Big Ten baseball… in the summer?

Recently, veteran Big Ten baseball coach John Anderson from the University of Minnesota floated the idea of changing the NCAA Division I baseball season – at least for schools in his conference. Coach Anderson proposes playing the Big Ten season during the summer. This would essentially eliminate the Big Ten schools from consideration for the NCAA Regionals and ultimately the College World Series. However, Coach Anderson states “There were four SEC teams in the College World Series last year. We’re never going to catch those people. The system works for them and they’re not going to want to change it.”

The resulting questions that arise from this proposal are many. Let’s look at a few of them:

Would Big Ten schools (and other northern climate schools that might follow suit) suffer in their recruiting?

They probably would, but how much? Under Coach Anderson’s idea, players would not be pursuing “The Road to Omaha.” The inability to have that as a goal if attending a Big Ten school might steer recruits elsewhere. Also, would the staffs of those schools be hampered in their recruiting by playing through June and July and possibly August instead of attending showcase events and travel ball tournaments?

On the other hand, they could envision playing in great summer weather in front of large crowds of families and fans looking for inexpensive family outings in June and July, instead of playing in February and March in cold and wet conditions in front of a handful of family members. Big Ten teams would also gain exposure by having more games televised by the Big Ten Network, allowing families to see more of their son’s games when they couldn’t attend in person. Also, players might choose to take a class or two during the summer since they would be on campus anyway, perhaps allowing them to graduate on time, or earlier, to get started with their post-college career.

How would Big Ten coaches address the concerns of players who might feel like they are never away from campus?

They would have their regular academic year commitment to classes and to games (although the season would start later in the spring), and in addition, would be committed to their team during the summer. A possible positive aspect of a Big Ten “April to August” schedule, however, might be that the players would have more time in the Fall semester to experience college as a normal student and not have so many hours during the Fall committed to practice. Might the players be intrigued by being on more of a professional baseball type of season by starting practice in February?

How would summer baseball in the Big Ten affect the athletic scholarship renewal process?

NCAA rules require that all student-athletes receiving athletic scholarships be informed by July 1 each year whether or not their athletic scholarship will be renewed for the following year. Would players who have their scholarship reduced or not renewed quit the team as soon as they are informed? They would probably question why they should be loyal to their team through the rest of the summer. Would their requests for permission to talk to other schools be denied as “punishment” for considering such a thing in the “heart” of the Big Ten season?

Could a summer season enhance the appeal of early enrollment for high school recruits?

Might some high school prospects consider graduating from high school at midyear to enroll at their chosen university for the spring semester? If the Big Ten season starts in April rather than February, does this appeal to a recruit with the thinking that they can come in and get three months of practice in before the start of the season? In addition to this possible appeal, an athlete in this situation could complete an additional semester of college before being drafted after their junior year.

What about the effect of the MLB draft on Big Ten players and teams under this scenario?

Big Ten players drafted in June following their junior year would likely be pressured by the teams that draft them to report to their short-season team soon after signing. The player would then have to decide between competing for their college team that summer and risk angering the club that drafted them or leaving their college team in the middle of their final college season.

It will be interesting to see what further discussions result from this idea.

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Rick Allen is the founder of Informed Athlete (www.informedathlete.com), a website created to educate, advise and assist families of high school and college student-athletes on issues related to athletic recruiting, academic eligibility, transfer issues and financial aid rules. He has 30 years of NCAA compliance experience at the University of Illinois, Oklahoma State University, and as a consultant with college athletic departments. He started Informed Athlete with his wife in 2008.