MAILBAG! College baseball, CUSA Expansion and more:
Good morning, and thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points.
Due to travel, we were sadly not able to record a second Going For Two podcast today. Instead, I'll give you a quick mailbag of questions I've gotten via Discord, Twitter and email. If you have a question, you can always shoot me a line at [email protected]
I'll return to Chicago on Tuesday morning, and will do my best to sniff out some interesting stories here in New Orleans for the next few days.
@MattBrownEP Will CUSA move from 9 to 12 or stand pat?
— Benton Quest (@DDTWoodlands)
Mar 31, 2022
I believe the increase in CUSA related questions comes from this recent tweet, by my old SB Nation colleague Steven Godfrey:
FWIW C-USA has been in talks with a fresh round of expansion candidates from FCS for weeks https://t.co/cR6T7rz72q
— Steven Godfrey (@38Godfrey) March 30, 2022
In the spirit of Godfrey's excellent podcast Split Zone Duo (one of the inspirations for Extra Points), let me talk about this using the therapy words, like I Think, I Feel and I Know. (
I know that many FCS programs that expressed interest in Conference USA last fall remain interested in potentially joining the league. Those schools include but are not necessarily limited to McNeese State, Tarleton State, and Eastern Kentucky.
I know that the industry sources I've spoken to do not believe Conference USA will formally invite any program without the league presidents feeling as if they have additional clarity on how FBS will be organized post-Transformation Committee, or what FBS/FCS call-up regulations will be. I am told that if those changing requirements create an incentive to reclassify as fast as possible, or if they make FCS football less financially viable, the list of FCS programs potentially interested in Conference USA could grow.
I can't specifically confirm that Conference USA has had any formal conversations or done any formal site visits with any FCS schools, although that doesn't mean it hasn't happened. Backchannel conversations happen all the time about realignment, and every D-I league that knows it could face defections may use those back channels to keep potential replacements 'warm', as it were.
Industry sources have told me that they have not heard anything change re: Conference USA and McNeese or Tarleton...but I couldn't get any confirmation specifically ruling out Eastern Kentucky. Might be something. Might be nothing.
This is all a long way of saying that I don't think Conference USA will be at nine schools forever. In the near future, it could be a ten-team league. It could be a twelve-team league. Hell, maybe two schools leave and the whole thing falls apart.
If I had to file an educated guess, which again, is a guess, and not formal reporting, I would say that Eastern Kentucky would be the most likely FCS school to get an invite.
I'll do another update on mid-major realignment next week, once where I can share stuff that's a bit more concrete.
@MattBrownEP Given our country's love of baseball, why isn't college baseball bigger or given as much attention as basketball? I know CFB is king, But in a lot of these same areas where football rules, there are a lot of really good baseball players and teams as well. Was it ever a big deal?
— Major (@MajorArschloch)
Mar 28, 2022
Great question! I think there are two big reasons.
The first one is the weather. College baseball season starts in mid-February. In places like Phoenix, or San Diego, or Miami, it's perfectly lovely outside then, but in much of the country, the weather absolutely sucks, which is why northern teams spend much of the first month + of the season on the road.
A handful of programs have built real fanbases and consistent success, despite lousy weather...schools like Louisville, UConn and Michigan. But north of Nashville, that's hard to do. I love college sports, but here in Chicago, it's like, 46 degrees and gross most of the time. I don't want to sit in the slush to watch Northwestern for three hours, no matter how much free stuff they give away.
Here in Chicago, you can't really guarantee you're going to have nice weather until May...and for local programs, that might mean only five or six games.
The other problem, honestly, is administrative time and resources. The ugly truth is, college baseball is not a major priority among most D-I athletic departments because most D-I athletic departments are already unstaffed and do not have the capacity or political will to engage in major strategic planning programs that may not pay off for years.
Believing baseball (or volleyball, or softball, or other sports) could take off and eventually become revenue drivers or anchors of campus culture is one thing...but how many people believe that so much they're willing to spend time that they could be spending on football, basketball, NIL or development?
Not as many. This is why that true leadership role has fallen more on coaches.
Could it grow more? Sure. Minor league baseball teams are being cut, management at MLB acts like they hate baseball, and we've seen proof of concept in plenty of college markets. If you take the product seriously, invest in it, build a good experience for your students, and play when it's at least 55 and sunny, people will come.
In my opinion, they'll also come for a bunch of other stuff that isn't baseball, but that's for another newsletter.
@MattBrownEP Does the new look Missouri Valley have a chance to continue the conferences ability to get multiple bids to the NCAA Tournament?
— NCAA Sports Updates (@NCAASportsUpda1)
Mar 28, 2022
Sure, I certainly think so. Losing Loyola hurts, of course, but I think the league did a solid job reloading. Belmont and Murray State have been two of the most consistently strong mid-major programs in the country, and both bring passionate fans and invested institutions. Those two have the capability of being Top 100 NET programs often.
Beyond that, plenty of other MVC programs have produced individual teams that have competed at a high level, and with the right coaching staff, I see no reason why a Missouri State, or Illinois State, OR Drake, couldn't be in that conversation too.
The league will certainly want to see improvement from UIC and Evansville to help shore up the computer metrics, but structurally, I think they're still in a good place. They have good brands with good fanbases and institutions that care about basketball. Being in the conversation for two bids is an attainable goal I think.
@MattBrownEP On the podcast you had mentioned the large amounts of money SEC and B1G are expected to make and how SEC could add a sport (you used Lax as an example) and do well. Could you see/ do you know of SEC schools who want to add a sport like hockey?
— Matt (@Mattharrismatt1)
Mar 28, 2022
Not that I know of, although I will admit to not being the deepest sourced in the college hockey world (yet). The problem with college hockey, sadly, is that it is REALLY expensive to start, and few P5 programs have been able to do that without securing a massive outside donation. I have no doubt that if an SEC program decided they wanted D-I hockey, they could find the resources to do it, but I don't think there's enough evidence that the NHL, USA Hockey, or any other entity would really meaningfully help them do that, absent a donor driving the bus.
Essentially...if Illinois, a school close to lots of quality hockey recruits, in a hockey state, and with massive TV monies and a stated interest in starting a program...hasn't been able to figure this out, I'm not sure how Georgia would all by themselves, you know?
Lacrosse, wrestling, soccer, and others have much smaller start-up costs in facilities, labor, and equipment. If the SEC (or Big Ten) wanted to make any of those a bigger priority, they easily could. But it's more likely that the majority of surplus revenues would just go back to football, rather than starting any new men's sports.
@MattBrownEP Why does division 2 exist for football? I get why D1 FBS/FCS and D3 exist but why does D2 exist, where you have scholarships but little to no media attention/large fan bases. Wouldn’t it make more sense to just have scholarship football and non scholarship football?
— majestic seabass (@MajesticSeabass)
Mar 28, 2022
You're not the first person to ask me this.
Part of it comes down to the type of institutions that commonly make up D-II and D-III. There are exceptions, of course, but typically, your D-II schools are more likely to be regional public schools or private colleges that target less-elite high school students. Think smaller bible colleges, schools that serve first-generation students, etc.
Your typical D-III school, again, with exceptions, is much more likely to be a private school that targets a more elite student, both academically...and financially. There's a lot of class snootiness between leadership at the two levels.
So given how different these schools are, it would make sense that they might have different visions for college athletics. Without any sort of scholarship, it'd simply be harder for some D-II schools to fill out their rosters, whereas Case Western Reserve doesn't really need a football team.
Lots of D-II schools are still playing to primarily help with student recruitment and retention, just like D-III, but the strategies have to be different. Nobody really needs the big TV deal, or even the jam-packed stadium, to make it work.
But if the cost dynamic changes in a significant way in the near future, you could very much see some D-II schools decide to either go all-in on D-I, or potentially pursue lower-cost options in D-III or the NAIA.
Extra Points publishes five days a week, but free subscribers only get editions on Monday and Friday. Our full subscribers got a historical look at Duke's coaching search before the hired Coach K (which involved their head coach ALSO coaching at South Carolina at the same time?), a breakdown of what constitutes a blue-blood school, and a deeper look at some of the significant risks with NIL collectives that have nothing to do with the NCAA or IRS.
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