Feb. 3, 2012

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Nine Innings with Greg Van Zant

By Phil Stanton

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder

phil@collegebaseballinsider.com @roadtoomaha


Greg Van Zant enters his 18th season as head coach of the West Virginia Mountaineers and will transition the program from the Big East to the Big 12. He is second in school history with 505 baseball victories and is a two-time Big East Coach of the Year. He has had 50 players drafted or signed by major league organizations.


The Mountaineers were 28-27 this past season and tied for fourth in the Big East at 14-13. WVU reached the conference tournament for the fifth time in the past six seasons.


Coach Van Zant took time to answer our questions about West Virginia joining the Big 12.


First Inning – What was your reaction to the news of West Virginia moving to the Big 12?

We were extremely excited when we got the news that we had been invited to the Big 12 Conference. That was a memorable day for our baseball program and athletic department. We spent a good part of the day on the internet trying to gather information about the new conference. We see this as a great opportunity for us to upgrade our ballpark and program.


Second Inning – What was the reaction of your players?

Our players were equally excited. They were asking a lot of questions regarding the timing and logistics of the move. However, since that day, we have not discussed it with them because our focus is on the upcoming season in the Big East. 


Third Inning – Have you seen an effect in recruiting?

We have had a lot of positive feedback from the players that we have been recruiting. We have also had more phone calls and e-mails from prospects nationwide than we had before. The news came out too late to have much of an effect on our recruiting class for the November early signing period as most of the top prospects had already committed. However, the move to the Big 12 should open up more doors for us in the future.


Fourth Inning – Do you have concerns about travel and missed classes for conference trips?

We have always been concerned about missed classes for conference trips for our baseball players. Our players’ academic success is our highest priority. However, our missed class time will be about the same in the Big 12 as it has been in the Big East. In the Big East, we currently play nine conference weekends, four at home one year and five at home the next. We typically leave Morgantown Thursday, practice Thursday night, play Friday, Saturday, Sunday and return Sunday night. We are centrally located in the Big East so we have been able to bus to all of the sites except for Connecticut and South Florida. The conference office has scheduled us so that we fly to UConn one year and the next year to Tampa. So, we generally fly once a year in the Big East with either three or four bus trip weekends. The Big 12 will have nine schools with baseball which will mean four home weekends and four on the road. We will still leave on Thursday and return on Sunday night. The only differences are that we will fly all four weekends and our travel budget will go up. We have final exams at the beginning of May so one or two of those four trips will be after school is out and one or two trips could be scheduled during Spring Break in late March. From an educational perspective, the travel in the Big 12 is a great opportunity for our baseball players to see parts of our great country they might not otherwise ever see. Since the Division I schedule currently allows for 14 weekends of regular-season play plus weekend No. 15 for conference tournaments, we will still have six weekends of non-conference games to schedule plus mid-week games. The move to the Big 12 will only affect 24 games of our 56-game schedule.


Fifth Inning – Will it take long to establish rivalries with the Big 12 schools?

That is hard to say. Usually it takes some time to develop rivalries. However, it didn't take too long for us to develop some great rivalries in the Big East after we joined for baseball in 1996. We'll just have to wait and see. 


Sixth Inning – What will you miss most from the Big East?

The biggest thing I will miss is playing against schools coached by some of the best and most professional coaches in Division I baseball. The coaches in the Big East are a class act. All of them have a unique set of circumstances to deal with and have worked extremely hard to improve their own program and make the Big East one of the top conferences in college baseball. Moving forward, we will make every effort to schedule as many non-conference games with Big East schools as is possible.


Seventh Inning – You have long lobbied for RPI reform in college baseball. What is you opinion on the proposed RPI changes?

The proposed changes in the RPI are a step in the right direction. The Baseball Committee has recognized that there is an inherent advantage to playing at home and they have made an attempt to eliminate that advantage in the mathematical formula of the RPI. As long as we are using a mathematical formula to evaluate and rank Division I baseball teams, this formula needs to be scrutinized and reevaluated. 


Eighth Inning – What should we expect from the 2012 Mountaineers?

That is a great question. Our expectations for our team this year are currently focused on preparation and effort. We are going into the season with very little returning experience but we have a lot of energy and enthusiasm. We have one senior on the roster, return only three pitchers who pitched much for us last year and could have a new starter at every infield position and behind the plate. As a coaching staff, we expect maximum preparation and effort. Hopefully that is what we will see as the season unfolds.


Ninth Inning – Is this the most challenging non-conference schedule in your time at WVU?

Our non-conference schedule this year is going to be very challenging. If it is not our most difficult schedule ever, it is right up there at the top of the list. We will be playing on the road the first four weekends in some of the top early season tournaments in the country. We will open the season with four games at the Big East/Big Ten Challenge in Florida. Then February 24-26 we will play three games at the Baseball at the Beach Tourney at Myrtle Beach. Weekend 3 we will fly to Minneapolis and play in the Dairy Queen Classic in the Metrodome and then March 9-11 play in the inaugural Nike Showcase at Oregon and Oregon State. Including our home opening doubleheader with Niagara on March 6, we are schedule for 14 of our first 16 games on the road. We then have eight home games from March 13-20 before opening Big East play with Connecticut at home March 23. Our difficult early season schedule will give our young team a taste of what it will be like in conference play.


(photos courtesy of WVU Media Relations Office)