UAA changes baseball and softball conference scheduling
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Consistent temperatures in the 50s can only mean that spring is just around the corner. And with the start of spring comes the start of the baseball and softball seasons. In preparation for the new season, Spartan fans may have discovered something different about the schedules for both teams. The annual University Athletic Association (UAA) Championship Tournament is missing. Instead, all conference matchups take place throughout the season.
This is no mistake. The UAA changed the format of its conference play from a tournament to a round-robin schedule. In March and April teams will play each other in a four game weekend series at the ballparks of the member institutions. The Spartans baseball team will host Brandeis University and Washington University in St. Louis (WashU), while the softball team hosts Emory University, New York University and the University of Chicago. It will mark the first time ever that Case Western Reserve University will host UAA games at either Mather Park or Nobby’s Ballpark.
To the casual fan the shift may seem sudden, but plans have been in the works for at least four years.
According to UAA Executive Director Dick Rasmussen, “The change in the UAA baseball and softball schedule … is the result of a two-year, comprehensive review of all UAA competition, programs, policies and governance that was completed two years ago.”
Spartans baseball Head Coach Matt Englander added the UAA coaches originated the idea before it was finally approved by the conference.
The major impetus for the change was the increasing challenges in scheduling non-conference games faced by many, if not all, of the head coaches.
“It was getting really, really difficult to make a schedule as all the teams around us that are in conferences play on the weekends,” said Englander. “It was next to impossible to find weekend games, and that’s just not something that we can ask our kids to do, play tons of midweek games with the class schedules and things like that. It was born out of that need to play on weekends and have a stable schedule for weekends.”
In 2016, eight of the baseball team’s 32 non-conference games were played on weekdays, as were 10 of the softball team’s 30 non-conference games. This season those numbers drop to six and nine, respectively.
“UAA teams also routinely ran into issues with regional opponents cancelling games in order to make up rained out games in their own conferences,” Rasmussen added.
Sports Information Director and Assistant Athletic Director Jon Schwartz reasoned that some of the scheduling difficulties came from increased conference realignment over the past few years.
Another reason for the change was the increase in exposure to other UAA teams it provided. In the past, the baseball teams played just eight conference games and softball teams played eight or 10. In 2017, the numbers double, with the baseball team playing 16 conference games and softball playing 20.
“[The new schedule] provides a closer association with the other UAA schools for almost the entire season,” said Rasmussen.
The change reflected “a desire among student-athletes, coaches, administrators and others to enable baseball and softball student-athletes to experience the same kind of season-long association with other teams in the conference.”
Englander was one of the coaches who shared that desire. After pointing out that his team only faced WashU once during the previous season, he said the new schedule allows the team to better gauge where they stack up in the conference.
“The ability to match up [similar starters], it’s going to make it a really fun weekend every time we play, but it’s also a much better barometer of who stands where in the league,” Englander said.
The only downside to the change is the possible increase in weather-related postponements. Spring weather is unpredictable, especially in cold weather cities like Cleveland and New York. Rasmussen said the scheduling committee “tried to anticipate those [postponement] situations and to minimize their occurrences.” He said they projected the schedule backward over past seasons to see how many games were affected by weather, structured the weekend series so that any Friday rainouts could be made up on Saturday and structured the schedule to take advantage of the warmth of Atlanta—Emory’s city—and St. Louis—WashU’s city—early on.
Though Spartans players and their fans no longer get to enjoy the warmth of Florida baseball anymore, they finally do get to see other UAA universities’ ballparks. Plus they get to witness those same teams at CWRU’s friendly fields in a never-before-seen event. Their first chance will be March 21, when the softball team takes on Kenyon College. The baseball team begins their home slate 10 days later against Brandeis.