bleedCrimson.net Weekly Rocky Ward Interview :: 06/26/08

bleedCrimson.net has been conducting weekly in season interviews with Aggie head baseball coach Rocky Ward. This week we checked in with Coach Ward and talked with him about Fresno State winning the Division I national championship and the effect it would have on the rest of the league and specifically on NMSU.

bleedCrimson.net: What does Fresno State winning the Division I National Championship do for the league in terms of respect, in helping some of the scheduling issues and what does it do the other teams recruiting?
Rocky Ward: It's a subtle thing but yeah the WAC at the end of the season when we all looked at it and we all had our hand in it, had dropped to the 16th ranked conference in the country out of 30 and we felt pretty strongly that we were much better than that and the schedule that we were forced to play and because so many teams in the league having difficulty finding close opponents to play during the week that we were being penalized by the new format. We met as coaches and are still trying to resolve that ourselves so that we can find a better way to schedule.

What Fresno's win did was it just backed up what most of us felt about our ball clubs that we were better than what we performed. We all kind of looked at the league and said there's a lot of parity in the league and I think in the coaches meeting there were a couple coaches that said "You know what, it's great what Fresno's doing. My ball club wasn't much different than theirs." I don't think any of us had the top to bottom pitching depth that they had and probably weren't as quite as good defensively. Obviously we were a better statistical offensive ball club than they [Fresno] were. But I think to a certain extent what could have been another year where the WAC dropped down in quality we realized maybe we didn't drop down in quality it was just one of those years where there was so much parity that we beat the heck out of each other which is basically what we did.

The one thing that people keep asking me is since Fresno went to the finals will the university get any money for it? The answer is no. In baseball there isn't a revenue stream. All they do for baseball teams in the college world series is the NCAA pays the expenses of those teams and the expenses of running the tournament and any proceeds go toward underwriting several of the other tournaments, maybe softball, track and field, other NCAA tournaments. So we don't see any benefit financially from one of our teams going in like we did with Hawai'i going into a BCS game or Boise State a couple years ago being in and winning a BCS game.

Recruiting wise it's going to be hard to say because most of our recruiting is finished. There are still some bits and pieces that all of us are working on but I think we're generally being received with a little bit more respect from recruits but I'm not sure we'll see the benefit from that until the next recruiting cycle which generally starts in August and which is basically recruiting players who won't play for me for another two years. So I think it'll take a while to do that.

I think the one thing that might benefit us as a league, and a lot of people don't understand it enough to take action, but the RPI system is broken. The selection system is wrong, it's not equitable. Smart people in the NCAA will start looking at this and maybe a couple of conferences will bring this up as a point of contention that there might be a better way, a different computer formula and there are already several floating around out on the Internet, BoydsWorld.com, WarrenNolan.com, both of those computer ratings are their own formulas. They rate those teams in the west higher, significantly higher, 20, 30 or even 40 places higher in some cases than the RPI has them ranked and maybe they'll go back and look at this again.

Short term we're very proud of what our brother in the conference did. I think the real benefit will be seen in the pride that our players have when they come back. At the end of the season last year I don't think there was anyone besides Fresno that was terribly proud of the final numbers. But I know when I went back and looked at my season eight or ten days after our season was over and started reassessing it, I'm going "You know, it was a pretty darn good year." We were only a couple wins away from really making it an outstanding year with the type of schedule we played and all what Fresno did was legitimize all of our schedules and all of our performances and I think that we'll get some benefit in the way that some of the players think of themselves when we get to fall.

bc.net: What does having Fresno State win the national championship do for attracting more fans, the casual fans to the game?
RW: I think on a micro basis with us when Fresno State comes to town you'll see a lot more people show a lot more interest. (Ed. Note: Coach Ward believes that next season's schedule does not have Fresno State coming to Las Cruces) You'll see attendance increases. I know in his games at home it'll get a lot of those people out. He's struggled the last couple years with attendance even with the new facility they have. Most of their games are about 20 to 25% capacity when we played them. They probably drew better when a traditional power team like Long Beach State or Fullerton played them there because people know the personnel better.

I think overall clearly the league will benefit from this. All teams will benefit in attendance. Because Fresno won I believe most of the good baseball fans that thought that us and Hawai'i and San Jose State and Nevada had just average years, I think they clearly understand that they were much better than average. Any of us that played and defeated Fresno at any time it legitimized our seasons and I think that it'll help our attendance and it'll help people to understand from the standpoint of attendance that it's very good quality baseball.

The biggest difficulty that New Mexico State has had is that we haven't had consistency in the league in which we played in. So you get a fanbase that gets to know the other teams a little bit and good fans, the real good fans know the key players of the opponents coming in. But every three years in the time I've been here we've been in a different league and so the fans have to relearn a whole bunch of new players so to speak. I think it'll energize more people and they'll realize that this is a real good quality league. I think that as we go through and maintain the same scheduling format I think more fans will realize that maybe the 40+ win team (pre playoffs) is going to be really rare. There's just not going to be as many 40 win teams as there used to be. I think the benchmark of the good team has historically been 30 or more wins. The above average team was 35 or more wins in a season and the great teams 40. I think you can move those numbers back by five wins and I think you're looking at even a good team can go 25-28. People will start understanding because of the number of games we must play in a shorter period of time is going to bring more parity to each individual game. You're going to see less guys put up those big numbers. Even before this we had a couple of teams each year that were flirting with 50 wins.

In the Big West there was a lot of parity in that league and Long Beach used to get at large bids and this was kind of before RPI was really used very much, they used to get at large bids winning 31 or 32 games. Going 30-26 or 31-25, they were getting at large bids because the league was respected at a level that people understood how good everybody was in the league and you were going to lose some games. As a result you may see a little bit more than that but it'll take some time.

bc.net: What impact will having a team from the WAC win the national championship have on your fundraising efforts? How much help will it be to be able to point to Fresno State and say "Look if you help us out with a little more funding this is the type of thing that we can do?"
RW: I think there will be some benefit to it. I don't think it'll be obvious, I think it'll be subtle. But I've already had several people that have helped us, alumni and boosters, over the last three weeks discuss with me how good Fresno was. What it really does is give me a talking point beyond just what needs are. A lot of people followed them, a lot of our friends and alumni followed them through this process. So I think more than anything it opens lines of communication up again. I think it'll take a while but I think that Dr. Boston would say that there has been pretty significant benefit with Hawai'i and Boise State and what they did in football the last couple of years. I think that has energized a few more people to get back involved and made them recognize how quality this conference really is on a national basis. And we're always going to have some difficulty because the WAC is not a BCS conference and that makes a big difference when it comes down to money and support.

BCS conferences really have a significant advantage not just in football but in all sports. I think maybe the only sports that are not being impacted by it directly are men's and women's basketball because they have their won entity. I read something a few years ago, Illinois' football team went 1-11 but got an $8 million share of the BCS money. That's a pretty good reward for going 1-11 and you look up and they had a pretty good football team this year (Ed. Note, Illinois played in the Rose Bowl, also a BCS bowl game). This is a team that was horrible two years ago but because of the money that was being brought in through revenue sharing, it benefitted them a lot. I think that we know as a non-BCS league right now that we can't rely on that income. But the WAC has really done well for itself in a lot of different sports, kind of considered the little brother of a lot of conferences.

I think we'll see some benefits from it. We'll see. I can't tell you directly what they'll be but just in conversations in the last two or three weeks there have been people that have had interest in baseball in the past that may have lost it a little bit in the transition from the Sun Belt into the WAC that might be willing to get back involved with us again because of what Fresno State did.