When each season ends at the College World Series in June, we’re always ready for a break. When the American Baseball Coaches Association convention takes place in early January, that’s the signal we’re ready for another exciting campaign to begin.
As with past ABCA conventions, the knowledge at this year’s Dallas event was aplenty. There also were some sad moments with the ABCA honoring outgoing NCAA Director of Baseball Dennis Poppe, who will still serve in a consultory role for the NCAA, and of course, honoring outgoing ABCA Executive Director Dave Keilitz, who’s wrapping up his 19-year tenure with the organization.
Poppe was replaced by Damani Leech, who has spent the past few seasons learning under Poppe and others at the NCAA, while Keilitz said the process has begun to name a new ABCA Executive Director, with several intriguing candidates in the mix.
Beyond the news of Poppe and Keilitz’s departures, some college baseball coaches earned prestigious honors during the convention. Clemson head coach Jack Leggett, LSU head coach Paul Mainieri and Stetson head coach Pete Dunn were inducted into the ABCA Hall of Fame.
There was plenty of information to go around at the ABCA convention again this year, including the details of the annual Division I Business Meeting, where many of the issues facing Division I Baseball are discussed.
Here are things we learned from this year’s convention, with some inside scoop included:
• With the NCAA approving the new ball legislation back in November, there’s not much breaking news to report in the world of college baseball. However, there were at least a few intriguing details revealed by the ABCA and NCAA during the annual Division I Business Meeting. For starters, in case you didn’t know, the number of automatic qualifiers in the NCAA postseason has increased from 30 to 31 with the creation of the American Athletic Conference. The AAC was created when the Big East Conference split.
• College baseball has made significant strides in terms of television viewership over the past decade or so, and there’s even more good news to pass along from the ABCA convention. The NCAA unveiled some interesting statistics about the NCAA postseason. For instance, the total attendance for every round of the NCAA postseason totaled approximately 600K, with 341,483 of that coming from the College World Series … Meanwhile, in terms of television viewership, 45 million people tuned to ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU for at least one minute of NCAA postseason coverage, up three-percent from last season. Lastly, approximately 93 million live minutes of action were viewed on ESPN3 or WatchESPN online platforms, with 17,000 unique viewers spending an average of 41 minutes tuned into programming.
* College baseball head coaches were surveyed by the ABCA about their greatest concerns entering the 2014 campaign. Dave Keilitz said head coaches were most concerned about umpires not calling low and high strikes enough, particularly high strikes. Additionally, coaches believe umpires should be calling fewer strikes beyond the outside part of the late.
• As many of you that follow college athletics know by now, the NCAA is in the midst of an internal audit to determine which areas should be deemed more important and so on moving forward. NCAA Vice President Kevin Lennon spoke at length about some of the challenges facing the NCAA, and college baseball programs in general. Lennon made several statements about equality, consistently speaking about baseball in the same breath as football in terms of decision making. No one knows what this means moving forward, but college baseball coaches weren’t pleased with no distinction being drawn between football and basketball, and baseball.
• USA Baseball has yet to officially announce the 2014 Collegiate National Team coaching staff, but sources confirmed over the weekend the staff will include Arkansas’ Dave Van Horn (head coach), along with assistant coaches Rob Childress (Texas A&M), Steve Rodriguez (Pepperdine) and Ray Birmingham (New Mexico).
• More good news in the coaching circles is the status of Arizona head coach Andy Lopez. The long-time Wildcats skipper, who guided the Wildcats to a national title two seasons ago, is progressing well after having triple bypass surgery in October. Arizona assistant coach Matt Siegel said in Dallas that Lopez was ready to go and has been cleared to coach the Wildcats.
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