A possible shift in when the College World Series is played is one of the discussion points in ongoing talks that could lead to an unprecedented partnership between the NCAA and Major League Baseball.
But the NCAA official that has been in charge of the CWS for the past 25 years said Tuesday that he doubts the NCAA would ever agree to any drastic changes that would see the event played earlier in the year.
“There are a lot of moving parts in this discussion, and we're looking at all the options in regard to what's best for the parties involved,” said Dennis Poppe, NCAA vice president for football and baseball. “But changing the dates of the College World Series is something I just don't see happening.”
Omaha has been home to the CWS since 1950. The event returns for its second year at TD Ameritrade Park on June 15.
The NCAA and College World Series of Omaha Inc., the local sponsor, have a contract that will keep the CWS in Omaha through 2035.
Poppe said the NCAA first began talking with representatives of MLB and the players union in 2008. He said Don Fehr, former head of the union, and the late Myles Brand, the NCAA's former president, were catalysts of the talks.
“We were looking for ways to work together,” Poppe said, “and promote the game of baseball.”
Poppe said the latest talks occurred in April. Five issues were discussed: scholarships, ways to increase diversity, the calendar for the draft and the CWS, MLB's involvement in summer leagues and the use of wooden bats.
MLB would like the college season to end earlier so drafted players, if signed, could join their organizations sooner. The MLB draft this year begins June 4, 11 days before the start of the CWS.
College teams play a 56-game schedule in 13 weeks, with the season beginning the third weekend of February. Coaches say it would be almost impossible to shorten the season without sacrificing games or beginning the season earlier, which would meet with objections from schools in colder climates.
News of the discussions between the NCAA and MLB was first reported by CBSSports.com. The NCAA's point man in the talks, University of Hartford President Walter Harrison, said it could take a year or longer for an agreement to be reached because new or amended legislation might be required.
“There is a lot for us to explore as an association,” Harrison said. “The one principle we have is that we want to be completely true to the core values of amateur collegiate baseball. I want to be cautious about whether this will happen or not. These are concepts at the moment.”
Nebraska coach Darin Erstad and Creighton's Ed Servais, whose teams met Tuesday night at TD Ameritrade, were aware talks were being conducted and expressed general support.
“I've just heard some of the preliminary stuff,” said Erstad, who played 14 seasons in the major leagues. “I think any type of agreement that they could do to help each other, I'm all for that.
“It would be a fantastic way to go, and I know they would have the best interests at heart for the kids and baseball in general. I'm excited to see that they're working together.”
Servais said he would like to see a partnership grow to where MLB uses college baseball in similar fashion to how the NFL and the NBA use college football and basketball.
“I don't know how serious the discussions are, but I think it would be outstanding,” Servais said. “I've heard that they would help supplement our programs and give us more scholarship money. That would be a positive.”
At least one college coach has reservations about becoming beholden to MLB.
“Usually when you provide money to someone,” North Carolina coach Mike Fox told the Associated Press, “you want something in return.”
Hartford's Harrison said he could see similar arrangements occurring in other sports that generally produce no revenue for colleges. He said the PGA might one day help fund collegiate golf.
Harrison said additional meetings between the groups have not been set.
Harrison said the most dramatic proposal would have MLB fund one full scholarship at each Division I program. A possibility, he said, is that a program would have to already provide a full allotment of 11.7 scholarships to be eligible for the extra one. MLB stipulated that the scholarship could be awarded to only one player, rather than splitting it.
Harrison said the reason for awarding a full scholarship is that it would potentially attract economically disadvantaged minorities who might quit playing baseball in hopes of earning a full scholarship for basketball or football. MLB has been particularly concerned about the decrease in the number of African-American players in the big leagues.
African-American players made up 5 percent of Division I baseball players last season, according to the NCAA. The percentage of African-Americans in the major leagues was 8.8 percent on opening day this year, according to the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.
Harrison said the proposal would give MLB no say in who receives the scholarship.
There is no official estimate of how much it would cost MLB to fund scholarships. However, if 150 of the 291 Division I programs met the criteria, and the average one-year scholarship was valued at $20,000, the cost would be $3 million.
College coaches for years have complained that the baseball scholarship limit is too low. Their calls for an increase have been stymied, in part, by gender-equity issues. An increase in baseball scholarships could require a similar increase in a women's sport to comply with Title IX guidelines.
College teams have been using metal bats since the mid-1970s, mainly to reduce costs. Improvements in technology produced dramatic — some would say out of whack — offensive results in the 1990s, but the NCAA has legislated restrictions on bats in recent years. That has led to a reduction in offensive production.
“I think some of us might fight wood bats a little bit,” Servais said. “I would think MLB has to be pleased with the bat now in that it's very similar to wood.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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