Change is in the air for Big Ten women's softball, and it's something Minnesota coach Lisa Bernstein seems excited about.
After 14 consecutive seasons with an end-of-the-year conference tournament and the 15th scheduled this May, the Big Ten has elected to drop the tournament to allow for a more spread out schedule next year, Bernstein said and Big Ten officials confirmed.
It doesn't make sense to keep it according to Bernstein, as she said it just doesn't serve a real purpose anymore.
"The big deal about the Big Ten Tournament used to be that there was a lot of pageantry involved," she said. "In the last couple of years, teams wouldn't even cross paths, so it was a lot of money and last minute expense, and it didn't really even help teams get into the NCAA tournament as the years went on."
With the change, conference softball will now start a week earlier and the season will extend through where the tournament would have been, allowing games to become more evenly spaced.
Instead of having to play four games split between two different schools in a three-game weekend, teams will instead only have to focus on one team each weekend. Bernstein called this a huge plus.
"Anyone that's traveled this Big Ten schedule where you're going from Penn State to Ohio State on a Saturday night, getting in at midnight and playing a doubleheader the next morning knows it's brutal," she said. "It'll be nice to play everyone in a two-game series now. I think it's a good idea all the way around."
One apparent drawback would be the possibility, in the event of a rainout, that a team wouldn't have an opportunity to play another team with the conference tournament out of commission, but with the new schedule, even that chronic problem may dissipate.
By playing just two games over a three-day weekend, schedules will become a little more flexible, allowing for makeup games should one day be rained (or snowed) out.
But senior outfielder Colleen Powers had another idea to help safeguard games from being canceled.
"I'd like to be able to play on a field that's not necessarily a Big Ten site," she said. "I feel like even though sometimes the field conditions here may be bad, it might be sunny and beautiful down in Mankato, and we'd have an opportunity to go down and get those games in."
Bernstein took that one step further, suggesting that softball should move to being a fall sport. Fall generally has less rain and snow, and a season ranging from August to November would benefit teams currently facing springtime snow in the North, she said.
Freshman shortstop Brianna Sudenga jumped on that idea.
"It can be refreshing playing in the cold sometimes, but here it gets too cold," she said.
But Bernstein said, and Sudenga echoed that this pipe dream would never happen. Bernstein instead decided to move on to a new goal.
"There is a push by teams in the North to move the schedule back a bit, because this is ridiculous," she said referring to bad weather that has plagued the Twin Cities this season. "We're going to try to act like its fun to be out here when it's 85 degrees in Tucson."
Regardless of these new ideas, one thing is certain: For better or worse, following the end of this season, the Big Ten Tournament will be history.
And considering that the Gophers haven't qualified for the tournament since 2004, Minnesota and its fans really won't notice a difference unless the Gophers can grab a spot this year.
But Powers had bigger plans than just making this last tournament.
"This is a great opportunity for Minnesota to go down in the record books," she said. "We can grab that last tournament championship."
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