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.


A Tragedy: Steve Howe

July 5, 2009

In my research into great Michigan players of the past, I found some players with full biographies, others with just scraps here and there.  Steve Howe was one of the latter.  Being a fairly recent major league player, at least when compared to someone like George Sisler, much of what’s available on Howe is all in the newspapers.  Today, I went and searched the news from 1976 to 2006 to find out more about Howe.  For some of you older readers, his story should be easily remembered.  For those of you who are younger, like me, Howe was the first major league player implicated in rampant cocaine abuse.  He was given chance after chance (7 to be exact), but he never could get things right.  This passage will be far too long to use at VarsityBlue, so I’m posting it in its entirety here.

The story is amazingly sad, but at certain points, you just stop feeling for the guy.  He really didn’t learn from his mistakes.

Read the rest of this entry »


Bat Regulation in the NCAA

July 4, 2009

The NCAA posted a news article late last month describing new potential upgrades to bat requirements in the upcoming season.  There is a new worry that the metal bats are creating an illegal advantage when they are “rolled.”  As it stands now, bats are required to have a specific length, weight, center of mass, radius of barrel, and other specifics that you wouldn’t normally consider.  One of these is the ball speed exit ratio.  Right now, bats are required to not allow a ball be hit more than a certain percentage more than a wood bat.  This percentage is fairly small.  The NCAA wants to allow wood bats, but let the schools have the option to buy metal bats that will last longer, therefore keeping the cost lower.

The exit speed ratio has been voted as insufficient as of late.  With the marked increase in home runs over the last few seasons, the researchers at the NCAA have developed a better model to reduce the ball speed.  Their new answer is “ball-bat coefficient of restitution” (BBCOR).  It sets limits on how kinetic the partially inelastic collision between bat and ball can create a faster exit speed.

For those non-physics majors out there, I’ll use an example.  Consider a ping pong ball bouncing off a tile floor.  You hold the ping pong ball and then let it drop.  The ball will fall and bounce back up.  When the ball hits the floor, its “colliding” with the floor.  Now, say you have a equally heavy ping pong ball that is dented.  You drop it from the same height, it doesn’t bounce as much.  The reason for this is the normal ping ball flexes just a little bit when it collides with the floor.  For simplicity’s sake, we’ll just leave it as this little flex pops back to normal and pushes the ball back up off the floor even farther than it would have bounced had it not flexed (like the dented ball).

Baseball bats flex like ping pong balls.  When a baseball hits the bat, the bat flexes just a little bit, pushing the ball even faster from its surface.  With wood bats, the flexibility is limited, but it does exist.  With metal bats, they can be very flexible.  What make metal bats even more attractive is that after heavy use, this flexibility becomes even more powerful.  A heavily used bat is like a heavily used metal spring.  At first you don’t get much spring out of it, but eventually, it becomes very… well, springy.

The NCAA does test for this flexibility.  They use vice like readers to place pressure on the barrel.  They also check the bats with a ring to make sure no side has become flattened or dented.  This flattened side also amplifies the flexibility when hit directly.  The NCAA actually threw out 25 of the 500 or so bats tested at Omaha this year for these type of variations.

The rule change to the BBCOR will help eliminate many of these bat problems, but it won’t come into effect until 2011.  It’s interesting none the less.  With home runs and batting average going up at such quick paces the last 4 years, it’s about time the bar get set a little bit lower.

The NCAA meet July 13-15 to discuss this, as well as the common start date/week they added to the beginning of the season.  That will definitely deserve a post or two.


Goals for Michigan Baseball on Varsity Blue

July 3, 2009

This is more something for me, but perhaps some of you might be interested in what I’m working on.-FA

While my posts here at formerlyanonymous are of the sporadic, as-it-happens sort of substance, my posts at VarsityBlue are much more targeted.  It’s plainly obvious that much of what I do there is rehash games and add a little extra opinion to the standard press releases offered by MGoBlue.  My goal for next season is to increase that coverage a little bit more.  I want to help encapsulate the history and tradition that makes Michigan baseball the storied program that it is.

Most people, even pretty strong Michigan fans, don’t have any idea of the baseball juggernaut the Wolverines used to be.  This is a real shame, because, along with winning, all a fan wants is that their team be meaningful.  With the state of college baseball being what it is – south dominates and the north is left to be “mid major” or worse despite having well over half the teams – it’s very easy for fans to be lost when it comes to Michigan baseball.  It’s a non-revenue sport.  It’s played for the most part after students are already off campus.  The stadium is tucked away from the main streets of campus.  There just isn’t much enthusiasm to see games in potential snow storms.  There are just way too many factors against it.

I know I’m not going to change those factors.  What I can do is get people excited about history and tradition, something I’ve found many Michigan fans value more than common sense (see: #1 jersey mess of last year).  The following are some of the ways I’m thinking about cashing in on nostalgia:

  • A series on “Players Past.”  Included in this would be a list of the most famous of Michigan baseball players.  I’d give a bio of players such as George Sisler, Bill Freehan, and Barry Larkin.  I also want a separate section on players currently in professional baseball, both majors and minors.
  • Michigan Records.  This one is a little bit harder with the resources I have available.  I’d like to get a list of Michigan team records, Michigan BigTen records (I have a copy of this), and anything else where Michigan is the “Leaders and Best” type-things.  Comparing Michigan’s overall record and # of wins to the NCAA.  To start the 2009 year, we were #4 in total wins (still #4 as Stanford is 40 games behind us) and #18 in winning percentage (fell to at least #19 behind Texas A&M this season).
  • World Series Recaps.  While Michigan hasn’t made it to a CWS in a long time, they still have a couple appearances.  I want to recap these big moments.
  • The NCAA violations.  With the 1989 sanctions, I think its important that fans get the whole picture, not just the happy moments.  If anything, we can compare it to the basketball sanctions, showing how far a program can come when down.

After that, I’m planning on havnig my season previews much like last year.  I’ll start with the recent class of seniors that left.  Then I’ll move to returners on the mound, recapping their 2009 campaign and summer ball where available.  Then I’ll move to the offense/defense and do the same.  I’ll probably pepper in the new guys with the returners as there is little I’ll know about them going in.

I’ve already got a good jump on the “Players Past” section, with 5 already completed and a couple more on the way later this week.  I think the big plan is to have as much of the early season stuff done early so I get a good jump on next year.  I found that this last season was so quick to escalate into a regular thing that I really felt overworked in the first few weeks.  It started with just a few previews over at Maizenbrew and all of a sudden, I get a call to post on VarsityBlue regularly.

As far as after the preseason, the other thing I really want to work on is obtaining interviews.  It’s going to be a little bit harder to do this from Houston, but I’d like to get an interview with either players, or even possibly Coach Maloney here or there.  If things work well enough, possibly even ex-players.  I find interviews offer the best view into how a team is performing and what players are like.  I’ll be the first to admit that what draws me into baseball is the personalities.  While I haven’t met any of the current players, I have pseudo-personality traits for many of them.  Each guy is one I can’t help but root for.  Things like the Captain’s Corner Blog on MGoBlue just solidified those personalities.  It was great.  I want to be able to share these kids with more fans.  They deserve it, and I really think interviews are a great way to bring that out.

So with that, I think I have my two goals for the next year.  First, I want a tradition laden preseason – something to draw in a few extra fans.  Second, I want to get at least one good interview.


Hate: Bronze Medalist Phelps Ruining the CWS

February 8, 2009

Ok, perhaps he’s not ruining the College World Series, but Michael Phelps’s rise to popularity is now affecting the series.  While scanning through cstv’s pathetic excuse for a once vibrant college baseball page, I came across a month old article about a change to the 2010 CWS.  The city of Omaha is trying to host both the CWS and the USA Swim Olympic Qualifying races that June.  According to the article,

The CWS will start Friday, June 15, and end no later than Tuesday, June 26.

Omaha Sports Commission president Harold Cliff said the Trials probably would run June 27-July 4 if a deal is finished with USA Swimming.

Omaha officials are worried that the mass popularity seen in the 2008 games will lead to a mass migration to their fine city.  Since when did swimming garner such large audiences?  I understand this is a fairly big deal, but big enough to worry about one potential day of overlap?  Big enough to broker a deal with the NCAA and ESPN to move the games up one day?  This seems a bit crazy.

So what does two- time bronze medalist Michael Phelps have to do with this?  His explosion in the main stream media had the city of Omaha expecting the massive crowds.  Now with the recent dramatics surrounding Michael Phelps.  Phelps has now indicated may not even be competing in the Trials, much less the Olympics ever again.

News of the World (UK)

source: News of the World (UK)

The moving up of the date may have some influence on the course of the CWS games, but likely will not. Teams who make it to the Series  will still be able to rest their ace pitcher for four days (assuming they go on Friday in the Super Regionals) instead of their normal five.  Relief pitchers will still get two days, which should be sufficent for most short relievers.  With today’s style closers who go two to three innings in the postseason, there may be some affects.  It may be worth noting when it comes June 15th, 2010.  Somebody make sure to remind me.