Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

NCAA Approves Bulldogs-Redhawks to Play Afternoon Game

Mississippi State has thrown everyone, not least Bulldog fans, quite a curve. After announcing the Starkville Regional schedule for Friday in keeping with all previous such events, eight hours later they flipped the script.

Instead of playing the evening game in round-one, the Diamond Dogs will be on Dudy Noble Field—along with Southeast Missouri State—for a 1:30 start time. Host State is the #1 regional and #6 national seed, and the Ohio Valley champs Redhawks are the regional’s #4 seed.

This puts #2 Cal State Fullerton and #3 Louisiana Tech in the 6:30 game now.

The change surprised all and frustrated some who, with decades of experience and examples to draw from, assumed Mississippi State would do as had always been done before. That is, play the evening game for maximum crowd potential. To be clear, Mississippi State never announced until around 11:30am Monday that the home team would play at 6:30 and that was as part of ESPN’s selection show.

So all advance ticket sales were reasonably based on history.

But the surprising change is based on the present.

Speaking with in-house writer Bob Carskadon this morning, Coach John Cohen said there were three factors in asking permission, and getting it, to flip Friday’s script. One fans can easily guess: it allows the MSU staff to play their own game, know what pitching and personnel were used, then evaluate it against what they see from the later game’s winner. Plus, all staff can watch the second game and not be busy with pre-game business of their own as would be the usual case.

Secondly, taking the first game means the Bulldogs can be sure of taking batting practice on the field. That’s not always an option even with a five-hour difference between games with field preparations to do, extra innings, or just plain long games…which everyone got to see in last week’s SEC Tournament. There even nine-inning games surpassed four hours, routinely. NCAA games can drag even longer as coaches make more visits, more moves, more everything under pressure to win.

It has to be added, Cohen has often downplayed the value of batting practice to an offense per se. But BP is very much part of the mental makeup of the game, especially on the home field.

The third factor is of course weather. As of now it does not appear to be a big Friday deal with current projections peaking at 30% rain chance in the evening. Saturday doubles to 60% though and anyone who has looked at forecasts for football and baseball weekends knows these things tend to arrive sooner than later.

Because game-one would be played first regardless, taking that slot guarantees the winners more rest for day-two even if only a few hours.

Skeptics about the switch remain. This goes against tradition if nothing else. It certainly should cut into attendance as after a holiday weekend it might be difficult for Dog fans to leave work early Friday. If at all.

However, Diamond Dog fans are a rabid bunch in tournament time. All the proof needed was seen in 2007. Then the NCAA, not State, assigned mid-day starts for the super regional games with Clemson. Official crowds of 12,620 and 13,715 turned out in sizzling June conditions to watch their team win the best-of-three in two days. And, though never confirmed by officials, it is understood the actual crowd were larger than the announced figures.

There are other examples of regional hosts traditionally playing the early Friday games, even in hot-weather conditions, to get the extra rest for Saturday. But this all hinges on actually winning the first round.

So by Friday afternoon all will know if State made the right call. Or, missed on a curveball.

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