Clocks Spring Up, College Sports Fall Back?

Two college sports are debating the benefits of pushing their seasons back. To Troy, only one of these debates is worth having.

We interrupt the HoopsBoard Plus’ crucifixion of Johnny Dawkins to provide this reminder: daylight-saving time takes effect this weekend. But while you’ll be springing forward one hour, two college sports are looking at the pros and cons of falling back one month.

On Monday, Pac-12 deputy commissioner Jamie Zaninovich penned a piece for SI.com about the possibility of starting the college basketball season in mid-December. Zaninovich contends that making college basketball a one-semester sport would benefit the student-athletes, and that moving things back one month would benefit the sport as a whole. Tipping off in December would mean less competition with college football at the start of the season, and could also mean even more exposure with a May Final Four at the end of the season.

Meanwhile, the 2015 college baseball season has already been derailed by something called “winter” (maybe some of the Booties who are east of the Rockies can fill us in on what “winter” is). UCLA was supposed to meet North Carolina for a much-anticipated series in Chapel Hill. But brutally cold weather forced the Tar Heels and the Bruins to move the series – on two days notice – to Orlando instead.

Despite that logistical and financial nightmare, UCLA and North Carolina were still able to find a way to play. Many other programs haven’t been so lucky. It’s hard enough for many Northern programs that often start their season with twenty or more games on the road. This year’s particularly foul weather has made it tough for nearly everyone.

With this as a backdrop, a movement that is currently being spearheaded by West Virginia head coach Randy Mazey appears to be gaining momentum. Mazey’s solution: start the season on April 1. This would allow schools where the weather can be pretty iffy before Easter to schedule and compete better. It would also push the College World Series clear into August.

So if these ideas become reality, March Madness could become April Angst (should I trademark that right now, just in case?). And the College World Series would roll smack into college football fall drills and the NFL preseason.

I’m a guy who respects tradition, but that doesn’t mean that I am adverse to change and evolution in sports. In many cases, evolution is good (long live the designated hitter). As long as those changes make that sport a fundamentally better product for those who make it and the people who consume it, I’m fine.

That being said, one of these ideas makes sense to me. The other one? I hope it never makes it off the drawing board.

Maybe it’s because I live in a warm-weather climate now. Maybe it’s because I remember when the season began in late January. Maybe it’s because at least one Northern school has made each of the last three College World Series. But I am having trouble seeing how turning college baseball into a summer sport would make that product better.

Save for a handful of programs, college baseball is not a revenue sport. But I suspect that college baseball has a better chance to compete for the entertainment dollar as a spring sport than it would in the summer. Will the few students left on campus during the summer show up to games? (heck, many don’t show up now…) If minor-league baseball is also an option in town, will the majority choose college baseball instead?

My gut tells me the answers to both of those questions is no. I don’t think moving college baseball to the summer makes it better for the fans.

For many college baseball players, summertime means summer league ball. It’s a valuable opportunity for those kids to play and learn the game in a professional setting. It’s an opportunity that goes away if the college baseball season takes up the entire summer. Hard for me to see how a later season is a clear benefit for the student-athletes.

Pushing college hoops back one month makes much more sense to me. It makes sense academically, whether a school runs on semesters or quarters. The days of Stanford players juggling finals with the Tournament would be over (though it might get a little dicey for the semester schools). And I’ll admit it: college basketball doesn’t really start to kick in for me until the football bowls are all set. I’m sure many, many others would probably admit the same.

Granted, events like the Maui Invitational and the Puerto Rico Tip-Off are nice to watch during the Thanksgiving break. But these tournaments in exotic locales can probably just as easily be held over the Christmas holiday. And moving the Final Four would give it breathing room from baseball’s Opening Day in Major League Baseball (and, if Mazey gets his way, in college). You might need to choose between the Final Four games and the Kentucky Derby, but only for two minutes.

Do I think Zaninovich has a perfect solution? No. And perhaps it’s a solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist. If college basketball is broken – and I don’t hear too many people suggesting that it is – it’s probably not because the season starts around Veterans Day.

But Zaninovich is a Stanford man, a college hoops man, and a fellow KZSU Sports geezer who oversaw the Sixth Man Club in its heyday. A guy with that background wouldn’t steer you wrong, would he?

I like college sports. Chances are if you’re reading this, you do, too. And I will never discourage a sport from actively searching for ways to make itself better. But I’m not sure that making college sports a true year-round enterprise answers more questions than it raises. Moving college baseball to the summer doesn’t improve things. Moving college basketball up a month? It may be time for that discussion.

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