Taking The Plunge

Presbyterian makes the jump from D-II to D-I this season

Oct. 18, 2007

By Douglas Kroll




Doug Kroll is an editor for CSTV.com, focusing on baseball.
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The state of South Carolina has become a hotbed for college baseball of late. It no longer just has two top tier teams in Clemson and South Carolina.


In fact, all one needs to do is remember last season's NCAA tournament when the Tigers traveled to the Myrtle Beach Regional as Coastal Carolina was a host site.


Talk about a changing of the guard.


The 2008 season will bring another new sense of change in the state as well, when a new team enters the Division I ranks. Presbyterian head coach Elton Pollock will lead his squad on the major jump from Division II this spring, taking the total number of D-I programs in the state to 11 -- a lot considering its size.


There are a whole lot of things that go on with a move such as this: The Blue Hose joined the Big South Conference but will not play a conference slate until the 2008-09 season, and they won't be eligible for conference and NCAA championships until the fall of 2011. This season's first full D-I schedule was a bit challenging to put together for Pollock with no conference games on the slate.


"We started on it very early and pounded it out," Pollock said of putting together his first Division I schedule. "As we got about halfway through it, we started receiving calls. It's done so far in advance at this level, compared to the Division II level, we found that guys want to play the new guys."


It then all fell into place thanks to Presbyterian's games counting towards other team's RPI. Pollock even started to receive calls once team's realized.


A nice slate should ease the Blue Hose into their first year in the big time. They have trips set to Tennessee, UAB and East Carolina among others and will welcome teams such as Marist, Yale and Charlotte to Clinton for the first time.


But there are other obvious challenges that go along with moving a program up in the ranks, and one of the biggest is recruiting.


Pollock, a former Presbyterian player and graduate, will enter his third season as the head coach, and he's never faced such stiff competition when it comes to recruiting players.


"The recruiting aspect of it is probably the most difficult," Pollock explained. "Across the board, the rules change and it's kind of difficult to make sure you stay compliant from the Division II level to the Division I. With the recruiting aspect, we now have to go out and instead of building a competitive Division II team, now you are trying to build a competitive Division I team. Now we're going after the same athletes that major Division I schools are going after, and it just makes for a huge recruiting battle, especially in the state of South Carolina."


But the aspect of trying to get the best player for the program will remain the same.


"We were going after the best kid before," Pollock said, "and we've lost out on some to Clemson in the past, or even a [South] Carolina in some cases. We pride ourselves on having a bit of a niche. We're an academic institution, a little bit smaller, and we need to find the right kid for what we offer. I'd say we're on the same recruiting field as the Furmans and the Woffords, as we're trying to find the most academically gifted and athletically gifted kids we can get."


The Blue Hose are just another school now going after the same batch of kids that have made South Carolina a prime spot for recruiting. While they may have gone after some of those kids in the past, they now have a better chance of bringing in a recruit thanks to the school's new D-I status.


The move is something that had been talked about for a long time, with Pollock even hearing rumblings of it before he took the job.


"There had been talks for a number of years," Pollock said, "but nothing definite by any stretch of the imagination. When we decided to make the move, of course it was exciting for everybody."


Rumblings may have been there all along, but there is no way that the players could have dreamed they'd be playing D-I baseball when they signed on board and arrived on campus. It's that excitement that has Pollock both ready and a little bit worried.


"While there's a lot of excitement, there is also a lot of anxiety," Pollock said of the mood surrounding his roster. "They know the level of competition is going up, and they are definitely looking forward to it. Everyone is pumped about it, and hopefully we can stay calm in the moment and just play the game. Of course, we'll play better pitching across the board, there will be a step up.


"The good thing we have is that we have a couple of Division I transfers that have been there. From a coaching aspect, we've used those guys as mentors for the young guys and the freshmen. We've got good leadership that have come from good programs all around. I want them to be excited, but at the same time, they don't get to reinvent the wheel."


It's his hope that the veterans on the roster and that handful of transfers that have played at this level can help dissipate any angst there may be when Presbyterian takes the field against UNC-Asheville on Feb. 22.


Any transition is never easy, and when you look at the Blue Hose's 18-36 record last season after playing a full D-II schedule and having not recorded a winning season since 2001 when they went 30-29, it could take some time before Presbyterian can compete at the next level.


One thing's for sure, the Big South could get a whole lot more interesting in the years to come. Four South Carolina schools will battle it out on the field, and of course, off it as well.

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