West Virginia head baseball coach Randy Mazey has been advocating for the college baseball season to be moved up to where it belongs, during the summer months.
Mazey caught the attention, although briefly, of the national media following a 9-4 win over Pitt where, during the postgame press conference, Mazey brought up some good points on the current situation in college baseball.
“College baseball is the single most underfunded sport in all of the NCAA,” said Mazey. “With the amount of scholarships we get versus the number of players on the team, we have the lowest coach to player ratio of any sport in the NCAA.”
“Since I’ve been involved in college baseball, scholarships have been cut from 13 to 11.7. Games have been cut. Rosters have been limited and now nationally we tried to do something for the benefit of college baseball (voting for a third assistant coach), and it got defeated and rightfully so. Very few teams make money playing college baseball. West Virginia operated at a tremendous deficit, like most programs, and until we start making revenue as a sport, then I don’t blame anybody for not wanting to add more expenses. You would be crazy to want to add more expenses to a program that’s already losing a ton of money. We got to find a way to generate revenue in our sport and I’m convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that the way to do it is to play in the summertime.”
The idea doesn’t seem radical by any means. What seems radical is the current format the schedule is under now which starts in February and therein lies the major problem. For southern baseball programs, it’s a non-issue, considering that the season begins with tournaments in the south.
Until recently, West Virginia had not hosted a game in February until 2019 and had its earliest game ever played in Morgantown this year on February 18 in a 15-8 win over Canisius. The game was supposed to be played at 2:00 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon but was postponed till after 5:00 p.m. due to a rain delay.
Why is West Virginia scheduling home games in February? Well, it's about being able to get in enough games for a tournament resume and getting in the single home midweek game as early as possible is a way to do just that, because other mid-week games may get cancelled due to poor weather and sometimes there’s not enough time to make them up.
It’s also impossible to fill a stadium in the middle of a cold day in February, plus people are still at work and kids are in school.
As Mazey pointed out, baseball programs across the country run in a deficit. They don’t generate enough money to be self-sustainable and the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the decision makers.
Now, you might think there isn’t enough interest in college baseball. Well, you would be wrong.
West Virginia, a program that’s been on the rise since Mazey took over the program, set attendance records five times at Monongalia County Ballpark last season. The Mountaineers hosted Pitt on a Wednesday night (April 3) to take the top spot with 3.487 in attendance just to be broken 10 days later against Texas Tech Saturday, April 13th.
Then, West Virginia hosted its first NCAA regional tournament and it became the hottest ticket in town. That weekend was arguably one of the best scenes I’ve ever witnessed as Mountaineer fans crammed into the 3,500-seat stadium and the powers that be opened the lawn areas for fans to sit in. The first night against Fordham shattered the previous record stuffing 4,355 rabid Mountaineer fans in West Virginia’s opening game of the tournament.
All three games of the Mountaineers' regional are now the top three attendance records in West Virginia baseball history. If you're curious, those games were played on the first weekend of June.
Of course, I’m fully aware that it was a special circumstance, but the point remains. A cool night in April produced the biggest attendance in program history. Albeit it was against rival Pitt, but surely the NCAA can do better.
Another way revenue can be brought in by starting the season later, more TV spots would become available. Now, is there a big market for college baseball? That generic answer is no, considering the current format but like most changes, it may take a while for the popularity to grow to get an ESPN primetime spot in the middle of the summer. Oh wait, they already do for the College World Series because the only major sports operating in the summer is Nascar, Major League Baseball and soccer. So, I really find it hard to believe with all the sports networks that also offer streaming services, there wouldn’t eventually be a market for college baseball.
You start the season later, you get more fans in the stands, which in turn, generates more local interest, then more people will tune-in during road games.
This can’t be that hard.
While trying to salvage the 2020 season, Mazey sat down and filled out a conference schedule in case games could eventually be played and he did it in a half of a day after finding out his team was not traveling to Lubbock, TX to take on the Texas Tech Red Raiders in their Big 12 conference opener.
“When all this came down – we got turned around on a Thursday on our way to Lubbock. When the bus got turned around, by Thursday night, I had a Big 12 schedule printed up with a pencil and paper. I went through all the Big 12 teams and did a Big 12 schedule mock schedule starting on June 1 and ran through June and July and made it work. If somebody, in all the conferences and meetings that had, if somebody ever entertained that thought, I was just here to show them it was possible. I wasn’t pushing it by any means. It would have been possible. When it got pushed back even further that started in August, I did another mock schedule. And, I got all the Big 12 teams’ football schedules and did two different baseball schedules.
“One in which no team would play a series at home during a home football game and that was possible if anyone entertained that though. But I also did one where you could play a home baseball weekend during a home football game. I just thought that if we played in Oklahoma in football on Saturday and everybody’s in town and we hosted Texas in baseball that weekend and played a single game Friday night a potentially a doubleheader on Sunday. I think every home game that would have been played would’ve looked like the regional last year, as far as the crowd.”
“Normally, the biggest crowd of our spring is the day of the spring football game. So, when people come to town to see a football game and a lot of them get here on Friday night. What better way to spend a Friday night than going to see a Big 12 baseball game? Again, I wasn’t pushing it, but I just wanted to show people that if they wanted to go that route that it was possible. At this point, it's water under the bridge because nobody decided they wanted to go that route.”
Obviously, they are not able to go in that direction due to the current pandemic, but the NCAA is going to take a closer look at college baseball.
“That did say since college baseball is a ‘unique entity’, we’re going to have to take a more in-depth look at college baseball,” said Mazey. “I’ve been waiting for 35 years for that to happen. For somebody to take a look at college baseball and look at our challenges that we have that other people don’t.”
“The only way we’re ever going to get anywhere is to generate revenue in our sport and we don’t do it. We just don’t do it and we just refuse to go anywhere,” added Mazey.
Mazey hasn’t pushed this proposal during this time citing “I think, number one on everybody’s agenda right now is the health and safety of people, so I don’t think this is any kind of time to push an agenda.”
Just imagine, West Virginia opening the season the first weekend of April hosting a three-game series against Pitt or even hosting an early season tournament.
You can follow us for future coverage by clicking "Follow" on the top righthand corner of the page. Also, be sure to like us on Facebook & Twitter:
Facebook - @WVUonSI
Twitter - @SI_WVU and Christopher Hall @WVHallBilly