How the Big Ten Stole Baseball: A Diatribe Against the Uniform Start Date

College baseball season is underway!

Well, college baseball season is sort of underway . . . Division II and Division III schools already are taking to the diamond, but those of us who are fans of Division I schools must wait for another three weeks.

Why is this, you may ask? It is because of the uniform start date adopted by the N.C.A.A. beginning in 2008. The proposal, which prevented teams in such hospitable climes as the Sun Belt and the West Coast from beginning their seasons as soon as the relatively mild winter weather would allow, came from the Big Ten, which considered itself at a competitive disadvantage due to the baffling decision of its member institutions to construct their college campuses in places where the climate in January is fit for neither man nor beast.

I, of course, have no sympathy for them. They chose to live in proximity to the Great Lakes, and I know they know how to find their way to places with more pleasant climatic conditions, because I see their license plates southbound on I-75 every Christmas. For years, we heard how major league baseball couldn’t flourish in the South---my grandfather was a St. Louis Cardinals fan when the Cardinals were the closest thing we had to a Southern team in the major leagues---because it was too hot; now we’re hearing how Big Ten baseball can’t thrive because it’s too cold. Where is global warming now that we need it?

The Big Ten whined that the earlier start date enjoyed in the livable regions of the country gave Pac-10, Southeastern, and Texan teams a leg up on the Midwest, so, starting last year, the playing field was leveled and everyone had to sit around and wait until Michiganders could clear the icicles out of the dugouts enough for the rest of us to yell, "Play ball!"

The result of the new level playing field? Why, that would be a College World Series bracket consisting of Florida State, Fresno State, Georgia, Louisiana State, Miami (Florida), North Carolina, Rice, and Stanford. Yep, it had to have been the start date. That must have been it, for sure. Make ‘em start late on the Pacific Coast, in the Lone Star State, and in the Deep South, and the Big Ten cream will rise to the top.

No harm, no foul, though, right? It’s nothing to get bent out of shape over, is it? Actually, yeah, it is, for this reason:

Georgia will play 30 games against 2008 NCAA Tournament teams including a series at Arizona during the second weekend of the season. In addition to a 30-game SEC slate, the Bulldogs have annual home-and-home tilts against Clemson and Georgia Tech.

"We scaled down a little bit," [David] Perno said. "I knew last year was going to be an experienced team and one of the toughest things this program has been faced with is the inability to do it in consecutive years. In all our history of Georgia baseball, we’ve only been to the postseason in back-to-back-years once. That was 2001 and 2002. That is something that is important to this team and to me personally. That is what pushed me to scale back the schedule a little bit. It’s still going to be good because we get tested at Arizona and we still have the Clemson series. We still have three with Georgia Tech and we have a good Winthrop team coming in here."

There’s no question that Coach Perno’s decision was a sound one. The condensed schedule necessitated by the uniform start date drew many legitimate criticisms from Big West, Mountain West, and Pac-10 coaches last year. The constriction of the allowable period for playing games required the Diamond Dogs to play 30 games in a six-week span, which clearly hurt them down the stretch and heading into Hoover. Declining to duplicate that wearying grind was a shrewd move on Coach Perno’s part.

The problem is that such a choice never should have been faced in the first place. If I was a fan of, say, U.C. San Diego and this site were called "Triton Sports," you would see a writeup here tomorrow evening detailing the team’s season-opening baseball game against San Diego Christian College, for which the first pitch is slated for 11:00 a.m. Pacific time on Sunday morning. (What a Christian college is doing playing a baseball game at 11:00 a.m. on a Sunday, when the players ought to be in church, is another matter altogether, but stay with me here.)

While I am a staunch opponent of adding a playoff to Division I-A college football, I concede the reasonableness of at least one (O.K., exactly one) of the playoff proponents’ arguments. If the other N.C.A.A. divisions can do it, it’s silly to assume that the highest division in the N.C.A.A. can’t do it, too.

Why, then, do we refuse to apply that same unassailable logic to college baseball? If a Division II school like U.C. San Diego can put its team on the field on Super Bowl Sunday, why should a Division I school like Texas have to wait until a week after Valentine’s Day? Wisconsin-Whitewater will wait until February 26 to begin its baseball schedule, but that in no way prevented fellow Division III contender Chapman (Calif.) from getting three games under its belt before the end of January. Why, then, should Division I teams in the Golden State be forced to kill time until upper-level teams in the Midwest are prepared to play?

Simply stated, the uniform start date is a load of manure. If it’s too cold to play baseball in Ohio in January, well, that’s just too dadgum bad for Ohio, isn’t it? You can play indoors. You can move. You can drop baseball from the list of athletics teams you field. You can try to find other ways to gain competitive advantages. You can get used to losing.

Robbing the rest of us of the amount of college baseball to which we had grown accustomed, though, is worse than taking your ball and going home; it’s forcing the rest of us to set aside our ball and stay home when we ought to be out playing baseball the way nature intended.

The Diamond Dogs open their season at Foley Field three weeks from now. If, between now and February 20, you find yourself wishing you could be enjoying watching the defending S.E.C. champion Georgia baseball club playing already, as the Bulldogs previously would have been, well, you can thank the Big Ten for extending the offseason.

This is all the more reason to keep kicking the crap out of Ohio State in bowl games. The uniform start date is a bunch of garbage.

Go ‘Dawgs!

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