Welcome to Around the Nation
|Greg Goldsmith went 7-2 in 10
starts for Christopher Newport last season and will be counted on
to help anchor the Captains' rotation in 2012.
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In the beginning there was D3baseball.com. The intervening years brought new features and expanded coverage. Now D3baseball.com is in the third sentence of its newest wrinkle, the Around the Nation column. It’s an honor to be chosen to write it.
Filling in this blank canvas with entertaining and insightful words each week will be a challenge, but in the words of Peaches manager Jimmy Dugan, “The hard is what makes it great.” The task is great. My results are to be determined, but feel free to send feedback.
Weekly column features will be a minor league spotlight, my top five game of the week, my top 10 ballot (for some of you, I’m one of the 25 to whom your weekly vitriol is aimed), and coming in future columns, a Last Team Standing/Sitting section that lists the undefeated and winless teams around the nation.
Columns in the pipeline include staff predictions and an in-depth, multi-part look into the effects of the new bat requirements. But leading off is the first half of a two-part interview with Anthony Holman, the NCAA assistant director of championships.
My top 5 games of the week (Feb. 8-14):
Feb. 9: No. 7 Christopher Newport vs.
Hampden-Sydney Season of high hopes begins for
Feb. 10: Huntingdon vs. Rhodes Both teams received preseason top 25 votes.
Feb. 11: No. 2 Chapman vs. No. 20 Redlands CU won 2011 season series 3-1.
Feb. 11: No. 22 Trinity (Texas) vs. Concordia (Texas) Both advanced to Day 3 at 2011 West Regional.
Feb. 12: Piedmont vs. Millsaps Teams combined to win 56 games in 2011.
My Preseason Ballot Top 10 (D3baseball.com rank):
1 (1). Marietta – Until further notice.
2 (2). Chapman – Not betting against Tereschuk, Rauh and Co.
3 (4). Linfield – A well-armed, dynamic, pedigreed winner.
4 (3). Kean – Pitching staff could rival Etta’s.
5 (7). Christopher Newport – Too low? Perhaps.
6 (14). St. Scholastica – Predicting CSS finally breaks through.
7 (5). Cortland – NY kings, but several 2012 throne contenders.
8 (27). St. Thomas – Not sure why I’m seemingly the loner on UST.
9 (18). Wheaton (Mass.) – Difficult 2012 schedule, but a veteran squad.
10 (19). Thomas More – Bats out to prove 2011 regional (3.7 RPG) was a fluke.
Alvernia infielder Zach Lutz, Triple-A Buffalo Bisons (Mets): Lutz was chosen in the fifth round of the 2007 draft after a three-year career (2005-07) at Alvernia. He holds the AU career records for batting average (.445) and doubles (51) as well as the single-season school record with 24 doubles and single-game records with six hits and three doubles. AU had a 98-33 record during his three seasons and went to regionals in 2005-06.
Lutz is currently on the Mets 40-man roster, and Baseball
America deemed him to have the best power hitter in the Mets minor
league system in 2011. Injuries curbed Lutz’s playing time in
2011, but he was second on his team with 11 home runs to go along
with a .295/.380/.500 slash line at Triple-A.
2007 D3baseball.com All-America team
Q&A with the NCAA
If you’ve ever been to Fox Cities Stadium for the D-III baseball championship, there’s definitely one person who looks like he’s in charge. That’s Anthony Holman, and he is in charge. Holman is the NCAA assistant director of championships tasked with putting on the annual show in Appleton, Wis. He’s been in charge since June 2009 after stints in sales for Maloof Sports & Management and a nine-year engagement as the assistant executive director of the Illinois High School Association among other career stops. Holman is a D-III product, having played basketball at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., in the early 1990s. Holman took a break from his daily NCAA routine on Jan. 24 to talk to Around the Nation about several D-III baseball topics, including the state of D-III realignment, Appleton, and why we still don’t know where regionals will be.
D3: What are your day-to-day duties at the NCAA?
Anthony Holman: In addition to D-III baseball, I also work with D-III field hockey, D-III swimming and diving, and D-III wrestling, overseeing those championships from start to finish – from assignment of officials, selection of sites, editing and writing terms of conditions, working with the respective sport committees and so on and so forth.
D3: Can you give a general opening statement, a State of D-III Baseball Address?
AH: Yes, I think we’re in good shape as I can see it. In the last couple of years, I think a number of things have improved. I think the experience for the student-athletes at the national championship has been kind of upgraded in terms of the usage of things like video boards and recorded press conferences. [D3baseball.com] has been a large part of that additional media coverage; live web streaming last year in HD. I think our regional sites have been improved with additional funding and support. The experience of the championship atmosphere has certainly increased. I think our talent pool has gotten better, certainly since my days as a D-III student athlete back in the early 90s, but even more so in the last three to five years. The top-tier pitchers that programs are bringing in are vastly improved. So, I think the quality of the game has improved overall. The sport, the game, is in a good position.
D3: Is there anything the NCAA could do better for D-III baseball?
AH: Well, you can always do better. I think the next thing is trying to kind of trickle down some of those experiences and other things that we do at the national championship, trying to do more of that at our regional sites, and make the experience for each of the 55 teams that make it into our field – make it as special for them as possible. You know, getting to the national championship certainly should be special – and maybe a step above for those eight teams – but it’s an important thing for those 55 teams that, out of 360-plus that are eligible, make the field. That’s saying something too. So, trying to increase the exposure by many of the things I mentioned before at the national championship – increased media coverage, web casting and additional signage. Things like that would be nice for us to do at the regional level. One thing that is happening is that we are providing better student-athlete awards and things like that that they get for their participation. I think that’s a nice thing, and we’re seeing positive responses from the student-athletes in their surveys.
D3: Coming off of the NCAA convention [Jan. 11-14], where are you guys on realignment?
AH: That’s a great question. First, I should preface this by [saying] that’s really been a movement that has been undertaken and directed by our championships committee. In our governance structure, we have a sport committee that works with each of their respective sports. Then the next step up in that governance structure is the championships committee that’s made up of D-III athletic administrators, conference commissioners and such. And then on past that is our Division III management council made up of institutional presidents. So, part of this regional alignment – I give you that governance backdrop to explain the next step here – part of that regional realignment is that I think our presidents and many of our Division III administrators felt like maybe some of our championship structure was moving away from our D-III philosophy of being regionally based, educationally sound competition. So, there’s been a movement to make sure that that alignment is sound, that teams that are in the same conferences are in the same competitive – or what we call comparison regions or what-have-you – that they’re in the same region, that institutions that have a men’s basketball team and a women’s basketball team, [they] have the same regions with the same or similar nomenclature. So, for example, your women’s basketball team is in the Northeast, but your men’s basketball team is in the Mid-Atlantic or something like that. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. So, I think there was some of that. But I think the committee just kind of pumped the brakes a little bit on that just because of the nature of where our Division III institutions are located. There’s never going to be complete balance just by virtue of that. But they have identified that sports like basketball and baseball and softball, where you have a large number of Division III institutions sponsoring that sport, there are some commonalities that we can have with those eight-region sports. I think we’ll likely see something move forward with those. It may not move so swiftly with other sports that only have four and six regions just because there aren’t as many commonalities. But I will anticipate that we’re going to see some movement with a sport like baseball, where we have eight regionals.
D3: It kind of sounds like it’s slow going. Do you have an ETA when that might be done? Do you have a sense of that?
AH: The championships committee has committed that it wouldn’t take place until the 2013-14 academic year. If any change were to happen, it wouldn’t happen before then.
D3: What are some of the contentious points that it can’t get done quickly?
AH: I think initially it was a package proposal. It was a look at all of the sports. So, I think, as I mentioned before, they kind of slowed down because what works for sports like baseball and basketball, softball – where there are large numbers of institutions sponsoring sports – may not work for field hockey, for example, where there are only 150, 160 institutions sponsoring that sport that are primarily in the Northeast part of the country. So, it doesn’t make sense for the names of those regions to be aligned with a sport that has eight regions. Those sports have to be aligned like another sport that has more regions than that. So, I think that has been a little – I shouldn’t say push-back, but an observation that has been made, and one that was good. I think the championship committee’s credit, to their credit, slowed down and said, “OK, we can’t take the cookie-cutter approach. This round peg doesn’t fit in this square hole. So, let’s slow down, seek more feedback and input from those respective sports, and go from there.” And that’s where we are right now.
D3: Why is regional play the backbone of D-III?
AH: Well, because philosophically the idea for educationally sound competition where student-athletes aren’t travelling and missing excessive amounts of class time is paramount to Division III as well as the idea that regional competition and that institutions that are like you – educational philosophy, size – things like that are important. And then let’s just be honest. The economics of paying for it are also important. We don’t want institutions missing excessive class, travelling excessive distances at high expenses to do that. And that’s always been a pillar of Division III sports.
D3: Are there any movements or proposals to do away with the regional structure of D-III?
AH: Not at this time. I think there have been some discussions about maybe broadening what that definition is; “Is it necessary that institutions play 50 percent of their competition against Division-III schools and is there a percentage that will work well for us and maintain the philosophy and model of Division-III?” So, I think there’s some discussion about that, but there hasn’t been a proposal to do away with the regional philosophy.
D3: Switching gears a little bit, how did the new bat requirements from last year come about?
AH: How did they come about?
D3: Sure. Was it coming from a competition committee, the NCAA, coaches?
AH: I think it was a combination of safety concerns, quality of play, balance between offense and defense, a number of things. So, it really comes from our baseball rules committee because there are a number of folks that we get feedback from – from coaches’ associations, from administrators, from historians of the game. You know, all of those parts. I think all of that combined kind of moved – kind of got that ball rolling, and we ended up with the BBCOR standard.
D3: Is the NCAA happy with the early returns in terms of scoring, exit speeds, and that kind of stuff?
AH: I don’t know if I’m the person to necessarily comment for the NCAA because I don’t know necessarily if there was a goal or something in mind. I don’t believe that there was any document written that said “If we reduce runs scored by two runs a game, this is a success,” that type of thing. I don’t think that was ever the case. I think from the coaches’ perspective, they wanted a more true sense of baseball – a better talent evaluation. “A kid that is batting .380, is he really a .380 hitter?” I think the BBCOR bats perform more wood-like, and give a more traditional playing representation of the game of baseball. I think it provides a little more confidence for pitchers and provides a little more emphasis on defense. And so, in those respects, I think we’re happy. And the game seems to be doing well with the standards.
D3: Are there any plans to change the bats again in the near future?
AH: Not to my knowledge, no.
D3: Moving on to regional hosts; have regional hosts been selected for 2012?
AH: Preliminarily. I say that because they still have to be approved by our championships committee. That will come during their February meeting. Typically it would have already happened by now – the official notifications. But because we were lacking, for a better term, bids from what the committee felt was a good balance in geographic makeup of sites, the original bid period was extended, and that just ended last week [Jan. 16-23]. And then the committee made their recommendations, and those have now been forwarded onto the championships committee.
D3: Does the NCAA prefer the predetermined sites for baseball?
AH: For Division III it does. It kind of goes back to the philosophy for allowing us to spend more time helping to promote the regional and a specific location or area, providing more time for the host to prepare to make the experience as memorable as possible for the student-athletes. It gives us a little more time to map out travel [and] logistics scenarios based on who could particularly be in the field. So, from the administrative standpoint, yes, we like it a lot.
D3: In a typical year, how many schools bid to host for each regional?
AH: We’ve been down the last couple of years, so I don’t know if this is the best sample. Let’s see, we have eight regionals/regions, we might have 12 bids, maybe. Eleven to 12 bids. Sometimes we only get one bid from a region. This year and last year, we had a couple of regions that didn’t receive any bids from what we would call traditional teams from that region.
D3: What other kind of host-selection challenges are there?
AH: There are some mutual concerns – what it costs to run a regional at a minor league ballpark in New York or New Jersey. It’s a lot more than it would cost in the Midwest or in Illinois or Tennessee or Missouri or something like that. So, we have to weigh those things. We also have to weigh the history of the institution that’s hosting – are they staffed well enough to host the regional? Is the facility adequate? Is there adequate hotels? Is the facility, or the region, is that area easily accessible for our student-athletes and fans that may travel to it? All of those things are considered when the committee makes a recommendation and reviews bids.
D3: What is the general opinion of Appleton and Lawrence University as host of the championships?
AH: We’ve been extremely happy with Appleton and Lawrence and UW-Oshkosh – that entire region. It’s evident by being there for 11 or 12 years now. I think they have really taken ownership of the championship and kind of made it their own, which is a good thing. We like to see communities and cities do that because then they’ve got some skin in the game and they want to see it succeed, and their community rallies behind it. So, we’ve been really pleased with our time there and with the folks that help put that championship on.
D3: Are there any legitimate contenders to Appleton as host?
AH: I mean there are always competitors. You know [laughs] we want to keep folks honest. New ballparks are cropping up. Not even new – old ballparks that are still out there. At the NCAA we’ve got a brand new ballpark in Omaha, so there are certainly always other venues. But you just have to weigh it out. Like I said, we’ve been happy in Appleton. I don’t know if there was a reason to leave, but as smart business folks in baseball communities that are thinking about providing opportunities – all of those things – we certainly have to keep our eyes open.
D3: So there’s no movement to make Appleton D-III’s Omaha?
AH: Not at this time, no.
Next week: The conclusion of the Holman interview, which goes into the selection process.