"We spent a lot of time educating them, and I'm glad they came to their senses," said Polk Monday, having just returned from a baseball coaches meeting in Chicago.
The Management Council had been considering chopping back the Division I schedule since 2004, due to what they saw as a too-long season affecting the academics of college baseball athletes. The most drastic proposal was going to a 44-game slate; then to 48. By this winter the proposal was less severe, at 52 games, to begin in 2007.
But even that was bitterly opposed by college coaches. Not only would it shorten the competition opportunities, but as Polk often pointed out it would further encourage high school and junior college players to pass on college altogether and turn professional.
"It would have been a blow," Polk said. "But we educated them." What NCAA officials and many college administrators needed really was a lesson on how the college game worked. According to Polk, they only saw one raw number—that college baseball in general had the lowest Academic Progress Rate (APR). College coaches worked overtime explaining the unique situation baseball is in with both the professional draft—Polk said some 500 collegians were drafted or signed as free agents this past year—and the liberal transfer rules. Both impact the APR in ways other sports do not have to worry about.
So now Division I programs will still have their 56-game slates for the foreseeable future. There is still a question the NCAA has to settle, though; when those schedules can begin. Polk said the Pac 10 has submitted a proposal the season move back even earlier so schools play almost no midweek games by May. But he isn't sure what is going to happen with this proposal. And given the obvious weather discrepancies conference-to-conference, there is no ideal solution to satisfy all leagues anyway.
"We've got a couple of proposals, it could be moved to March 1, or to the first of February, or where it is now. I just don't know. We might have to start the season earlier but it's not that big an issue."
Polk also reported that the SEC is now studying a 10-team format for the league tournament, which has been at eight teams in one site since 1996. There are other proposals to go to a full 12-team tourney eventually. But the 2006 tourney will now stay at eight teams, again at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.