Weekly Coach Ward Interview :: 06/01/09 :: Part One

In part one of this week's interview with Aggie head baseball coach Rocky Ward, we talked to Coach Ward about the way the 2010 schedule is shaping up, his thoughts on the epic 25 inning classic between Texas and Boston College in the NCAA Regional in Austin as well as his thoughts on the WAC expanding past seven teams in baseball. How is next year's schedule shaping up?
Rocky Ward: Right now the NCAA changed their 13 week rule back to 14 weeks and so everybody's in a scramble to fill that first weekend. We had St. John's in there as of two days ago but then they bailed on us and that would have been a nice eastern team to play. They've had pretty good success. I'm not sure. I think we've got Wofford, they're out of the east and I think they may fill that spot. Early in the year Akron comes in, St. Joseph's comes in. These are all northeastern type clubs. We're going to play a home and home with Houston Baptist, that's a friends from last year deal where they just came here. Then we'll play Cal, we've got another long road trip between conference games where we play San Jose and Sacramento and so in between those two series we'll go down and play Cal. That'll be interesting, they're Tuesday/Wednesday games. At the end of the year we go to Hawai'i again to end the conference schedule. Our bye weekend is the last weekend and I just can't find anybody to fill that. Right now we're coming off of Hawai'i and back to the mainland and playing a couple games against Cal State-Bakersfield. It's a little stronger schedule than it was a year ago. We'll have Fresno State at home. We'll have Nevada at home and then we'll have La. Tech at home. It's rotation for a little easier travel even though we have the Hawai'i trip. But Sacramento and San Jose are pretty easy to get into. You can fly in, not necessarily direct but you can fly in and the drive isn't too difficult. So overall it's a good solid schedule. We're in talks again with Texas Tech trying. They were looking to play a single game at a neutral site in Midland, TX which is I think where the Rock Hounds are (the AA affiliate of the Oakland A's). We played there about four or five years ago in a tournament. It's a nice facility and the people there did a nice job. It's just about 60 miles south of Lubbock. They're trying to see if they can find a couple games, I'd like after a several year hiatus for us to go play there and them to come here in Las Cruces. We're trying to get that done.

It's typical of college baseball scheduling. They're pretty fluid even as you get into the fall. Last year we played North Dakota State only because Maine canceled real real late last summer around August. A lot of that was because last year fuel prices were $4 a gallon and the flights were expensive and it didn't hurt that the place that they were going to fly out of, which would have been on Southwest, stopped flying out of there. There wasn't a real easy way to get here.

Overall it's a solid schedule. It's very much the same way as it was last year. We play roughly the first 20 or so games at home. We'll play home and homes with New Mexico and stay with the single games on that right now. I think when we have our WAC coaches meetings in August there'll be a pretty good possibility that the coaches will want to go back to three game series. None of us terribly like the four game series in league even though most of us play four game series throughout the year because it's hard for us to play Tuesday midweek games because of the travel, class missed and distance we have to go. But if they do that then it really causes some issues with the six team league. Either you have to go back to the unbalanced schedule where you play a couple guys six times, home and home and you play the rest three, that's the only way you can get to a 24 game conference schedule. That's an unbalanced setup and if you only play everybody once like we have then you only have 18. That's really not enough, I really thought 24, with as balanced as it was you're going, I'm not really sure we played enough games to really figure out who the best team was in the league. I felt that way going into the last weekend. Of course San Jose State with their sweep separated themselves but at one point going in it didn't look like anybody was going to separate themselves. That is either a function of either a real equal league or a function of not playing enough games in league. But most leagues are 24 games. You've got some that'll play 30 or 36. One of the thing that was brought up last year was to play a double round robin which would be a 36 game schedule. You play 12 conference weekends, you play everybody at home and everybody on the road. It's what basketball does it's just that basketball only plays single games. It's the fairest way within a league to play everybody at home three and then everybody on the road three it's just really difficult to put that together. But it's now possible again with the extra weekend. We looked at it, it was actually discussed in the meetings a year ago but with only 13 weeks you can't do it. Everybody has to have to have two bye weekends. Every week somebody's off. There just weren't enough weeks to do it.

So it'll be interesting to see. I don't know if that would go into effect in 2011 or 2012. There's some conjecture on whether or not the athletic directors would agree with that. The ADs in this economic situation like the four game series because it is a little less expensive. You have a little bit more control of your travel. But realistically one of the things we're going to have to discuss very seriously in league is the league's RPI. If the RPI is going to stay the way it is then we're going to have to find a way to use it. The most effective way to reduce how much RPI impacts you is to play more conference games and less non-conference. Like this year, you have a 56 game schedule, 24 in league. That leaves you with 32 games to schedule. That's a lot of games to schedule for us, Hawai'i or Nevada that are in somewhat isolated locations. As a result you don't get a lot of choice sometimes as to who you're going to play. But if you're only going to schedule 20 non-conference games then it's a little bit more reasonable that you can find who you need to find in order to keep your RPI in good shape. The problem then is you're using 12 weekends for conference games. You only have two weekends to schedule for non-conference and the rest of them have to go on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and that's extraordinarily difficult for us, Hawai'i and Nevada. It's kind of a Catch-22. We're going to have to find a better way in league to develop our RPI.

As I said before, both us and San Jose were deserving but RPI says we weren't. Well, we can't keep complaining. We've got to find a way to fix that. It's not just about strength of schedule. It's about the fact that in some cases, San Jose is unique in that they don't generally travel. They play teams around their area. They have enough teams to play in that area that they can play just west coast teams. And so you kind of just sit around and beat up on each other. Even if, as they did this year, even if you're one of the better teams in the area, if somebody's 30-26, then somebody's 26-30 because you're all playing each other. It's that same concept and those records are not good enough when you plug it into the RPI formula to do much for you. Our RPI was reasonable until we got into league. To be honest with you the 12-12 record in league, the .500 record in league hurt us. I don't know that if we'd gone 18-6 or something like that in the league, I think it [RPI] could have been pretty reasonable.

I'm allowed to pick on Oklahoma State because I'm an alumni there, but when you look at theirs, they played their non-league schedule and they won most all of their games and so did everybody else in the league. They all have very good non-conference records. The WAC's problem has not so much been strength of schedule, it's what their record has been in non-conference play because that's what RPI is about. It's about what your record is and what your opponent's record it. As a result, if you have two or three teams that don't have good non-conference records, regardless of who they play, then it really penalizes you when you get into league. That's one of the issues we deal with. The Big XII, SEC and ACC, when you look at them after their non-conference is done most of them have .600 or .700 winning percentages, regardless of who they play. So we need to find a way to do that. That's hard to do in the west when Fresno and San Jose and those guys are playing the Irvines and Bakersfields and UC-Davis, Oregon, Oregon State, PAC-10 teams. Those are all teams that on any given day can beat you. It's hard to schedule and figure that if you just play good solid baseball that you're going to have a .700 winning percentage. I think that most of the guys in the SEC and Big XII, they kinda know that on the front side. Compare Oklahoma State's non-conference schedule to mine and you won't find much difference in strength of schedule. They're playing some of the same type people that we are. But everybody else in the league is doing the same thing and so when they play each other in league they just strengthen their RPI. That's what's gotta happen in this league. We've gotta find a way because this is one of those years that we should have had three teams in the tournament. But because we didn't take care of business RPI wise and that's not about winning games, it's about how you schedule so that you have a .650+ non-conference winning percentage. That's what you have to do and everybody has to do that. If you have a couple guys that are below .500 or at .500 in conference it really drags the rest of the league down. I think that's something that we're really going to have to discuss. Again, it's really hard to do because we're in an economy where all of our universities are tight. If you had all the money you needed you pay the teams you need play to come in and play you whatever it takes or you go and travel whatever it takes in order to play teams that you expect to win against. Really the formula for the RPI is you play the very best teams that you can that you expect to win against. That's really what it comes down to. When money is a factor and travel distances are a factor it makes it much more difficult in order to keep that formula in play.

We like our schedule, we think it's stronger but it won't help us, if we're able to replicate our numbers next year record wise, if the rest of the guys in our league don't have good non-conference schedules as well. What were your thoughts about the 25 inning epic between Texas and Boston College?
RW: That's the most amazing thing I've ever seen in my life. If you want to talk the strength of tradition, maybe that's the only way you can describe the way that thing turned out. Obviously it made sense that Texas who has been considered one of the best pitching staffs in the country all year could do it. The amazing part is that when you're the road team, that's unique thing about this, they're playing at home but they were the road team because of bracketing. When you go into extra innings there's a funny discomfort when you're road team because if they get you out it's almost like they have two innings for every one you play. That's the way feel. If you don't score in the bottom of the 10th, you know there's going to be a bottom of the 11th. So when you go to the bottom of the 10th tied you know that you're going to have the 10th and 11th regardless of what they do in their top of the 11th and that's an uncomfortable position when you're on the top side and Texas did it for 15 extra innings in that game. That's amazing.

What's even more amazing is that Boston College came back the next day and played a 4-3 game. It was tied in the 8th and people were already talking about that it would be amazing if they had to go play another extra inning game. Then Texas has to score eight in the bottom of 9th inning to beat Army to get in [to the Super Regionals]. That was pretty unique baseball. The combination of that was amazing. I stayed up and watched it on the Live Stats. That whole thing was nuts. But of all teams that could do it, it would be them because of the insane depth they have in their pitching staff.

It's one of those things for Boston College, boy that's hard to overcome. I thought trying to accept the two losses to Fresno in the WAC tournament was tough, I can't imagine what those [Boston College] kids are going through right now. You take one of the best teams in the country to 24 innings and lose it, then play a good game the next day where the difference had to be either they were out of pitching or more likely out of energy against Army. What you do in those games on both sides is every hitter had the opportunity, lots of opportunities to win it. They had plenty of runners in scoring position and just couldn't get it done on both sides of the ball.

That's why people love college baseball and that's what I like about what's happened in my sport the last few years. We're getting fairly reasonable regional television coverage. ESPNU covered a lot of the games. It was pretty much 24/7. Obviously Internet coverage is pretty neat stuff but it's not quite the same as watching it on t.v. I thought the coverage was great. I think every year NCAA baseball becomes more and more popular. I still believe that if some day we started playing our games in April and played through August that college baseball could be a true revenue producer right alongside college basketball and football. But it's so far out of the box right now because kids would have to go to summer school and there would be a complete breakdown of the way scholarships are done for all other student-athletes. Some day there'll be a company or some money people that will step up and make it happen because it makes too much sense. We play so much of our season in the shadow of NCAA basketball and its popularity. We play almost half before the Final Four is done. That limits our t.v. coverage during that time of the year, it limits our media coverage. A lot of people that are good baseball fans really don't know how well their teams are doing until basketball is done. We play a period of time in obscurity so attendance numbers and things like that are somewhat limited early in the year. If you started in April and through the summer I think you'd have a revenue producing sport on your hands. I think we could make money. There's lots of pros and cons to it. The initial cost to test market it would be pretty high. There have been some proposals. None that have really made it into the mainstream but there have been some proposals not much different, in the late 80's there was a proposal that wasn't much different than what the BCS people did where they kind of talked about taking maybe the top 64 teams or top 128 teams and just having them play in the summer and developing a super college baseball league. There were some people that felt like the top 128 teams that you could still keep most conference affiliations in place, that those were teams that were already high attendance type teams that were already going a long ways towards supporting themselves, that it was possible to use as tests. And the actual proposal included a year or two at those numbers with the idea that eventually all Division I members would come back and play in the summer once we proved it could be done. We just couldn't get enough interest, we couldn't get enough funding, there were too many people that were left out. When you figure there are 300 teams and you're talking about 128, that leaves you with 172 teams to vote no. The teams that are left out, so the voting block wasn't quite there. And this was 20 years ago. College baseball is a lot stronger now than it was back then. It was really an out of the box idea back then.

But with APR and academic progress rates there are reasons. If you played in the summer and college baseball players went to school in the fall, spring and summer then our academic progress would be ahead of all other sports because you'd be going all year round. But you have summer leagues that are very popular in some of the smaller cities around the country that would be decimated by this type of move so you have a lot of people that wouldn't be necessarily for it. But the only way for college baseball to truly become a revenue producer and become as popular as it potentially can would be through that sort of action. Has there been any discussion of adding one or two more baseball only team to the league?
RW: We've had discussions but they've all been preliminary and they haven't been very recent. We went through this two years ago when Northern Colorado and Dallas Baptist and Texas-Pan American all applied for league membership and that was all voted down. Utah Valley State is another team that is an independent that fits in our region. I think to a certain extent people felt that Dallas Baptist and Texas Pan Am were too far out of our region. Even though Dallas Baptist would bridge us and La. Tech. But it would only bridge us and La. Tech. It really wasn't something that Hawai'i or Fresno would want to add another long trip for themselves. But Utah Valley State is a little bit more centralized. It's in Provo and it's two blocks from BYU, literally two blocks from BYU. Then Seattle University is another one, I think it's a real black sheep but they've been aggressive in talking to the WAC about membership. They're a new Division I team. I really don't know. I think the biggest issues with expansion is the economic impact. When you expand you usually cost yourself a little bit more money and it's not a real good time to increase expenses. But we'll have meetings some time in August and we'll sit down and discuss some of these issues. We haven't gotten any official word from the conference office that they want our opinion. I assume that when it's close to being more real, if it is, then we'll know a little bit more about it. I think it's a long shot. I think it'd be good for the league to add a member or two but I'm not sure who those teams would be. Cal State-Bakersfield is a new independent in their baseball program. They may petition for membership but I don't know that. They're only one hour from Fresno. Sometimes what happens with these league memberships is that you have a responsibility for your own institution first, then a responsibility to the league. That's kind of how people look at things and I'm not sure that Fresno, and this is all conjecture, but I'm not sure that the California guys would necessarily want to legitimize Bakersfield and make them a stronger opponent by adding them to our league. Yet I think overall this league would benefitting by adding a team. There's a lot of different things you can do differently with an eight member league than with a seven member league. And really you're better off with a nine member league. That's where we are. I don't know that expansion is really in the short look but I could be wrong.