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February 9, 2009

A year later, start date still a good move

YOUR TAKE: Are you still in favor of the uniform start date?

It was going to be the best thing in the world for northern teams and it was going to be the worst thing in the world for teams in the southern and western regions.

Of course, we're talking about the college baseball uniform start date, which falls this year on Friday, Feb. 20.

Before last season, northern programs viewed the implementation of the uniform start date as a victory for their region. I still don't see that. Coaches in other regions, however, felt the NCAA was catering to northern programs.

Upon further review, I'm starting to like the uniform start date.

When the rule went into effect before last season, I remember thinking, 'How will everyone pass time between the end of January and Opening Day?' Back in the old days, as I can now call them, many of us would stay awake until 2 or 3 a.m. waiting on Kansas to play Hawaii-Hilo out on the islands in late January.

Honestly, does anyone actually miss those games? Not me.

Once the college football season ends, I will intermittently watch pro football and treat myself to college basketball. But in a way, it does pain me to wait almost two months from the New Year for college baseball, but I think it's worth it.

Perhaps in the way Major League Baseball glorifies Opening Day as essentially a national baseball holiday, college baseball someday will be able to experience a similar amount of popularity and success.

That probably seems like a pipe dream to some, but hey, at least the sport is headed in the right direction. Fan attendance is increasing nationwide, television contracts are improving in some regions, and perhaps most important, the College World Series is gaining more viewers each season. Omaha already has broken ground on a sparkling new baseball facility that will hold 24,000 spectators and be completed in 2011.

The uniform start date is just another way to increase popularity and somewhat level the playing field with every team starting the same day. After all, everyone can admit that St. John's playing a team like LSU in its first game while the Tigers are in Game 8 isn't exactly fair.

Though I've become a fan of the uniform start date, there are some proposals on the table I'd like to see implemented.

For starters, many coaches in the western and southern regions are pushing hard for the uniform start date to be moved up a week. Northern coaches, meanwhile, obviously love the uniform start date, but admit they'd like to see a week added to the season, preferably on the back end.

There isn't an easy compromise with the two conflicting point of views, and there obviously is a great chance the NCAA will keep the uniform start date where it is. The debate, though, is rather intriguing.

Having a week added to the back end of the season sounds great in theory, but it wouldn't work for several reasons.

First, there are some administrators nationwide that argue the season already is too long and needs to be shortened. Don't expect them to be in favor of adding another week to the end of the season. Second, whether you like it or not, summer leagues are important for many players and professional organizations that scout them. Last, it doesn't make sense from an academic standpoint. Most colleges are done with classes in early May, and with a week on the end of the season, teams possibly would be playing two months after classes ended. Also, think of the players that rely on summer school to catch up from lighter course loads in the spring.

Adding a week to the start of the season also has its minuses, but the pluses certainly outweigh them. The only negative to adding a week to the start of the season deals with the northern schools and their weather issues. However, those schools already head south the first couple weeks of the season and that won't be changing anytime soon.

There are a few pluses to adding the week to the beginning of the season. First, the condensed schedule was a major issue last season and once again will be an issue this season. Adding a week to the beginning of the season mitigates the problem. Second, there are no potential academic and summer league issues in adding the week in February. Third, it limits the amount of time teams have to wait between fall workouts and the season beginning. Last, an earlier start in conjunction with a true Opening Day could be a huge success in the future. The more college baseball doesn't have to compete with MLB for television viewers and fans, the better off the sport eventually will be.

The opinions on the uniform start date certainly differ by region.

While in San Diego last month for the coaches' convention, I spoke with Michigan's Rich Maloney, UCLA's John Savage, Pepperdine's Steve Rodriguez and many others about the uniform start date and the newest proposals.

Maloney, Savage and Rodriguez all agreed the condensed schedule already has caused more headaches than anyone could've imagined. The trio, however, differ on when to have the week added.

Savage and Rodriguez, for instance, are in favor of starting the season a week earlier, while Maloney, who has to deal with weather issues in February, favors adding a week to the end of the season.

Coaches and administrators will continue to debate the uniform start date and its actual timing, but if what the NCAA said a few months ago is true, don't look for any timing changes to come the next few seasons.

I'm fine with not jumping to conclusions on the issue.

I'm also pleased with what the uniform start date and a true Opening Day has brought to college baseball.

Anticipation and excitement come to mind. Maybe better regular season television ratings and contracts soon will come to fruition.

The positive changes just keep coming.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com and Yahoo! Sports. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.