This one’s for the “little guys.”
Ed Blankmeyer’s words, not mine.
Earlier in the tournament, St. John’s baseball coach was asked about the Big Ten taking over TD Ameritrade Park the next five years. He said, “It’s disappointing we’re not back here, for whatever reason. The other conferences wanted to push us little guys around.”
In three weeks, TD Ameritrade will host an ACC and SEC baseball convention. The streets will be filled, the concourses packed and downtown Omaha alive with the College World Series.
But this weekend, Omaha’s Field of Dreams was open to those who can only dream of playing here.
The Big East tournament isn’t charity. This isn’t letting the kids come down to run the bases at Yankee Stadium.
The Big East chose to play in a 24,000-seat ballpark to promote Big East baseball — in and out of the league.
There’s a cool element to this. Creighton, of course, lives here. But for the others, hanging out in those dugouts, seeing their images on the big screen, the whole bit, is a little slice of awesome.
But you have to wonder: What is the Big East accomplishing here?
The games have been played in front of 2,000 to 4,000 fans. They aren’t on TV (available online through the Big East Digital Network) until Sunday’s championship, which shows on FS2. Not even FS1, the Big East flagship channel.
Is Big East baseball growing here?
Better question: How does Big East baseball grow?
It’s a tough one. CU coach Ed Servais has said it starts with upgrading schedules. But that’s easier said than done in a sport where the “haves” don’t need to leave home and the “have nots” don’t have the money to travel.
So what’s a little guy to do?
Build a contender. Get someone to step up in class, make a deep NCAA regional run, create some momentum. Become an NCAA tourney regular. Raise the bar for the rest of the league.
I nominate Creighton.
As soon as the Bluejays make an NCAA regional again.
CU was eliminated from the Big East tournament Saturday. The regular-season champs went 1-2, on their home field, and they will miss the NCAAs for the fifth straight year.
Five straight seasons with no postseason while playing four of those seasons in the Big East. That can’t happen. It shouldn’t.
The Jays came close last year, going 38-17, but a 2-2 finish in the Big East tourney and an RPI that dropped to 48 pulled them down.
Maybe you can put that on the Big East’s tab, the price of playing in a perennial one-bid league. And maybe it’s all that travel, and going from a league where you’re hanging out with Wichita State and Missouri State to Villanova and Butler.
This is the longest NCAA drought for the Jays since 1992-98. Is anyone upset? Or is the attitude, well, they’re in the Big East now.
Servais doesn’t have that attitude. After Saturday’s loss, he gave a passionate speech stumping the league’s unheralded quality.
He has a point. Xavier got to a regional final last year. St. John’s last made the CWS in 1980, but the Storm have made some noise in recent years, losing to Arizona in the 2012 Super Regional and beating Oklahoma State at OSU in the 2015 regional.
Servais then compared the top of the Big East to the top of the old Missouri Valley. But there’s one big difference.
There’s been no Wichita State in the Big East.
The Big East needs a Wichita State.
For years, Valley teams chased Gene Stephenson and his Shocker machine. It was a little top-heavy at times. WSU even got to host the Valley tournament most every year, because it would provide the best crowds. Because it had the power.
Eventually, the Valley started to rise up, recruiting better, caring more. Creighton. Missouri State. Indiana State.
The Big East needs someone to make it care more about baseball.
It’s hard, because you’re not only in the northeast and upper midwest, you’re in big league markets. And you’re in a conference focused on branding itself as a basketball power.
The Big Ten, with help from its television network revenue, has taken baseball more seriously in recent years, putting more money in, playing better schedules. When the Big Ten jumped in and secured TDA from 2018-22, the Big East seemed to be caught flat-footed.
So there was frustration in Blankmeyer’s voice as he talked about being the little guys. Big East coaches want to do better. They see they have potential. But they need help.
The conference office can’t lift them up. It has to come from one of the schools.
Again, I nominate Creighton. CU has the tradition, proximity of quality baseball players and youth programs, the TDA home field and local expectation, though I wonder if the latter is slipping.
There was a perception (mostly around here) when Creighton joined the Big East that it would run over the league’s diamonds. The Jays have won the regular-season title two of four years.
But it’s not like CU has separated itself. That’s especially true in the league tourney, which has been a puzzle for Servais’ group.
Creighton has to be better in the nonconference, has to put itself in position of not needing to win the league tourney. Though the Big East is up to No. 10 in the RPI, there’s not a lot of margin for error for at-large hopefuls in this league.
Forget the Big East. It can’t be a crutch. It’s a place where you happen to play.
Win the season series with Nebraska, which is on the rise. Find a way to win some RPI games early. Win this Big East tournament. Get back in a regional and make some noise.
Become so good that more than 3,000 come to see you, and the league office has to fight harder to secure the tournament at your place. And TV must show up.
Is Servais up to the challenge? The Jays’ coach since 2004 left the team for a week this season to take care of a medical procedure. He still won’t talk about it, but he said he plans on being back next season.
“Yes, unless the administration feels differently,” Servais said. “We got what was wrong with me figured out. I just needed more time to get some strength.
“I’m not as strong as I need to be. I’ll spend some time this summer getting some rest and back up to speed a little bit. I like to coach with a lot of energy, and the players feed off of my energy. When I didn’t have it, a couple times this year, you could tell they didn’t have it.
“So I need to do a good job this summer taking care of myself and get back on the horse this fall and go.”
Servais will need that energy to make CU the “it” program in the Big East, or back to where the Jays were, when they fought Wichita State and dreamed openly about deep NCAA runs and Omaha.
The alternative is to have your season end before a couple thousand fans in Omaha, then go sell a handful of Big East media on how underappreciated your league is, a little guy fighting the little guy fight.
Three weeks before the CWS.