The Razorbacks' April 16 home game with Georgia (ESPN2), May 7-8 games at Ole Miss (ESPNU) and May 22 game at Vanderbilt (SportSouth) will be televised as part of the new agreement.
SEC baseball fans will see nearly six times more TV coverage in 2010 as part of the contract, said SEC associate media relations director Chuck Dunlap.
Under the agreement conference games will be televised regularly on ESPNU, FSN, Comcast Sports Southeast and SportSouth, with two regular season games set to appear on ESPN2 and one on ESPN. Each game of the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., will be televised in high definition, Dunlap said, with the championship series being televised by ESPN2.
"There could not be a more perfect time to be doing this," Dunlap said. "SEC baseball's popularity has never been as popular as it has been now. Regular season attendance the last several years has gone through the roof. The College World Series last year broke all of the ratings records as far as people watching the it, in particular the national championship series. Now SEC baseball is going to have that ESPN affiliation on top of the other carriers we already have."
Dunlap said schools will also have the opportunity to sell non-televised games to individual networks. For instance, Arkansas and LSU have had multiple games televised by Cox Sports over the last several years. Despite both representing the SEC in the College World Series last season, the two schools' series this season isn't scheduled to be televised under the ESPN agreement but could be picked up by Cox or another network.
"If I'm an SEC baseball coach right now I could not be more ecstatic about being able to go into these kids' homes and say, ‘Look, you come to Arkansas or wherever and you're going to be on TV X-amount of times starting in early March or late February. You're just not going to get that exposure in other leagues that you'll get here,'" Dunlap said. "From a recruiting standpoint this is a very positive thing."
But measures will be taken to protect the networks' interests, primarily time. Among them will be an experimental pitch clock used at the league tournament in which a pitcher will have 20 seconds to deliver the ball when runners are not on base and teams will have 90 seconds between innings. If the pitching team isn't ready when the clock expires a ball will be levied to the batter's count. If the batting team isn't ready a strike will be added.
"In this day and age, baseball is something that for TV to continue to want to air these games, it serves everyone better if we can keep games under three hours," Dunlap said. "A three-hour window is already a long window but when you get into three-and-a-half hour windows and longer in tournament play is when things can go astray.
"You have upwards of four games in one day. Last year, which also added to this, you had a lot of late games. I think we ended our first two days well after midnight. One game started at around 10:30 or 11 p.m. Central time. This is another way to speed up those games. We'll start the games a little earlier and the implantation of using the pitch clock on a trial basis.
"If it works out well, who knows, maybe it's something the ADs want to continue throughout the entire regular season in 2011, but we'll use Hoover to see how it goes and if it interrupts things at all."
Arkansas pitching coach Dave Jorn said he doesn't believe the pitch clock will affect his staff.
"I like the pitch clock," Jorn said. "I prefer my pitchers to work quick. I like them to make the pitch, get the ball back, get back on the rubber and go from there. I feel like we can relay the signals in quick enough, so I'm all for it.
"There will be some adjustments. It'll depend on the guy. Some guys like to work slow; they like to make a pitch, walk around the mound, take a few deep breaths and get back up there and go. There will be an adjustment for some but I don't feel like our guys will have to adjust much."
Fans will notice something a little new to Baum Stadium this season, but it won't be what Razorback baseball coach Dave Van Horn believes the program needs most – an indoor practice facility.
The Razorbacks will travel to Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia this weekend to practice on a grass field as another major winter storm – the third this winter – moves through Northwest Arkansas with a forecasted 4 to 6 inches of snow. Arkansas was allowed to start full team practice on Jan. 29 but was forced to postpone it until Jan. 30 because of snow and ice that weekend. The team was able to use the Walker Pavilion on campus for the first two days of team practice but ran into scheduling conflicts with the Razorback football off-season conditioning program during the week.
|Marc F. Henning|
|Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn wants an indoor facility to off-set bad winter weather.|
"With where we are located and our weather, we need that. We have as good a stadium as anyone, but now we need the weight room and we need an indoor infield facility."
Among the renovations Arkansas has received is a new wrought-iron fence that will enclose three sides of the stadium alongside Razorback Road, 15th Street and between stadium and the Randal Tyson Track Center. It will replace a chain link fence next to Razorback Road that had been up for the last two seasons while crews widened the road.
"The park is going to look so much better after finish that fence," Van Horn said. "It needed to be done. It was about time we got rid of that chain link fence."
The fence and a renovated locker room for the Razorback players were among the most noticeable facelifts over the off-season.
The Arkansas Scholarship Lottery that went into place in September of last year will benefit Razorback recruiting in sports where the limited number of scholarships does not come close to matching the roster limit. Such is the case with the Arkansas baseball program.
"It's a great opportunity for our in-state recruiting," Van Horn said. "Some can get as much as $5,000. The last couple of years we have been recruiting more in-state players and now they can get those scholarships on top of baseball money. It's a nice way to combo up some good scholarship money."
Baseball programs are limited by the NCAA to 11.7 scholarships to fill 35 roster spots. While every player on scholarship has a percentage of its tuition paid, a good portion of scholarship money comes through independent academic scholarships. Therefore, recruiting high-profile athletes on the diamond has become a numbers game for coaches going after players that can receive more scholarship money by staying home.
Arkansas has been competing against schools with the lottery advantage for years. Among them are LSU, Tennessee and Georgia, Van Horn said, with Kentucky soon to be added to that list.
|Forrest City pitcher Barrett Astin is one of three in-state signees for 2010.|
"We've had to compete against some of these combo offers from some other SEC schools, so this is a major boost for us."
Arkansas has three in-state signees in the class of 2010 in Houston Pruitt (Springdale Har-Ber), Brandon Moore (Van Buren) and Barrett Astin (Forrest City).
One Razorback signee recently helped to improve his community off the baseball field.
Senior Nolan Sanburn of Kokomo, Ind., was one of hundreds of volunteers to help rebuild a house as part of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" in late October.
The project centered around Kori Cowan, a 12-year-old with blood disease whose family lived in a house that was uninhabitable because of mold. The show selected the girl's request for a new home because of her fundraising efforts for the American Cancer Society, which exceeded $38,000. The "Cowan Family" episode aired on Jan. 10.
"It was really eye-opening because this was a family that didn't have much and they didn't have the opportunities that I have and some of my friends have," Sanburn said. "It was a good chance to go out there and it was such an event that everybody got involved.
"(Kori) was a very bright and inspiring young girl. Even with what she was dealing with she was out there raising money. It was really a neat experience to meet her and see what kind of life and lifestyle she has to live in every day."
Sanburn is one of 14 players that signed letters of intent to play for Arkansas in November. He and summer teammate, and fellow Razorback signee Justin O'Conner (Cowan, Ind.) are widely regarded as the top two prospects in the state of Indiana.
A utility player, Sanburn hit .357 with five home runs and 29 RBIs as a junior in addition to going 4-1 on the mound with a 4.20 ERA. He is expected to play in the outfield at Arkansas.
Sanburn chose the Razorbacks over offers from North Carolina, Michigan State, Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Auburn, among others.