chance that much of it will be televised, especially our match versus home team and probably preseason top 3 team Nebraska.

After that, the BigTenNetwork hasn’t released any programming schedules with regard to volleyball.  Last year’s coverage was meager at best. They only offered 20 conference games (one per night) over the course of the season, seven of which included Michigan.  I’m really hoping we can see more streamed coverage from either BTN or MGoBlue.com.  I’m not expecting it though.

We’ll see how things go over the next few weeks.  I’ll probably start with previews and background information here, then post them as diaries on mgoblog as a litmus test for how fans respond.  I’ve been informed that the volleyball team has quite a cult following, and I’m hoping I can offer them more coverage as they desire.

Women’s volleyball is hot, your argument is invalid.

I’m somewhat afraid that the mgoblog community isn’t the greatest platform to start coverage.  Many fans on there aren’t really fans of the school as much as they are the football team.  To invite fans of the school (as you almost have to be in to be a supporter of a non-revenue sport) into this pre-existing community could scare off some readership.  I really liked the community feeling we were gaining at VarsityBlue with the baseball crowd.  I’m not sure they’ll care to put up with the football crowd.  So those are just the thought’s I’m having right now.

Depending on how Brian orients his site as a source, it could work out nicely or play to my fears.  If my posts are semi-buried, I may be able to insulate the non-revenue varsity sports fans from the ridiculousness that is mgoboard.  Unfortunately, I anticipate that that crowd will seep over regardless of how I try to insulate my posts.

That said, insulating my posts isn’t something I really want to do.  By trying to set myself apart, I lose exposure for the sport coverage.  I’m not sure what the best option is.  I think the best option going forward is to post here and then diaries, hoping to do something like 40Acres does at BurntOrangeNation with his baseball posts.  I can post tid-bit recaps without much substance just to say, “hey, volleyball exists and they won.”  Make those posts on Sunday before football posting kicks in with thought out reflections as a hold over.

But as I’ve said, I’ve got time to figure that out.


Transitioning Baseball Updates

July 25, 2009

With the transfer to mgoblog in progress, I’m not really sure of the posting etiquette for the next few weeks, if not months.  I’m not sure what is expected and will post things here for the time being.  And since it’s been a few weeks since my last update, this will be a bit long.  Bare with me.  Here’s the last update’s link as of July 4th weekend.  I’m planning on one of these recaps once every two weeks until the season ends, which means one or two more before I can shut it down for the real off season and the football season.

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I’ve Been Bought Out

July 24, 2009

News finally broke today that VarsityBlue, my home to Michigan baseball coverage the last 5 months, has been absorbed by MGoBlog – the leader in University of Michigan sports coverage not related to the actual school.  For those of you not familiar with the sports blogging world, Brian, the creator of MGoBlog, is widely heralded for being an innovator when it comes to the medium (college sporting blogs related to a specific school, and to an extent, college sports in general).  His site, created as a writing outlet for a fan, has grown into one of the largest individual sites dedicated to college football.  He became so successful that he was able to give up his job as an software engineer and do the blog full time – and for good money.

Now, after experimenting with a recruiting correspondent for a few months, Brian is looking to absorb VarsityBlue with Tim as a lead reporter, Paul as an Ann Arbor based correspondent (Tim’s not always in Ann Arbor), and me doing baseball.   This is a great chance for me to increase exposure of not only Michigan baseball, but my own writing.  I’m not opposed to either of those, obviously.  Really, that goals post was written the day before I found out there were plans for the absorbtion.  At least I have a plan to put towards Brian now at least?

So while details on my role have been sparse, I’m hoping to start getting things kicking in the next few weeks.  I’ve got to discuss with Brian his thoughts on other minor sports, particularly ones that happen during football season.  I’ve got some ideas about limited volleyball coverage, but I need to run it by him.  The goal of the merger appears to be making MGoBlog into the media center for Michigan sports coverage, which means any new coverage would be warranted.  Brian’s already discussing the problem of providing too much content, which is a very valid concern.  If there’s too much, people will just be overwhelmed by the content.  I’ll play it by ear.

Also, with the transition to MGoBlog, I’m contemplating my current use of anonymity.  With VarsityBlue, as well as commenting on MGoBlog for the last two years, I’ve stuck with the tag name of formerlyanonymous.  I’m contemplating going to my real name for posting there not only for exposure, but more importantly for validity.  By putting my name to my work, I’m taking a larger responsibility in what I say and think.  I can’t hide behind the faceless entity of “formerlyanonymous.”  I would put my work to my name, which will help with my credibility as a writer.  Plus, I mean it makes me even more “formerly anonymous.”  And who doesn’t like clever tags like that?

I’ll be updating some links, tags, and categories on here in the meantime.  Once I know how the new MGoBlog will work, I’ll provide an update along with creating an RSS feed of posts on the new big site.

Excitement.