How to fix college baseball

CLEMSON – The Clemson-South Carolina baseball series is one of the more intense and underrated college rivalries in any sport. The series is so big Bill Murray showed up and briefly walked in the pressbox during the Game 1 of the series last year (Marzilli’s diving catch sealed that game). There’s a lot of passion, a lot of great players and teams to have played in this rivalry, and it renews at 6:30 tonight in Clemson.

The passion has given us classic moments like Ray Tanner’s bat-gate rant of 2011 (See the 3:31 mark where your’s truly sets the spark)

I’d love to see the fan/media interest and passion in this series be copied in other regular-season meetings across the country. College baseball should be more popular.

Why isn’t it?

*Entire regions of the country (The Northeast and Midwest — places where pro baseball trumps football in some markets like St. Louis and Boston) are not relevant in the sport due to weather.

*The game is not diverse enough. Fewer than 3% of rosters contain African-American players. How can this be? Particularly in the South? A lot of tweener guards and football players could be great baseball players.

*The college game uses different bats, different balls, and it changes the game. We’ve had too much offense at times, now we have too little. The game needs consistency.

*College players don’t go straight to the top pro level, so that lessens the interest to a degree.

If I was the czar of college baseball for a day — I’m a 1/4 Russian so I like the czar role – this is what I’d do:

Increase scholarships

NFL teams only require 53-man rosters to get through a 16-game season. But for some reason FBS programs require 85 scholarships (Nick Saban needs even more). Baseball splits 11.7 scholarships over 35-man rosters. Even the stars are on partial scholarships in baseball.

The NCAA could improve its baseball product by reducing football scholarships to FCS levels – 63 and allot eleven of those 22 saved scholarships to baseball.

The quality of the product would improve because it would draw better athletes into the game, some athletes today now chose football or basketball over baseball because they can get a free ride. It would entice more young people to play baseball. It would result in a better product and better television ratings and more cash for the game.

Adopt the minor-league ball

You might be surprised to learn the college ball is much different than the professional ball. The seams are raised which creates more drag on flyballs and the core is softer. It results in less offense. Jack Leggett is leading a push to adopt the minor league ball and it makes a lot of sense. Leggett correctly notes that most sports – like college football – are trying to increase offense, so should college baseball.

I’d love to see wooden bats adopted, too, (I’m surprised MLB doesn’t subsidize this so it can better evaluate prospects) but without financial support that probably wouldn’t happen.

Push back and shorten the season

A big issue with college baseball is that only Southern and Western teams are relevant because the Northeast and Midwest are often under six inches of snow in February.

College baseball doesn’t need 60-plus game seasons.

Trim 10 games from the schedule, start the season in mid-March to give more conferences and programs a chance at being relevant, which should broaden the fan base.

Recruit internationally

We see college basketball dip into international markets, often for big men. Why doesn’t college baseball look to the Dominican and Japan for prospective players? The game is growing in popularity – the 2009 World Baseball Classic finale was the sixth most watched sporting even in the world that year. College baseball should try to ride this wave. Create and recruit from tournaments and showcases abroad.

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