Flying Back With The Ducks?

Schools missing baseball say don't plan on it


Sept. 13, 2007

By Douglas Kroll

CSTV.com

 



DOUG KROLL

Doug Kroll is an editor for CSTV.com, focusing on baseball.
E-mail here!

When Oregon announced this July that they would be bringing baseball back to Eugene in 2009, it got some folks thinking.

 

The Ducks are one of just five schools from BCS conferences that do not field a baseball team. The other four -- Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa State and Syracuse -- and Oregon, have fielded teams in the past, but in each case, a lack of funding led to the respective athletic departments axing the programs.

 

It is just that nobody ever thought of bringing the sport back. That just doesn't happen.

 

With the success of Oregon State, it seems as if Oregon was forced to bring back the sport after the last pitch was thrown nearly 20 years ago. Add in the fact that a team like UC Irvine made it to the College World Series in 2007, only a few seasons after bringing the sport back from oblivion, and one would think others would be on the cusp of doing so as well.

 

The interest is there, but it is just too hard.

 

Wisconsin Athletic Director, Barry Alvarez, has heard the cries for baseball for years since the school got rid of the team in 1991 thanks to Title IX. And since he became the school's athletic director in 2004 after a decade and a half of being the head football coach, the voices have gotten even louder.

 

"I have some fans and alums that say some things," Alvarez said. "I happen to love baseball and have grandsons that play all summer, so I hear it a lot at little league games."

 

Former major leaguers who once called Wisconsin home include longtime reliever Paul Quantrill and Harvey Kuenn, a lifetime .303 hitter in 15 major league seasons. While the names may not jump off the page, the Badgers were not half bad.

 

Wisconsin has the sixth-most Big Ten baseball championships in the conference's history with five. While it is nowhere near Michigan's 33, they still had some good years.

 

Like all schools, though, Alvarez has to battle funding and Title IX, meaning he would have to bring aboard a women's program at the same time, just like Oregon did (competitive cheer).

 

"I was put in oversight of 23 teams, and I'm able to fund those programs at a high-level so all 23 coaches can compete and be competitive," Alvarez said. "It's not just about adding baseball. I'd have to add two sports. We don't have a diamond, and if I did that then I would have to make some adjustments with the sports that we do have, and right now I choose not to do that."

 

The same is the case at Colorado. Athletic Director Mike Bohn has seen just how important baseball is to the Boulder community. It is one of the most frequented questions he receives as Colorado stays at the NCAA minimum for sports teams.

 

"Adding sports is always something we want to do, and baseball is certainly on that list," Bohn said. "Currently, our financial situation prohibits that. I get the question all the time. It's probably one of the most frequented questions I receive."

 

One of the most famous to play at Colorado, before the program ceased in 1980, is long-time major leaguer John Stearns. Stearns, now the manager for Triple-A Columbus, still can't believe the Buffaloes don't have a program.

 

Since leaving school, Stearns spent 11 seasons in the big leagues, 10 of them coming with the New York Mets. When the season was over, he always returned home to Boulder.

 

The town he called home until a couple of years ago is a place where he thinks baseball needs to be.

 

"It's totally unacceptable and it always has been," Stearns said of the fact Colorado doesn't have baseball. "I did some research and did a whole budget for the baseball program. I researched the Texas program, University of Miami. I like Mike Bohn, and I think he might be able to bring it back if he could figure out a financial plan."

 

Stearns even went as far as to submit a financial plan to the school back in the mid-`90s, but to no avail. Falling attendance at football games means less revenue, and less revenue means an even smaller chance of bringing back sports to the campus (six others were given the boot on that fateful day in 1980).

 

"I wanted to get totally involved and endow the program," Stearns said. "I even went to university officials around 1990 with a proposal and they never responded to it. There are a couple of problems facing Colorado.

 

"Number one is, they made a big expansion of their football stadium and they have a tremendous amount of debt and they aren't selling out. Before that, the problem was gender equity. They would have to bring in a female sport in addition to baseball, which would cost even more money to the athletic department."

 

While Stearns sees it as embarrassing that his alma mater doesn't play the sport he loves, especially given the fact they are in the Big 12 Conference, he has faith in Bohn that one day he might be able to bring it back. Much more than former Athletic Director Dick Tharp and Bill Marolt who came before him. 

 

The Buffs played well in the mountains. The team never won a Big 8 title but finished second twice (1971, 1972, in Stearns' hey day). Colorado did win eight Mountain States Conference titles between 1938 and 1946, including six in a row (1938-43) and four Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference titles.

 

The perception of many fans is that the schools missing baseball don't want to play it. But that is the furthest from the truth.

 

In fact, each athletic director would do just about anything to bring back the national pastime. 

 

But like many things in life, it's all about the money. Two huge names dot the Wisconsin alumni list that have a connection to sports.

 

One is MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, and the other is Senator Herb Kohl, whose name sits on the outside of Madison's indoor arena, the Kohl Center.

 

Could they possibly help bring back the sport? 

 

"[Kohl and Selig] haven't voiced any opinion," Alvarez said of two of the school's biggest donors. "No one has come forward and said, 'I have X amount of dollars for it,' nor have I asked anybody for it."

 

Bohn, meanwhile, says that he will certainly listen to anything Stearns or others have to say about the prospect of bringing back the sport.

 

"I would certainly take a listen, and I think it's just a matter of finding the right people to fund it," Bohn said. 

 

As college baseball fans, we should cherish the fact that Oregon was able to find a way to bring back the sport. It is something that doesn't happen every year, and by looking at the others who sit in the same position the Ducks did only months ago, it may not be happening anytime soon.

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