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.

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Early Look at All Big Ten Teams

May 20, 2010

There’s no doubting that I’m excited for this weekend’s series to get underway so the most exciting pennant race in college baseball, for those who notice it at least, can hit high gear. As we enter the last week of regular season play, I’ve started to form a rough draft on All-Big Ten teams.

Creating the teams was pretty tough. I focused more on a balance of offense and defense, with a slight emphasis on the former. Some emphasis was also added for ending the season well, so players like Purdue’s Wurdack receive recognition even if their season numbers aren’t the greatest. Certain positions, like second base and the outfield (surprisingly) weren’t so tough. Others, like catcher and first are pretty stacked with talent. Then you have the left side of the infield, which is WAY weaker than anywhere else on the field by miles.

First team:

  • SP – Alex Wimmers (OSU)
  • SP – Matt Bischoff (Purdue)
  • SP – Phil Isaksson (Minnesota)
  • RP – David Lutz (Penn State)
  • C – Chris Berset (Michigan)
  • 1B – Jeff Sabourin (Indiana)
  • 2B – Ryan Jones (Michigan State)
  • 3B – Cory Rupert (Ohio State)
  • SS – Nick Overmyer (Purdue)
  • LF – Ryan LaMarre (Michigan)
  • CF – Zach Hurley (Ohio State)
  • RF – Alex Dickerson (Indiana)
  • DH – Josh Lyon (Indiana)

Second Team:

  • SP – TJ Oakes (Minnesota)
  • SP – Jarred Hippen (Iowa)
  • SP – AJ Achter (Michigan State)
  • RP – Tyler Burgoon (Michigan)
  • C – Ben Heath (Penn State)
  • 1B – Paul Snieder (Northwestern)*
  • 2B – Zach Morton (Northwestern)
  • 3B – Zach McCool (Iowa)
  • SS – Jonathon Roof (Michigan State)
  • OF– Brandon Eckerle (Michigan State)
  • OF – Kurtis Muller (Iowa)
  • OF – Eli Boike (Michigan State)
  • DH – Michael Stephens (Ohio State)

*Also 3rd team RP

Third Team:

  • SP – Drew Leininger (Indiana)
  • SP – Francis Brooke (Northwestern)
  • SP – Drew Wurdack (Purdue)
  • C – Chad Noble (Northwestern)
  • 1B – Jeff Holm (Michigan State)
  • 2B – Cory Kovanda (Ohio State)
  • 3B – Torsten Boss (Michigan State)
  • SS – Ethan Wilson (Indiana)
  • OF– Michael Kvasnicka (Minnesota)
  • OF – Steve Snyder (Penn State)
  • OF – Michael Earley (Indiana)
  • DH – Coley Crank (Michigan)

Freshman

  • SP – Brett McKinney (Ohio State)
  • SP – TJ  Oakes (Minnesota)
  • SP – Kevin Johnson (Illinois)
  • RP – Steven Hill (Penn State)
  • C – Kevin Plawecki (Purdue)
  • 1B – ????
  • 2B – Ryan Jones (Michigan State)
  • 3B – Cameron Perkins (Purdue)
  • SS – Derek Dennis (Michigan)
  • OF– Patrick Biondi (Michigan)
  • OF – Arby Fields (Northwestern)
  • OF – Steve Snyder (Penn State)
  • DH – Torsten Boss (Michigan State)

The All-Big Ten overall teams seem to be pretty fair. Picking a third string shortstop was horrible. Pick anyone not listed already, and you can probably make a case for them. Well, maybe not Tyler Engle at Ohio State, but the other 7 shortstops are all about the same.

The other position that I’m having trouble filling is freshman first baseman. Is there a freshman that’s played enough first base to remotely qualify? If so, they get in by default of no one else even registering on the radar.

One weekend to go, time for the players to make their final pushes.


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.


Rice’s Glaring Problem

March 4, 2010

Over the last few weeks, Rice University’s baseball team has faced a fairly serious safety risk in the middle of their evening games – the blinding glare from the sun’s reflection off the Hilton Houston Plaza/Medical Center hotel.

During this transition from winter to spring, the sun has aligned itself to reflect perfectly from the building, to the batter’s eye during a pitch. This not only can blind the batter, but also the catcher and the umpire. As you can see in the picture I took below in August 2008, the building is dead center facing the setting sun (the stadium faces southwest).

8.29.08 Michigan vs UL Lafayette 001

Over the course of this season specifically, a "glare delay" has been used at least twice, both for about 30 minutes. Umpires, looking out for the safety of the batter, catcher, and himself, as well as trying not to allow one team an advantage over another, has had to call time and wait it out. My question becomes is there something that Rice can do about this?

Part of the problem is that this issue is only temporary and restricted to a portion of early March, so it would be overkill for Rice to ask for any major costs to avoid about 3 hours of delays over a two or three week period. It would be ridiculous to build a batter’s eye tall enough to block out the building. It would have to be a well over one hundred feet tall and capable of withstanding hurricane force winds. That’s not feasible without building an actual building to block it out, but there’s no space for that either.

Moving mid-week games to the day isn’t a really great idea at an academic institution like Rice who’s players aren’t going to be missing class when they don’t have to. It’s an option, but not a particularly promising one when trying to get other academic institutions to travel to your park in the mid-week. So what we’re looking for is something moderately cheap, perhaps only temporary.

My solution is commercial advertising. By dropping a windscreen-style billboard down the side of the Hilton, the advertisement will diffuse sun rays, greatly reducing the glare. This can also be a profitable enterprise for the Hilton, selling the advertising space to either Rice or another advertiser only during the three week period that sun is a problem at Reckling.

The screen style billboards are not that unattractive, and they do allow those hotel guest staying in the Hilton to have a fairly clear view out of their windows, just slightly tinted. And while air conditioning costs aren’t a huge issue this March, the tinting may also help the Hilton in the warmer March months by blocking out some of the sun’s heat, therefore lowering operating expenses.

It would be interesting to see what Hilton’s view of the advertising may be. They might consider themselves above advertising on the side of the building, but at the same time, there are some potential benefits to them monetarily. Plus , if Rice manages to secure the 3-week advertising spot, it’s publicity to the university not only at their baseball games, but to the area west of the Medical Center.


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.

Read the rest of this entry »


Condi Rice to Replace Myles Brand?

September 18, 2009

With the recent passing of NCAA President Myles Brand to cancer, the NCAA will be looking to find a new face for the organization. While many names, including Michigan’s own Mary Sue Coleman, have been thrown around, the one name that I keep coming back to is Condoleezza Rice.

While many in the U.S. associate Mrs. Rice only with her role as Secretary of State in the Bush Administration, Condoleezza actually has quite the resume for a position with the NCAA. In 1987, She began her career as an assistant professor at Stanford University in political science.

After six years of teaching and national defense consulting, she would volunteer to be a part of the search committee for Stanford’s new president. After the group had selected Gerhard Casper, Casper would appoint Condoleezza to the position of Provost of Stanford University. As provost, Rice would be the top academic and budgetary official on campus.

Rice (pictured to the right by Stanford News) spent 1993-1999 as the provost, and she accomplished many notable achievements. At the time of her promotion, Stanford was facing massive budget deficits. The general consensus was that it would be years before it could be fixed. Condoleezza came right out and said she would have it eliminated in two years, and she did just that. At the end of the second fiscal year, Mrs. Rice balanced the multi-billion dollar budget and even provided a $14.5 million surplus.

The time at provost is probably the most important qualifier for the NCAA job, but for the sake of adding her political achievements:

  • 2001-2005: National Security Advisor
  • 2005-2009: Secretary of State

Obviously she can handle stressful jobs.

After leaving office, there was ample speculation that Condi might take over as commissioner of the Pacific 10 (PAC-10) conference. She expressed no interest at the time as she wanted to return to teaching and writing at Stanford.

It’s been seven months since the Pac-10 speculation, and one wonders if Mrs. Rice would be interested in taking the job with the NCAA if it were offered to her. The job definitely offers prestige, while allowing her to keep close to academics.

Add that she’s a tremendous sports fan, and it’s definitely a thought.


Questions for BigTenNetwork President

September 17, 2009

I’m supposed to be talking with a representative from the BTN tomorrow via telephone to discuss the new streaming venture available at video.bigtennetwork.com. I’ve got a list of questions going here right now. If you’ve got any other ideas, let me know in the comments. I’m not sure how much he’ll be able to answer, but I want to try as much as I can.

1) We’ve got a start. What sports can we expect this fall? I’ve seen volleyball and basketball on the schedule page already.

In 2009-10, the Big Ten Network is streaming a number of games in volleyball, exhibition and selected non-conference men’s basketball, selected non-conference and conference women’s basketball, men’s ice hockey, wrestling, baseball and softball.

Are you going to get to any of the bigger field sports this fall semester? (soccer, field hockey, etc)

2) On that same note, will televised basketball and football games be archived for the same price, or will people have to go to the BigTenTicket?

3) Judging by the initial sports chosen (except maybe baseball/softball), are these going to be stationary single-camera views only?

4)What is the limiting factor on number of games streamed? Money? People? Gauging Interest?

5) Looking at the sports listed in the schedule page, there are a couple non-BigTen sports listed such as lacrosse and ice hockey. Does the BTN have a policy on those broadcasts? Does it have to be an official NCAA sports to be streamed, specifically, would the BTN show Michigan lacrosse (or Penn State ice hockey) as only a club sport? Also, I assume ice hockey will be only selected, BigTen-member home games.

6) Are these broadcasts going to include full announcing crews? If so, are they furnished by the BigTen or by the individual schools through either students or SIDs?

7) Obviously I haven’t seen a game on it yet, how are the commercials embedded into the broadcast? Are there commercials embedded into the broadcast, as we’re paying for the viewing experience already?

8) With the issues brought up about streaming in the US vs internationally, will the streams be equally available to US and international viewers (live or not)?

9) How long does a game stay in “my games”? I saw something that said “the end of the season.” Can I get some clarification on what that means? Does that mean 4-6 weeks after the NCAA championship?

10) If I purchase a game that doesn’t end up being played/broadcast, whether for weather or technical issues, does the BTN have a refund policy?

11) Are you allowed to disclose why the BTN isn’t offering a team/season package?

12) ESPN360 is what most of my readers can compare your service to, which has raised the question, are their plans after the next negotiation with service providers to make streaming live televised games in the US?

13) Our readship obviously has plenty of other comments and suggestions, some streaming, some non-streaming related, rather than burdening you with some of these technical or philosophical questions, where can I direct their concerns and questions? Just as an example, I get plenty of comments about the BigTen’s greatest games’ commercial break teasers being spoilers.

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