Auburn, Ala.--Coming into the 2011 college baseball season much of the early talk was about a pitch clock implemented by the NCAA, but after one weekend there is little question that the change in the bats is going to have a profound impact on the game.
Scaling back the power of the aluminum bats for the 2011 season, the NCAA not only did that but went completely overboard in its hope to not only make the game safer but speed up the game in the process. The result is a game after the opening weekend that resembles rookie league pro baseball more than anything else.
"The game is a little different," Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. "I just don't think there are going to be a lot of games with multiple hits. You're going to have to do a lot of unconventional things offensively and try to find a way to scratch out some runs."
The Southeastern Conference has long been known as the nation's top collegiate baseball league and much of the reason for that has been on offense. With hitter friendly parks and many of the best players home runs have been the name of the game in the league for much of the last 30 years.
Over the weekend SEC teams played 38 games and hit a grand total of 21 home runs in those contests with the opponents totaling just seven. Leading the country last year with 130 home runs, Auburn failed to hit a single home run in the Auburn Tournament over the weekend that featured No. 13 Virginia, Arkansas State and UAB. In fact, in six games there were a grand total of two home runs, both by the Blazers.
Only LSU hit more than three home runs on the opening weekend with the Tigers belting six out of new Alex Box Stadium. Four of those came from standout Mikie Mahtouk, more than any other league team hit over the three days.
Averaging .55 home runs per game as a league, the SEC's numbers are down a staggering amount when compared to last year. In 742 games played in 2010 Southeastern Conference teams hit 953 home runs, an average of 1.28 home runs per game.
Consider this from a numbers perspective. Last season Major League Baseball teams averaged 154 home runs in the 162-game schedule played in the big leagues, an average of .95 home runs. It's the only year in the last decade in the Major Leagues when they combined to average less than one home run per game.
In its quest to make the game more like the major leagues the NCAA forgot one big thing--the players. There's a reason why minor league baseball has a problem attracting fans and keeping people in the ballpark despite promotions every inning and giveaways most nights. It lacks the excitement of a player walking to the plate and the crowd knowing there's a chance for a big home run.
Why? Because even minor league players have problems driving the ball consistently with a wooden bat. Essentially that is what college players have been asked to do this season. The game will still be a success in the SEC because of the passion of the fans, but for the casual viewer who will be tuned in to the record number of conference games on television this year I hope you like bunting.
As a guy who loved nothing better than pitching while growing up, I admit I like to see a team shut down from the mound. The problem I have is now everybody will struggle to score runs no matter the pitching. Was college baseball a perfect game last season? No, but it worked.