Kevin Cooney

Kevin Cooney has spent 20 seasons as head coach at Florida Atlantic University. He has compiled more than 700 victories with the Owls and more than 850 wins in his 24-year career as a head coach. Cooney has spent the past five seasons offering his thoughts on baseball - and other things - for Cooney's Owls finished their first season in the Sun Belt Conference at 36-22 in 2007.




February 1, 2008

Livin' in the Future


Don't worry Darlin',
Now baby don't you fret
We're livin' in the future and
None of this has happened yet

Livin' in The Future- Bruce Springsteen (Magic)

February 1st is an historic date in the history of college baseball. For the first time ever, all college baseball teams will start practice on the same day. The NCAA has mandated this common starting date in response to the efforts of conferences from the northern part of the country who maintain that southern schools have enjoyed an unfair advantage in starting practice and games well before their counterparts on the frozen tundra.

This landmark legislation is just one of a number of changes to the college game which will be implemented this season, few of them good.

Let's look at the common starting date and think about its ramifications.

In past years, this weekend would have seen northern schools playing the first of three weekends at warm weather sites. Their opponents may have played some games prior to their arrival. We often had played a number of games before our weekend opponent had competed.

How big an advantage is that? I've coached on both sides of this issue. At Montclair State, we would arrive in Florida, an excited, but very pale group, anxious to get our season in gear. I remember the enthusiastic play of those first games, as we worked to get acclimated to the bounce of a ball off dirt and grass, rather than a gym floor and Astroturf.

To be honest, it didn't take long.

After arriving at FAU, I became a "southern coach" who would now benefit from the advantage I once fought. But the truth is not always has obvious as it seems.

Many nights our opponent would be fresh and full of the optimism that is so much a part of the start of a new season. None of those guys were in a slump, few were injured, and hardly any yet hated their coach. My guys were sometimes going through all of those factors, particularly the last one.

All kidding aside, I think there is truly an advantage for a team that has been practicing outdoors and has some games under its belt. But the excitement and adrenalin of a team's opener is a powerful asset. Sure, there are jitters and butterflies, and some guys may be too jacked up, but there is nothing like that first game. The disadvantage surfaces more in the case of a northern school who is in Florida, Arizona, or California on their spring break. Those teams are usually playing every day for 7-10 days. That takes its toll on legs and arms by the fourth or fifth day. The host team doesn't play every day and their players have a chance to recover. That is an advantage. But it's a non-factor for a weekend series in February.

Now that we have removed as many as nine games from a northern school's schedule, where do those games go on the schedule? Well, they need to be inserted into the months of March, April, and May, because the season was shortened on the front end, but not extended on the back end.

So now, in order to play a 56-game schedule, a northern school must add those nine games to the mid-week games already normally played during those months. Or, would it be more appropriate to say "not played"? I don't think you need a ground hog to tell you that March and April are wet and cold months in the northern part of the United States.

It will be interesting to see how many northern schools actually play 56 regular-season games now. If I were a college baseball player above the Mason-Dixon Line, I'd be calling February 1, 2008 "Black Friday".

As soon as administrators see that their teams can't play 56 games, guess what happens next?

Before you can say "mandatory common starting date", the NCAA will impose a maximum game rule between 48-52 games. The added mid-week games add to missed class time in a sport which is viewed as deficient in the APR category, which will simply add fuel to the fire.

The aspect I do like is that the start date allowed us to use the four-man format since classes resumed in January, putting our players much further ahead in conditioning, pitch recognition, and throwing arms. Usually our guys are coming off the Christmas break and need the three weeks prior to the first game to merely get their arms and legs back in shape, and tune up their vision at the plate. I feel we're much better prepared at this point than at any other time.

The other aspects of the new changes that constitute the new world of college baseball will be discussed at another time. Now I need to get dressed and get another season started.