by Brian North

I love baseball as much as anybody. I love the smell of freshly cut grass, the sight of a well manicured infield, and the sound of the ball smacking into the pocket of a leather glove. But I don't like the game when it is played in the frigid temperatures of February.

East Carolina played in snow flurries during its opening weekend against Maryland (February 10th & 12th). Conditions were uncomfortable for most in attendance during Sunday's doubleheader (announced at over 2,400) but that wasn't even the earliest the Pirates could have played. Teams could open the 2006 season February 3rd. If you live in Florida or Southern California, the weather probably wasn't bad, but for the rest of the country, starting baseball that early is b-b-b-brutal.

But change is on the horizon. The NCAA has decided to push back the start of the college baseball season for all schools. The uniform start date takes effect for the 2008 season, and that year February 22 will be the first day teams can play games. There are good points and bad points to this change.

The good points are that it allows cold weather universities a little more time to catch up to their southern counterparts. It also means obscure early season games won't get lost as much in the college basketball shuffle. And it means warmer temperatures (hopefully) to play most of the games in.

The bad points: the later start date sets the length of the season at 13 weeks, trimming three to five weeks from the schedules. Fewer weekends mean fewer three-game series, and teams accustomed to starting early will have to schedule more midweek games if they wish to reach the NCAA limit of 56, and that would mean more missed class time for players. Factor in that teams must devote between eight and ten weeks to conference play, and there are fewer pre-conference opportunities for the intersectional matchups that make that part of the college baseball season so enjoyable.

Also, teams such as East Carolina that play in conferences not affiliated with Bowl Championship Series need home weekend series to help with their athletics budget. So they might not be able to trade home-and-home series with other schools out of the need to play more home games on weekends and collect that gate.

A solution to the problems of a later start could be a later finish. But the fine folks of Omaha are opposed to moving back the College World Series because they will be dealing with even hotter temperatures (days in June get pretty toasty at Rosenblatt Stadium), and it would back things up into their big Fourth of July celebration. The later finish would also hurt summer leagues which start at the begining of June , such as the Coastal Plain League.

But to me, finishing the college baseball season in the warm weather of summer when things are slower, is much better than starting baseball in early February when college basketball is king and the cold is cruel.

Brian North