The Golden Gophers received a bid to the NCAA Tournament in 2007, but their skipper admits that all elements must fall in place for that to occur again. The Big Ten isn't recognized as a top conference, and Minnesota's geography puts a tremendous strain on the school's budget. The current schedule set-up makes the cost-benefit analysis for most Northern schools laughable.
"I wouldn't be surprised if our budget for baseball is
more than Mississippi's," Anderson said. "We are
definitely committed to the sport, but we don't have
the same access to the postseason. There must be a
better system. This is nightmarish."
The uniform start date pushed the season back a few
days and compacted the schedule with two fewer weeks
of baseball. The goal is to allow every team,
regardless of climate, to have equal practice in the
fall and to give the spring weather a little extra
time to shape up. Also, Southern schools have always
begun playing at the first of the February, or even
before, which results in fewer midweek games and
"The effectiveness can't be decided yet, but at least
teams can't just play on the weekends," Ole Miss Coach
Mike Bianco said. "Miami and some other schools would
always start in January and only throw their three
starters throughout the season. Now, pitching depth is
more of a factor. That part is evened up."
However, Anderson thinks the tinkering may have
accomplished more harm than good. Instead of fixing
the problem for schools like his, everybody else now
faces some of the same difficulties.
"Compaction does nothing but complicate things," said
Anderson, who is entering his 27th season as head
coach. "If you want a solution, extend the season
later in the year. Move it more into the summer. I
understand the situation with the draft, but we train
the players and put them on scholarship. The current
set-up leaves no time for academics or make-up games.
If the rain becomes heavy for a few weeks, what do you
do? Nothing but lose out on scheduled games.
"There is a reason the pros begin in April. It is a
Right now, the Big Ten plays four conference games per
weekend with one game Friday, a Saturday doubleheader and
final matchup on Sunday. That is changing next year,
as the league will switch to the traditional three
game series. It will lighten the load on the student
athlete, but it will also play havoc on coaches
attempting to complete their schedules.
"We are resigned to the fact that 56 games is probably
out of the question," Anderson said because the budget is not large enough to travel a great deal during the midweek. "I expect us to
play 48-50. There is just no way, and that is a
problem. On top of everything else, our conference
will be judged by the NCAA committee without the full
allotment of games, possibly by a substantial number. We are the only D-1 school in our state.
"Maybe the answer is to have two separate
classifications like football and have the northern
schools start later and end later. I don't know the
answer, but the sport is suffering because we can't
get everyone together to fix this. I know we can't
tell Mississippi not to play in February, but this
change isn't going to fix the majority of the
The lack of outdoor availability for practice and
early-season games also affect the prototypical
Northern schools with other major problems- a lack of
respect and exposure. While the SEC is used to eight
teams reaching the NCAAs, the Big Ten simply hopes for
a crooked number.
Since the Big Ten is considered weak to most segments
of the country, a hefty conference record is a
prerequisite, not a way to a sure-fire selection.
Also, RPI is becoming as important in baseball as it
is in basketball, thus Minnesota must take its show on
the road against top-level competition in the
nonconference. The Metrodome allows them to host some
upper-tier programs as well. But an indoor complex for
the Gophers is an exception, not the norm up North.
Last season, Minnesota ran its RPI into the top five early in the season
after wins against Ole Miss, Arkansas and Virginia Tech among others.
After that, it is a matter of winning while the rating
"We can have a weekend where we win four games and our
RPI drops," Anderson said. "Meanwhile, some other
teams can lose a series to a good team and have their
ranking rise. We need wins early before trying to hold
Holding on applies to more than winning games or
worrying about records. Some northern schools are
simply trying to hold on to their programs – a task
that is becoming increasingly difficult. The monetary
demands to field a successful program for schools that
are geographically isolated are staggering and
normally aren't worth the reward potential.
The Big Ten has begun a four-year improvement plan for
its schools participating in baseball. Conference
teams are recommitting to the sport with competitive
salaries, stadium improvements and increased awareness
of Big Ten baseball.
"The next four or five years are critical," Anderson
said. "There will be a lot of changes everywhere, but
if this doesn't work, don't be surprised if the
conference doesn't even put up a fight with programs
that want to drop the sport. The money is outrageous
to stay competitive, so some programs will decide,
‘What's the point?'"
Despite the difficulty, most schools field teams.
Wisconsin is the lone Big Ten squad to fold, while
Iowa State and Colorado don't play baseball in the Big
Money is needed to support the cause, but with a lack of spectators, there aren't many ways to generate income. Winning on a national level will increase fans, but that is difficult without a substantial budget. A double-edge sword occurs.
The Big Ten is becoming deeper, but it is a long
process and struggle to gain true legitimacy relative
to the SEC, ACC and Pac-10. Michigan increased
awareness in 2007 by toppling No. 1 overall seed
Vanderbilt in the Nashville regional. Minnesota beat
nationally-ranked San Diego, and Ohio State is usually
a player on the national scene.
"I wasn't surprised by any of our teams having success
last year," Anderson said. "I know we are all a lot
better in May than February."
That is true, but the Northern schools can't miss any
chances to make a splash.
Winning in February is mandatory for May to even
New Schedule Unsettling for Northern Teams
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