Though college baseball is technically a spring sport, players practice and compete in the fall, too. And those whose teams advance to the NCAA tournament’s final eight become bona fide Boys of Summer, with this year’s College World Series not concluding until June 25 or June 26.
The sport’s calendar reflects the kudzu-like creep of the playing and practice seasons in Division I. Baseball is hardly alone. College softball crowned its champion just last Tuesday. The postseasons of rowing, golf and outdoor track and field weren’t settled until June. And football players, who wrapped up a month’s worth of spring workouts in mid-April, report for preseason practice the first week of August then launch into a bruising competitive season that, for the elite, extends past New Year’s Day.
Throughout Division I, student-athletes aren’t only committing to the equivalent of a full-time job during their playing seasons. They’re increasingly making a year-round commitment, as well.
The reform-minded Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics has twice sounded an alarm, calling in 2001 and 2010 for a reduction in the number of games and length of seasons in general, singling out fall baseball as an add-on that should be dropped.
“Ever-lengthening sports seasons have a corrosive effect on student-athletes’ ability to focus on academics, and also drive up costs substantially,” the panel wrote in 2010. “Yet the pressure to extend the competitive season continues unabated.”
Nothing to see here
In the case of Division I baseball, it’s difficult to find a player, past or present, who favors fewer games.
“I don’t think it’s an unreasonable amount of games,” says former Baltimore Oriole B.J. Surhoff, 48, who played three seasons at North Carolina before being selected with the first pick in Major League Baseball’s 1985 draft.
The parent of two Division I swimmers, with a third enrolling this fall, Surhoff adds: “It doesn’t matter the sport now: They’re pretty much all basically year-round, with a fall season and a spring season.”
In the view of Virginia first baseman Jared King, playing into May and June, after exams are over, is a relief rather than a hardship.
“It’s really nice to be able to just focus on baseball,” says King, a senior who’ll travel to Omaha for the third College World Series of his career if Virginia can rally to beat Mississippi State in this weekend’s best-of-three game super regional. “The rigors of being a student-athlete at a place like this really take a toll — especially playing 60 games. So now, just being able to focus on baseball is really nice.”
Coaches aren’t lobbying for fewer games, either.