Schwartz: Looking Beyond the Money for B1G Baseball

June 4, 2017

Written by David Schwartz

Hawkeye Nation

From 2008 through 2014 I had this habit of suggesting to my students that they investigate whether the Big Ten Conference should keep baseball.

I built my argument around three ideas:

1. Financial: Big Ten baseball wasn’t profitable. It had neither the television package nor the attendance to even come close to breaking even. This problem is compounded by Midwest weather during early spring. It’s cold and wet. Hardly baseball weather, which means Big Ten baseball teams have to hand over even more cash just so they can fly someplace warm where they can get in some games, especially during the early part of the season.

2. Success: Rather, the lack thereof. In the overall list of appearances made in the College World Series, all the Big Ten teams combined rank less than a single successful, warm-weather college program. Universities in California have made 80 College World Series appearances. That’s the most of any state. California is followed by Texas, Florida, Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina.

Since Omaha, Nebraska, began hosting the College World Series in 1950, a Big Ten team has reached the event only 20 times. That’s 20 times in nearly 70 years. When Indiana advanced in 2013, it marked the first time a Big Ten team had reached the College World Series since Michigan in 1984. (Nebraska, Penn State and Rutgers have reached a combined nine times, all before they joined the Big Ten.)

3. Tradition is overrated: Whenever I turned into a doofus at a bar and made someone listen to my “kill Big Ten baseball” idea, invariably that poor someone would tell me it was a bad idea not because of the cost or the record, but because it’s baseball. America’s pastime. How can an American university not field a baseball team? Such an idea is sacrilege!

To which I’d say, meh. The NFL passed baseball in TV ratings in the mid-1960s and never looked back. We can’t be sentimental. Know what else is an American pastime? Knowing when to cut our losses.

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So, let’s review. Big Ten schools are cold and rainy and their baseball teams have to fly 1,000 miles in an airplane just to be able to get in a game before April, and even when they do finally get to play, they’re almost never good enough to reach the College World Series, which is the whole point of playing. Plus, the only argument one can make on behalf of Big Ten baseball is, “Yeah, but baseball was huge in the early 20th century.”

So I thought, “Do the responsible thing, Big Ten. Spike baseball.” The money spent on facilities, scholarships, equipment and travel would be better spent on funding academic scholarships for students aspiring to be chemists or engineers or English teachers or agronomists. And this was coming from me, a schlub from St. Louis, a community where baseball is so popular that a baby’s first Cardinals game is as important as her Baptism.

A few years ago I stopped trying to get my students to write the story. They’d listen to me, smile politely, and go back to writing about something more sane. A teacher can always tell when he’s not being listened to.

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But here’s the deal: They were right. I was wrong. If this run that Iowa baseball has been on the last few weeks has shown us anything, it’s that baseball can be more than a fun way to kill three hours.

It can also salvage what otherwise has been a mediocre academic year for Iowa athletics. Seriously, how fun is this? Sure, the Hawkeyes lost, 3-2, to Texas A&M late Saturday night, but it’s still been a heck of a ride.

Before this run, what was your most positive memory of 2016-17 Hawkeye sports? I’ll remember the freshmen duo of Tyler Cook and Jordan Bohannon, Akrum Wadley’s ascent, and Megan Gustafson filling up box scores night after night.

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They’re all individuals. All team players, no doubt, but they were memorable for their individual performances. This team – this Iowa baseball team – is the most captivating Hawkeye team of this academic year and the most captivating overall since men’s hoops beat Temple at the buzzer in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

So, don’t do it Big Ten. Don’t listen to me. Keep baseball. Keep it forever so we can keep having moments like these.

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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