Welcome to this sports article!
College baseball started its 2017 campaign this week, so it’s time to break out your ballcap and your Zoloft because the BIG EAST Conference is set to send one team to the tournament for the fourth consecutive year!
If you’re thinking about breaking into the weird world of BIG EAST baseball let me just set some ground rules to get your general knowledge up to par: there are only 7 schools that field teams and only 4 teams make the conference tournament. Those 7 teams will play a round robin schedule in a three game series, alternating home-and-away every year. So, because Creighton played at Xavier last year, they’ll play at Creighton this year, etc.
Last year, Xavier stumbled out of the gate in their non-conference schedule yet proceeded to get extremely hot as the season built to its conclusion, landing them a conference title and an NCAA bid. Creighton did the complete opposite, was actually being considered for a hosting role for the NCAA’s last year, yet limped to the finish line and failed to make the tournament all together.
Typically there are two or three dominant teams in conference. Last year it was Xavier, Creighton, and St. John’s. The year before that it was Creighton, St. John’s, and Seton Hall. The remaining four teams usually suck - the bottom two sucking extremely hard - so there’s an exciting race to see which shitty team will inevitably make the conference tournament and get sent home in two games.
Speaking of the conference tournament, the site this year will be the beautiful TD Ameritrade Park in downtown Omaha, NE. It’s a double elimination tournament usually attended by forty or fifty people who really enjoy mediocre baseball. The tournament won’t return to this ballpark, the crown jewel of college baseball, for the next five years because Val Ackerman and the BIG EAST could care less for America’s pastime and would rather have it played in a poorly accessible and tepidly attended stadium in Somewhere, Maryland or Whateversville, New Jersey.
Some BIG EAST ballparks are very hitter friendly, some are very pitcher friendly, and some are city parks because the universities decided not to give a fuck about baseball and move their funding elsewhere. You can see a list of all these ‘gems’ by clicking this link.
Butler fired Steve Farley, their head coach for 25 years, because of general incompetence when it came to teaching young ballplayers how to play defense. It’s been rumored that, during a road trip in the 2016 season, Farley referred to his players as, “5 o’clock Joes,” a term deriding the team for hitting well in batting practice but failing to hit during the game. I’m no leader of young men, but I feel like using an out dated term with young ballplayers isn’t really an effective way to motivate them. They ended up hiring old guy Dave Schrage, who inherits a 40 loss ballclub. He’s been around the block a few times, and according to Butler’s press release, he’s led 6 ballclubs to “success.” Butler isn’t very good in pretty much every facet of the game, so perhaps Schrage will be a step in the right direction.
Creighton plays small-ball, utilizing sacrifice bunts to move runners over while relying on their pitching to shut down their opposition. This works against Butler, Georgetown, and Villanova. It doesn’t work against Xavier, Nebraska, or SEC teams who hang dong all over the god damn place. Their pitching is more inclined to pitch-to-contact, relying on their defense to save the day, which will be highly questionable this season since they start a new guy at every defensive position. The Jays feature a rich tradition in baseball, playing their home games at TD Ameritrade Park (the home of the College World Series) and hold the most recent visit by a BIG EAST team to the CWS (1991).
Georgetown is the bizarre wildcard in the BIG EAST, always somehow making it into the top-5 in the last couple of series in conference play. In 2015 they actually managed to make it into the tournament after a strange final weekend of conference play, yet they were ousted from said tournament immediately. They feature a pretty excellent offense, typically, but they play their games in the middle of nowhere so do they really deserve any accolades? No.
Seton Hall plays baseball in an exciting and old-school manner, utilizing high risk and high rewards with a bevvy of hit-and-runs and stolen bases. Without left fielder and error prone Zack Weigel navigating the pasture, the Pirates may well feature a ballclub with a solid defense and some of the best pitching in conference this year. They’re typically one of the better baseball teams that you’ll see and they’re very rewarding for the average baseball viewer. Plus they have Mikael-Ali Mogues, who is more grizzly bear than man.
St. John’s also plays an aggressive style of baseball, utilizing the power gaps to get runners on while relying on strong Friday-Saturday starters while forgoing the Sunday game. Their schedule, by far, is the weakest of all the BIG EAST schools, as longtime coach Ed Blankmeyer chooses to romp the likes of St. Peter’s or whatever the fuck NYIT is. The Red Storm love cupcakes and they fuck over the conference RPI due to their gluttony.
Villanova decided to roll the dice and axed their long-time manager Joe Godri, replacing him with former pitcher/pitching coach Young Guy Kevin Mulvey. Though the staff’s ERA has been trending in the correct direction under his watchful eye as a pitching coach, it may take a while to establish themselves as a decent program. After all, it took 15 years for the athletic department to part ways with Godri. The Wildcats have historically been sub-par on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, so watching them play is akin to a below-average high school team.
Xavier loves to demoralize opposing starting pitchers by blasting dingers in their crackerbox of a stadium. The Musketeers have a distinct advantage over the rest of the conference as they have a recruiting pipeline to the hot beds of baseball players in Northern Kentucky and the south, acquiring players who have the ability to play year-round but are castoffs of the perennial powers in the area. They also have the toughest schedule annually, choosing to play college baseball powers that be in Louisville and Florida State only to get crushed so they can learn some type of lesson that eventually pays off in dividends.
Overall, the conference is a mess and has been in great need of funds and development from the highest office. For the likes of Xavier and Creighton, who came from decent baseball conferences before joining the BIG EAST, the overall lack of attention to baseball has hurt one of their better athletic programs.
Maybe someday the BIG EAST will get a couple of teams in the NCAA tournament, but for that to happen the head coaches will have to push a lot harder to get more money to travel to the far corners of the southeast, pacific northwest, and southwest to play better competition in the non-conference slate.
If they don’t the league will always be in the dark corner of college baseball, suckling at the foundation when it starts to develop condensation.
Editor’s note: my opinions are shitty and I’m usually wrong so take these things with a grain of salt. Or buy in completely, it’s your shitty life.