Northern college baseball coaches fear for game's survival in cold climates

John Supinie

The Minnesota Twins move next season into an outdoor baseball stadium, and the Minnesota Vikings' desire for a new football stadium is nothing new. Without them as tenants, the Metrodome would likely be demolished.

"It might be time to retire,'' said University of Minnesota baseball coach John Anderson.

Thanks in part to an agreement that allows Minnesota to play 75 percent of its home games this season in the dome – including two in-season tournaments – Gophers baseball is alive and well. Minnesota won eight Big Ten titles and made 15 NCAA appearances in Anderson's first 17 years.

Without the dome, Minnesota would face the brutality of playing baseball outdoors, where some of its neighbors have already given up the fight.

Wisconsin ended its baseball program in 1991, becoming the only Big Ten team without a program. In the Big 12, Colorado and Iowa State don't field teams. This season is also the last for baseball at Northern Iowa and Vermont. Massachusetts considered the elimination of baseball.

With the current system, northern schools see little hope of competing for championships or breaking even, Anderson said.

"That's why you see Wisconsin, Iowa State and Northern Iowa drop the program,'' Anderson said. "There's no hope. If you can create more hope and more opportunity for people, the better the sport is going to be.

"In the next three to five years, something is going to give. The game is only profitable in 20 percent of the country. The other 80 percent of the country is trying to catch up. Some programs are able to compete nationally because they can play indoors. In this sport, the weather is critical.''

Whether it's the financial burden created by a program that can't sell tickets in cold weather or cuts driven by gender equity and Title IX, baseball saw major and mid-major programs disappear in the Midwest. Over the last four years, the number of Division I teams actually rose from 285 to 291, but coaches in the North are getting nervous.

"When you have tough economic times, that's a concern for every program,'' said Dave Keilitz, the executive director at the American Baseball Coaches Association. "There are a lot of different sports programs being dropped.''

Anderson suggested a radical approach – let college baseball declare a northern champion and a southern champion by allowing each division to devise its own schedule.

"The current setup doesn't work for us if you're really trying to compete nationally,'' he said. "I don't think you'll ever get the North and South to agree. So we don't keep losing programs, you have to look at creating a season and window. We could do what the South is doing – have good weather, more home games, draw people and make money.

"I don't think we'll ever be able to find common ground.''

John Supinie can be reached atJohnsupinie@aol.com.