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April 9, 2008

Condensed schedule causing issues

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What looks to be a correct decision one day doesn't always end up that way.

When the NCAA passed legislation that included a uniform start date, coaches in the North were most vocal with their support and many in the South were vocal with their opposition.

The NCAA felt the uniform start date would level the playing field and enhance the academic standing of student-athletes nationwide. Though most coaches still agree with the idea, the condensed schedule has caused major issues with coaches and players alike.

Interestingly, it's not ACC or SEC coaches leading the charge against the condensed schedule; it's coaches from the Pac-10, Mountain West, West Coast and Big West conferences.

Pepperdine's Steve Rodriguez and Arizona's Andy Lopez know all too well how the condensed schedule has adversely affected numerous schools.

Two weekends ago, Pepperdine hit the road to face Gonzaga in snowy Spokane, Wash. The weather was horrendous for much of the weekend, forcing the Waves and Bulldogs to play on a Monday afternoon. After playing the Bulldogs, Pepperdine's flight was delayed, and the Waves didn't return home until the wee hours of Tuesday morning. Later that day, the Waves had to make the hour's drive north to face UC Santa Barbara in Game One of a two-game mid-week set.

Rodriguez and his team still were exhausted entering last weekend's road series against Saint Mary's.

"Man, I'm telling you, this situation is tough for our team," he said. "The team has been exhausted, we very seldom practice and we're always holding study halls on an airplane."

As with most schools, the Waves play two games in the middle of the week and three during a weekend. Before this season, most schools played just one mid-week game.

In addition to time missed from the practice field, grades could become a recurring issue at Pepperdine and other schools.

"You know, Pepperdine isn't exactly an easy school," Rodriguez said. "We're playing five games a week, and at some point, you have to wonder if that will take a toll on the players' academic standing."

Rodriguez's former coach Arizona's Lopez is facing the same situation.

In recent weeks, the Wildcats trekked to Stillwater, Okla., for a two-game mid-week set against Oklahoma State. As with Pepperdine, the Wildcats had flight issues. This week, the Wildcats traveled to San Diego for a two-game mid-week set against San Diego State; next week, they'll travel to Albuquerque for a two-game mid-week set against New Mexico.

I'm not sure how much power we have anymore. We all knew this was brewing two or three years ago, and we did absolutely nothing about it.
Arizona coach Andy Lopez

"The decision to condense the schedule is the worst thing I've seen in all my years in college baseball," said Lopez, in his 26th season as a college head coach. "We get very few chances to practice, and our players don't have near enough time to focus on academics."

Lopez believes the move to a condensed schedule was made with little regard to the players and their academic progress.

"When it comes to the new schedule, I think it has been completely unfair to shorten the season," he said. "You'd think the decision-makers would understand the value of a college degree in today's world."

There are ways in which the rule could be amended. Still, Lopez believes the coaches might've lost their bargaining power by not being more vocal when the legislation originally was passed.

"I'm not sure how much power we have anymore," Lopez said of the coaches. "We all knew this was brewing two or three years ago, and we did absolutely nothing about it."

While there have been rumors that the uniform start date might be moved up a week or two, the time to act already may have passed. If that ends up being the case, coaches and the media, too need to take some of the blame for not making it a more important issue.

Still, the NCAA already should know it was wrong.

The coaches shouldn't have to say it in the middle of the season.

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