Michigan coach Erik Bakich’s motto of “You can’t get hot if you don’t start cold” might need to change soon, should a proposal he’s spearheading to change the structure of college baseball be accepted.
The proposal, penned by Bakich and several other prominent coaches, and released on May 21, is still in its infancy and has yet to be formally presented to NCAA legislators. However, Bakich feels optimistic that it will be met with a positive response by the NCAA because Michigan Athletic Director Warde Manuel has been very supportive of his ideas.
This proposal hopes to solve many problems within college baseball, especially in the wake of COVID-19, by limiting the budget damage of an incredibly expensive program to operate and helping athletes thrive both on and off the field.
The proposal aims to push back opening day by four weeks, from mid-February to mid-March, allowing northern schools like Michigan to start their season by playing home games, instead of spending their first month on the road. This change would come with a corresponding extension four weeks later into summer — with the Men’s College World Series ending in mid-July.
This is not a new concept, and different ideas of pushing back the college baseball season have existed for years. But with the impending financial burdens due to COVID-19, this proposal not only makes sense for cold-weather schools, but for warm-weather ones as well.
A major impetus for this proposal is the large amount of money that can be saved by eliminating the early season road trips consistently taken by northern teams. Additionally, warm-weather schools won’t need to hand out hefty financial guarantees in order to make the travel feasible for the cold-weather schools.
“Athletic directors and administrators around the country have a concept of more regionalized scheduling, not just in baseball, but among a lot of teams,” Bakich said in a video press conference. “(This would help by) cutting down travel budgets, improving student welfare by not taking these long trips and jeopardizing their academics and missed class time.”
Over the last five years, Michigan spent on average $232,000 on travel costs during the first four weekends of the season. Should the proposal pass, Michigan could add eight to 12 home games each season, which would save approximately $60,000 to $75,000 per season.
“It's going to be really hard to invest in a sport that loses money every year that operates at such a significant financial net loss,” Bakich said. “And I'm not talking about a loss of 100,000 bucks. I'm talking about seven figures of net loss.”
The benefits for cold weather schools are obvious, but Bakich emphasized in the proposal how the schedule change would help warm weather schools as well. According to the data presented in the proposal, teams across the country have much higher attendance in April and May as opposed to February and March — due to both poor weather and the finale of the basketball seasons.
For Michigan, Ray Fisher Stadium rarely reaches capacity until late April and May, when students have already left and there’s only a couple more weeks left in the season. Bakich argues that even the general baseball fan and families, which make up most of the attendance at games and subsequently the revenue, don’t associate baseball season until the beginning of the MLB season.
The financial aspect of this proposal has helped it earn attention, but Bakich emphasized that Michigan players, and players across the country, stand to gain from this academically and in terms of their overall well-being.
Michigan, for example, will benefit from fewer early-season road trips because their student-athletes won’t have to miss classes and won’t have the same level of stress on their bodies from travelling.
With a pushed back start date, players will also have more time to properly condition their bodies leading up to the season, leading to fewer injuries.
“Student welfare should be enough to stand alone and make it pass,” Bakich said. “But now that you have finances attached to it that has real traction with athletic departments and athletic directors and administrators looking for ways to improve their bottom lines.”
Student-athletes would lose four more weeks of their summer with the proposed schedule, but it allows players to have a longer off-season in the fall, which would benefit their academics greatly.
The change in off-season would also affect coaches’ recruiting calendars. Coaches typically focus their recruiting efforts through the duration of the summer and many expressed their concerns about how the change in schedule would affect their recruiting ability.
However, Bakich said that the teams that make postseason runs, and thus would lose most of their summer, would actually benefit from the exposure they receive. Bakich found TV exposure was more beneficial than time spent on the recruiting trail.
Having discussed the proposal with the team’s upperclassmen, Bakich is optimistic about their response and those of other players around the country and hopes it will translate to the decision makers in the NCAA.
“(The players) were very, very excited about it, as they should be,” Bakich said. “As a cold weather team, not that we need the season moved back to have any type of success, but the idea of packing Ray Fisher stadium with a game in June… would be so awesome.”
Bakich and the other coaches that created this proposal set an aggressive timeline to implement these changes, hoping for them to be put in place before the 2022 season.