Though he has not had an opportunity to read all the way through the 35-page proposed “New Baseball Model,” a panel of five Power 5 coaches assembled for the American Baseball Coaches Association and the NCAA’s Division I Council, Monte Lee sees a lot of ways in which it can help the college game.
As DI Baseball.com first reported on Thursday, the Power 5 coaches are asking the NCAA to look at and consider the proposal as a new structure for college baseball to help the sport continue to grow and continue with its momentum of popularity from the last decade. The model proposes the start of the season be pushed back a month, starting in 2022.
“There are a lot of positives that come out of this proposal,” Clemson’s head coach told The Clemson Insider on Friday.
According to the proposal, the season would not begin until March 18. Of course, that will lead to conference tournaments being pushed back a month and ultimately with the NCAA Regionals not starting until July 1 and the College World Series on July 15. The Championship Series would run July 23-25.
“Starting the season later, whether it is mid-March, like the proposal lays out, or just pushing the season back a little bit, I think does three things that are critical for the success of college baseball and will make it better,” Lee said.
Those three things, according to Lee, give baseball programs an opportunity for more financial stability, helps with the overall student-athlete’s welfare and it aids in academic success for student-athletes.
“You have a chance to play in warmer weather earlier in the season,” Lee said. “Anytime you get a time to play college baseball in warmer weather, you are going to get more fans at the games. If you notice, when you look at our schedules over the last few years, there is a reason why the first three weeks of the season we are playing Friday night games and mid-week games at four o’clock in the afternoon.
“It’s cold. The fan experience is not as good when you are playing in 40-degree weather. That’s the number one priority for me. We get a chance to move the season back a little bit where we are playing in better baseball weather, which is going to get more fans in the seats across the country, which is going to promote college baseball.”
It also gives baseball a season that will not overlap college basketball. Lee pointed out that when baseball and basketball play on the same day, it is the baseball program that has to make accommodations to the schedule, so it does not affect attendance and from a staffing standpoint.
“A lot of people that work in the press box with video and replay, a lot of those folks are pulling double-duty,” he said. “Just from a season standpoint, it gives you more of a chance to have three separate seasons of football, basketball and now baseball.
“We have a chance for our fan base and fan bases across the country to focus on baseball.”
The warmer weather not only helps with attendance, which automatically helps with the bottom line, but it also helps with the players overall health. As DI Baseball reported, the panel spoke with world-renowned orthopedic surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, on some of their calls.
With the season starting four weeks later, it allows coaches to have more time to get pitchers ready for the season, which would decrease the number of arm injuries they experience now. In recent years, Clemson has lost several pitchers, including Spencer Strider and Jacob Hennessy, to arm injuries before the season has even begun.
“There is a lot of data and stats behind arm injuries happen early in the season when we come back. They just do,” Lee said. “We are ramping kids up, and Coach (Andrew) See and I talk about this at length, the most scared time for us as college baseball coaches is when we come back in January and we are asked to have our guys ready to play baseball the third week of January because the NCAA restricts us from being able to start team practice until three weeks before the season.
“So, when you think about that and you get three Fridays before the season starts, you have to intrasquad to start getting games because we can’t play outside competition. We have to start intrasquad and we have to expect our weekend starters to be ready to throw 45 to 50 pitches.”
Lee says the additional three weeks will allow teams to build their pitch counts and get their pitchers ready to play baseball. Right now, teams can’t really allow pitchers to throw 100 pitches in a start until the third week of a season because they do not have enough time to get them ready in the amount of time the NCAA allows.
“I think the three or four extra weeks allows you to get your team ready, physically, to the play the season,” Lee said.
Then comes the academic success it can lead, too. Though the Clemson baseball program is already one of Clemson’s most successful programs from the academic side of things, Lee says the season starting later allows players to get off to a good academic start because the first major exams they will have will come before the March 18th start.
“Our guys can ease their way into the academic semester and get off to a good start,” the Clemson coach said. “It is critical for our guys to get off to a good academic start. They get that first round of exams and tests out of the way before the season starts so that they can have that good academic base before we get into the rigors of the season.
“I think academic success is going to go up too because we would not have to ramp up our guys in the fall, either. We can start a little later in the fall and let everybody get acclimated physically to the demands of being a college baseball player and academically to the demands of being a college student.”
The only draw back from the new proposal that Lee can see at this time, comes from a funding standpoint. Not so much for major Power 5 programs, such as Clemson’s, but from those Group of 5 schools who might have a hard time funding housing and meals for students during the summer months once the spring semester has ended.
“Clemson is pretty blessed in what we are able to do for our athletes financially,” Lee said. “But there are going to be some programs at the non-Power Five level that are going to have to figure out financially, how are they going to be able to fund housing and meals after exams for an extend period of time for baseball.
“That to me is where the pushback is really going to happen.”
Over the next several months, the 35-page proposal must first get approved by the American Baseball Coaches Association before it is sent to the NCAA DI Council for final approval. Lee feels confident the ABCA will approve the proposal to be passed to the NCAA.
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