Baseball is no longer an afterthought in Big Ten

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 21, 2014 at 2:53 pm •  Published: May 21, 2014

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Long the Big Ten's forgotten sport, baseball is making a comeback in the conference.

The most visible sign of progress: Indiana last year became the first Big Ten member since 1984 to play in the College World Series.

Aided by the infusion of cash from the Big Ten Network, five schools have opened new stadiums the past seven years. Nonconference schedules have been upgraded. Coaching jobs have become more attractive.

"I think that both the perception and reality of Big Ten baseball is that it is much better than it has been the past few decades," Big Ten associate commissioner Brad Traviolia, who oversees baseball, wrote in an email Wednesday.

Baseball once was a point of pride in the Big Ten. Ohio State and Minnesota won national championships in the 1960s and '70s and Michigan made the CWS four times in the early 1980s.

The drop-off was swift as warm-weather schools began putting resources into the sport and Big Ten schools allowed programs to languish. The impetus for the Big Ten baseball revival?

"A 29-year absence from the CWS was a huge gap," Traviolia said.

Baseball budgets rose across the league. Minnesota ($1.4 million this year) and Purdue ($1.2 million) have increased their spending by nearly 50 percent since 2009.

New stadiums opened at Indiana, Purdue and Minnesota in 2013, at Michigan State in 2009 and at Penn State in 2007. More money is going to salaries and operations.

"Everybody is trying to keep up with the Joneses," 33rd-year Minnesota coach John Anderson said. "I think (the Big Ten) will keep getting better, and I think we'll have a big impact on the national stage."

It was just two years ago that Anderson floated the idea of the Big Ten breaking away from the traditional NCAA season and going to a summer schedule. His coaching brethren dismissed the notion.

Purdue coach Doug Schreiber prompted serious discussion, though, with a proposal that Northern teams be allowed to play as many as 14 games in the fall that would count in the following spring's RPI.