The NCAA is considering new rules that could benefit Northern college baseball teams, including Minnesota.
Colleges in the South are currently able to start their baseball seasons earlier than teams in the North because of weather conditions. But the NCAA might establish a consistent start date for all teams.
"You have to level the playing field," University baseball coach John Anderson said. "You can't have some people start at the end of January and other people start at the end of March."
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney has helped lead the push for a balanced starting date, Anderson said. Delaney told The NCAA News that competitive equity in college baseball is an "oxymoron."
"It's kind of crazy that in the most weather-sensitive sport that there's no start date," Delaney told The NCAA News.
The NCAA has also discussed extending the end of the season to allow Northern teams to play more games in warm weather.
Anderson and University Athletics Director Joel Maturi said the proposed changes could help Minnesota qualify for the College World Series for the first time since 1977.
"I think it's a no-brainer for teams in the North I think for teams in the North to be nationally competitive at the top level, it has to change," Maturi said.
Although the Gophers have won three consecutive Big Ten regular season championships, Maturi said it is difficult for the team to compete outside the conference.
"We've had great teams in comparison to our competition (in the Big Ten), but when was the last time we got beyond the NCAA regional?" he said. "I don't say that critically because the success (Anderson) has is phenomenal considering the barriers he's up against. It's a tough nut to crack."
Some Northern universities have dropped their baseball programs because they cannot compete, Anderson said. The NCAA needs to change the rules or risk losing more teams, he said.
"If they don't, you're going to see more Wisconsin and Iowa States drop their programs," Anderson said. "Because you don't have the same chance as the Southern schools to get access to the NCAA tournament, draw people, play at home and generate income."
The Big Ten was a dominant conference in baseball in the 1960s and 1970s, Anderson said. But over time, the rules have changed to favor the Southern schools, he said.
"They've taken our game and gotten the advantages, and we've allowed them to do it," Anderson said. "The last 30 years, there's obviously been a big difference in terms of the competitiveness around the country."
The inequality in college baseball is similar to that in Major League Baseball, Anderson said. Southern universities, like professional teams with high payrolls, such as the New York Yankees, have an advantage before the season starts, he said.
"If you allow people to keep gaining advantages, then before the season even starts, you know who's going to win or at least has a pretty good chance to win," he said.
The Gophers play some games early in the year at the Metrodome, giving the team an advantage few Northern teams enjoy, Anderson said.
"It's the only reason that we've still been somewhat competitive," he said. "Without it? No way. Impossible.
"That's one of the reasons why we've been able to hang in there. Without it we'd have a much more difficult time, especially as far north as we are compared with even other schools in our own league."
Maturi said University officials continue to meet with Metropolitan Sports Facility Commission officials about using the Metrodome for the majority of the Gophers' home games next year.
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