NCAA Pitches Super Regional Site Changes

FAYETTEVILLE -- Have we seen the last of these scenes? Is the time drawing near when all Division I super regional baseball teams will be forced to play far away?

The NCAA has its way, that's how it will play out.

But it shouldn't.

Cue the tape: It was a sight for the ages and it came just seconds after Arkansas' Jay Sawatski fanned Florida State's Eddy Martinez-Esteve for the final out of a 4-2 super regional win here in Baum Stadium last June 12.

Soon as Martinez-Esteve swung and missed the full-count fastball, the super-passionate, red-clad, hollering NCAA on-campus super regional record crowd of 10,027 went even more bonkers, Hogs catcher Brady Toops pointed his right index finger to the heavens, a screaming Sawatski pitched his glove way above and a writhing Hogpile formed near the pitcher's mound.

It was the conclusion of not only Arkansas' amazing run to the College World Series, but also a super-impressive showing by Hogs fans who set, then beat their own, NCAA regional and super regional records.

The second part of the act was no surprise to then-second year Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn.

"When we added the seats, this is what I envisioned," Van Horn told us in a raspy, worn-out voice that special night of June 12. "What a league! What a facility!

"And we've got great fans who support us."

Officially, Baum Stadium holds 9,000. But Van Horn and company saw this coming, adding lots more temporary seats for the regional (Arkansas' 8,178 fans holds that record, too) and super regional matchups.

Even longtime Florida State coach Mike Martin, who had been a part of 1,138 wins, was super-impressed with the job Arkansas did.

"I'm very, very impressed with the entire operation," Martin said. "What a great environment! And I'll repeat what I said (the night of June 11): 'It doesn't get any better than this.'

"And I mean that from the bottom of my heart."

The problem is, as most have figured out, the NCAA folks have no hearts. It's all about money with those people, and a new proposal concerning super regional play was pitched at the recent NCAA Division I meeting of the American Baseball Coaches Association convention in Nashville, according to the most recent issue of Baseball America.

"We've got to see what we can do to continue to improve this event," Dennis Poppe, the NCAA's senior director of baseball operations, was quoted as saying.

The proposal calls for minor league stadiums and "significant" municipal ballparks - rather than on-campus facilities -to be super regional host sites.

"Some sites don't draw well," Poppe said. "We want to take a market that is already baseball-savvy - but maybe for the minor leagues - and introduce it to college baseball."

Perhaps we should introduce Poppe to some season ticket-holding Hogs fans.

What sound is made when a bubble bursts?


Wrote Baseball America's Will Kimmey: "Poppe listed the loss of the festive college atmosphere as the (NCAA baseball) committee's major concern, citing the record-breaking crowds at Arkansas' Baum Stadium in 2004 as an example.

"But he said using the championship-level facilities would enhance the experience for student-athletes and make the event look more impressive to TV viewers.

"Plus, predetermined sites would give the NCAA a year to promote and sell tickets for the super regional games (currently host institutions are granted as few as four days and often have to deal with graduations or conventions eating up lodging options)."


Losing "the festive college atmosphere" a concern?

Hell, that should be the bottom line.

Those of us who attended the College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb., were somewhat impressed with the facility (although it's not the Baum), but were miffed at the plethora of empty seats and lack of enthusiasm.

How in the name of Abner Doubleday would playing in front of half-empty larger stadiums impress players or translate better to TV than, say, a full house of rowdy Hogs fans spilling from the seams?

Even more silly is the thought that regional sites will bring swarms of neutral fans. Does anyone really think folks in Dunnedin, Fla., would break records to see Arkansas play Georgia Tech?

Speaking of attendance, there were but 200 tickets left for that last Arkansas-Florida State game on June 12. They went on sale at 5 p.m. Four minutes later, they were gone, sending a swarm of disappointment throughout the parking lot in search of other ways to get into Baum.

Check out the thoughts of Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall, as quoted by Kimmey: "If you look at the teams that have made the College World Series recently, most of them have been a host for the regionals and super regionals. I'd hate to see us adjust anything that would interfere with the atmosphere of college campuses that's been fantastic. It's tough to duplicate that at a neutral site.

"We've played at Mississippi State and LSU - and those are tough places to play. But I wouldn't trade that atmosphere or the homefield advantage that teams earn or the chance to play on our own field."

Of course, for the NCAA it's not about trade.

It's about profit.

Wrote Kimmey: "Moving the games would also help the NCAA's bottom line. It spent $130,000 (not a nickel at Baum) to improve lighting at several super regional locations in 2004, helping to make them adequate for ESPN's broadcasts."

Nothing has been decided, and the majority of the coaches attending the Nashville meeting apparently weren't buying into the idea.

Surely the NCAA won't sell out on this matter.


Well, put it this way - if you have televised footage of Arkansas-Florida State in Baum Stadium, don't toss it out.

Could be a collector's item.

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