On Schlossnagle, Omaha, and the NCAA

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

TCU's head coach had some strong words for TD Ameritrade Park after a 15-inning loss to Virginia. And he was 100% right.

After his team fell to UVA in the Cavs' second walk-off win in as many CWS games, TCU's Jim Schlossnagle praised Virginia's hitters who produced a leadoff double, sac bunt, and sac fly to score the winning run. He then offered the following: "I got to be careful before I say some things about this ballpark that I'll regret, but it's just a travesty what we've done to college baseball." He added that, had his team prevailed, his criticism would have been harsher.

It would be easy to call this sour grapes--your team loses a big game, and you go straight to blaming the nature of the game. But he was lamenting the lack of offense for both teams, and the facts back him up. The last time a team scored more than five runs and lost a CWS game, it was played at Rosenblatt Stadium. Ole Miss has managed a total of three runs in two games, and they're still in town. Not to pick on the Rebels, but only one of those runs was earned.

On the radio this morning, Tim Brando brought up a tweet by another member of the media in last night's 12th inning, saying the worst thing about the situation was it would likely take a mistake by a kid to end the game. Luckily, Virginia did manage to fight their way to a truly "earned" run, but earlier in the day Texas Tech pitcher Cameron Smith found out exactly what the tweeter whose name I can't recall was talking about. In the bottom of the ninth in a 1-1 game, in which Ole Miss' lone run had also been error-assisted, Smith induced a comebacker to set up a an inning-ending double play and secure extra baseball for Tech. Smith hesitated on the throw to second, though, creating an awkward angle for when he finally did make the throw. The ball was high, floating into center field and allowing the eventual winning run to get to third base.

With the deadened bats, deadened balls, and enormous ballpark, the NCAA and the City of Omaha have managed to--not ruin, exactly, but diminish--college baseball's biggest event. The College World Series is the NCAA"s last showcase of the school year. For the two months after a champion is crowned, college sports are off the national radar completely. There are baseball fans who watch no college ball all year until the CWS--and I have to imagine those numbers are dwindling with every 2-1 and 3-2 game with no chance of a home run and no offense to speak of.

For those of us who follow college baseball throughout the season, it's even worse. The less-powerful bats and balls are ok, if not ideal, in the average college ballpark. In the 1997 CWS, Brandon Larson of LSU and Lance Berkman of Rice each came in with over 40 home runs; in a 65-game season, that's just too many. So I acknowledge that some change was needed--not only because of inflated numbers, but also because of the sheer danger of a pitcher standing only 60 feet away from guys wielding those bats.

But now, as it is wont to do, the NCAA has failed to think through its solution and over-corrected. The timing of moving the CWS from Rosenblatt to TD Ameritrade couldn't have been worse, as fly balls that would have been gappers or homers in the regular season now die in outfielders' gloves. It just makes no sense to play one game for an entire season, then change basic features of that game when it's time to crown a champion. "Congratulations!" says the NCAA. "You've proven you're one of the best chess players in the world! Now, to show you're the very best chess player in the world, beat these other guys at checkers."

It's the NCAA, so nothing will change. Yes, apparently the baseballs will have a tad more juice starting next year, which may help some. But the ballpark in which the championship is decided will remain entirely inappropriate for the college game, and--like all NCAA policies and decisions--it'll remain self defeating and stupid.

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