Marshall: SEC Needs Wakeup Call On Baseball

Auburn, Ala.--Just imagine the response if this announcement had been made at Jordan-Hare Stadium last fall: "Due to Arkansas' travel arrangements, quarters in today's game will be reduced to 10 minutes instead of the normal 15."

Or how about this one?

"Because of a time limit related to Arkansas' travel plans, today's game was not finished and will not count on either team's record or in the Southeastern Conference standings."

Or maybe this one at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum:

"Tonight's game will consist of two 15-minute halves because Arkansas has a plane to catch."

Those announcements would never be made, of course, but similar announcements would have been made at Plainsman Park on Sunday had it not been for a hastily arranged meeting in the sixth inning between Auburn coach Tom Slater and Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn.

Here is how it unfolded:

Auburn was told several weeks ago that it would have to start Sunday's game at 10:30 a.m. so the Arkansas team could make its flight in Atlanta. Then came a directive that the game would have a 1 p.m. curfew, meaning no inning could start after 1 p.m.

Sunday curfews are an issue that has plagued SEC baseball for years, but it didn't stop there. Coaches recently began receiving a flood of emails from the SEC office saying that the NCAA has mandated games that are stopped in such a manner before they go nine innings will not be counted. Coaches thought they would still count in the SEC race.

They were wrong.

The SEC office, where baseball is treated as if it were a head cold, created an impossible situation Sunday. With pitching typically shaky on Sunday, there was no realistic possibility of playing nine innings and making the curfew. If the game wasn't through nine innings, it wouldn't count, meaning it might as well have never been played.

Administrators at the game recognized impending trouble, got word to Slater and Van Horn, and a big problem was avoided Sunday. Van Horn said his team would bus home if necessary, and the Razorbacks won 8-6.

That happened on the field. It did not happen with any help from anyone in the SEC office. It appears that, as far as the SEC was concerned, umpires could have called the game after six innings and it would have been wiped from the record books.

Slater wondered after the game why teams facing such a situation couldn't simply fly home on Monday morning. That would, no doubt, draw gasps of horror from those in the SEC who seemingly think eliminating a baseball game here or there, possibly affecting the outcome of the championship race, possibly affecting postseason play, is no big deal.

It's been a problem for years. Rained out SEC games are not made up, meaning the championship could be decided by who plays the most games instead of who has the best team. The "curfew" has been blight on SEC baseball. Officials will tell you it's about getting back to campus to go to class, but that doesn't hold water. No other sport faces a similar situation, and a lot of them miss a lot more classes than in baseball.

This year, some NCAA official who apparently doesn't have enough to do, decided that games stopped by a curfew shouldn't count at all. Even the individual statistics would be wiped away.

Now I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but to put a 2 1/2-hour time limit on a nine-inning college baseball game and say it won't count if it doesn't go nine innings makes no sense at all.

SEC baseball deserves better. In no sport is the SEC more dominant. Interest and commitment have grown tremendously in recent years. Yet, baseball coaches and players have to deal with situations that their counterparts in other sports would never be asked to deal with. Time limits, curfews, etc., should be for the local youth league, not for the strongest conference in college baseball.

"It's a mess," Slater said.

The solution is simple. Eliminate the curfew and leave travel arrangements in the hands of the visiting teams. That's the way it is in other sports. Why not baseball?

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