Dave Hickman: WVU’s Mazey still hoping to level the playing field
MORGANTOWN — Randy Mazey has pretty much redefined West Virginia baseball in less than two years.
Now he wants to redefine college baseball itself.
Oh, it’s actually not a new idea. Mazey has had it for, he figures, about five years now. But it could change the sport — or at least the balance of power within it — dramatically.
WVU’s second-year coach wants to change when the game is played. A few years ago he wrote a proposal that would essentially shift the season from late winter and spring to spring and summer. After all, that’s when everyone else plays the game, from Little Leaguers right up through professionals.
Why not colleges, too?
“I want to completely revamp the entire system,’’ Mazey said Monday. “It’s literally not fair to half the nation.’’
Indeed, that should come as something less than a news flash to anyone with even a passing interest in the game. Geography plays a role in college baseball perhaps more than in any other sport. Quite simply, warm-weather teams in the South, the Southwest and West dominate the game. Not only do they win all of the championships — the last cold-weather program to win the NCAA’s College World Series was Minnesota in 1962 — they have the best facilities, the best crowds and all the recruiting advantages.
And it’s all because of one thing. Weather.
“If you were here to see us play Ohio State or Marshall, those are really good games to come and watch. It’s really good competition. We were playing well and everybody was playing well at the time,’’ Mazey said of games played at Hawley Field last month. “And we only had a few hundred people. And there wasn’t any other reason than you have to be half out of your mind to sit through a snowstorm to watch a college baseball game.
“I’ve done a lot of research to show the benefits and advantages to playing in the summertime. I’m going to push as hard as I can for that to happen.’’
Here’s the way Mazey sees it working: Teams would start practice after spring break, third week of March or so, play through May, June and July and then the College World Series would wrap things up the first few weeks of August. That would be just before the fall semester begins.
“When I proposed this at our Big 12 coaches meetings in November there was only one team in the Big 12 against it, so several Southern schools voted for it,’’ Mazey said.
As far as gaining broad support, though, that could be tricky. For instance, why would a program in Florida or Southern California want to relinquish its climate advantage? They can begin practice outdoors in January and host games in February, many of them against schools from the North who have been reduced to indoor batting cages and are making a trip just to get games in.
“In order for it to happen, a couple of things have to happen,’’ Mazey said. “You either have to convince the coaches [at warm-weather schools], who have such an unbelievable competitive advantage, to do what’s in the best interest of the sport and not what’s in the best interests of them personally. That’s one way to do it.
“And if that doesn’t happen you have to convince somebody that there’s no way to have a vote on what’s in the best interests of college baseball with so many [partial] people making up the vote. So you have to bypass the coaches and go to somebody else who can see the bigger picture and doesn’t necessarily have a dog in the fight.’’
It’s going to be an uphill battle, though. The power base in college baseball rests in warm-weather locales. Mazey knows all about that, having spent most of his coaching career in those places.
He thinks it can be done, though.
“Well, I’m crazy enough to think I have a chance to do anything,’’ Mazey said. “When I took this job I thought I had a chance to compete with Texas and Oklahoma and draw fans here in Morgantown and get a great baseball program started. I don’t think a lot of other people believed it could happen.
“But I believed it could happen and we worked hard to make it happen. And I’ll work just as hard to see that this happens.’’
Mazey didn’t just begin thinking about this when he moved to West Virginia. Again, his original proposal dates back five years when he was on the staff at TCU. He’d never been close to the Mason-Dixon line before coming here, having played at Clemson and coached in North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas.
Still, the idea might have grown from something personal.
“I guess, selfishly, the reason I started this proposal to start with was when my little boy, Weston, was born,’’ Mazey said. “If he’s ever fortunate enough to be able to play college baseball, I don’t want his options to be limited, like mine were, to schools in the South if you want to be serious about college baseball. Hopefully, by the time he graduates from high school maybe it’ll be an even playing field for everyone across the board.’’
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.