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The Bigger Baseball Problem



That they lost 12 of their last 16 was definitely an issue.

The consecutive losses to Troy and Belmont (!) did not help.

Only playing in one Super Regional in Frank Anderson’s 8 years is certainly not ideal.

A 12-year CWS drought is not something to be proud of.

But there’s a much larger problem infiltrating the Oklahoma State baseball program right now than what’s actually happening on the field.

See, from 1981 to 1996 the Oklahoma State baseball team made the wondrous trek to Omaha, Nebraska ten times. They didn’t win the College World Series during that timespan (their closest brush with glory coming in a 1990 loss to Georgia in the title game), but they were competing for national championships on a consistent basis.

The team was buoyed during this stretch of greatness by a sparkling new facility called Allie P. Reynolds Stadium which opened in 1981. As large piles of metal tend to do, it became dilapidated over the next few decades.

During this time however, between 1981 and 2005, the stadium underwent numerous renovations including: expanded seating, new outfield fences, new scoreboard, re-landscaping, new sound systems, an indoor hitting facility, and a new clubhouse.

The athletic department proceeded to pour millions of dollars of publicly and privately-funded cash into the smallest 3,000-seat sanctuary in the country.

These improvements were all necessary, if not dire, improvements to what was once a flagship regional host in college baseball’s version of the Road to the Final Four. In fact, the general formula as implied by the NCAA became: you make improvements to your facility and you get regional bids. And you can’t find a single person out of the 50,000 currently residing in Stillwater who is against thousands of visitors in town for a week inserting money into the infrastructure of the community on account of a half dozen or so baseball games.

However, in 2005 Harry Birdwell stepped down as director of athletics for OSU, Mike Holder took over, and a plan was set into motion to create Oregon 2.0 in Boone Pickens Stadium (even though Oregon 1.0 hadn’t even been established). Care to guess how many renovations have been made on the baseball stadium since then?


A few weeks ago John Helsley of the Oklahoman said,

When it comes to OSU, they have the worst facilities in the Big 12 — by far. That’s hard to recruit to.

Now I haven’t been to every facility in the Big 12 like John has, but I can’t imagine he’s that far off, even if he might be exaggerating a bit for effect.

I’m not sure that we can pin it all on Holder though. To his credit a new baseball kingdom was in the works as part of the Athletic Village before everything went to hell in 2008 and Boone’s wallet was drained. (The term “drained” obviously being quite relative in this instance)

Here’s the thing though: baseball is not treated as a top four sport in Stillwater. If I were to rank them, football is surely at the head of the class, basketball comes next, then wrestling and golf in some order, and after that baseball, soccer, and women’s hoops can get in line.

It all goes back to the classic “only basketball and football generate any kind of revenue” college athletics debate. Consider this: according to statistics aggregated by the U.S. Department of Education OSU’s baseball expenses ($282,000) in 2009-2010 (the most recent date of compilation) were nearly equal to that of their golf and wrestling expenses combined ($324,000). (U.S. Dept. of Education)

This is an issue for all sports not named football and basketball. You are being subsidized by Brandon Weeden’s right arm so if you aren’t generating revenue why should we care about your success? The reason golf and wrestling are propped up by athletic dollars is because 1.) Mike Holder wants it that way and 2.) John Smith is to college wrestling what 17th century John Smith was to settling Jamestown, Virginia – a legend.

As somebody who literally grew up on Cowboy baseball it makes me sad to see the profitability gap between the big two and all the other sports widen as it has. That’s the real tragedy here.

In the 1980s, when baseball was thriving in Stillwater, there were no billion dollar TV deals with Fox for college football rights. College sports were college sports, not multi-million dollar businesses shrouded in the veil of amateurism.

So I hope the athletic village ground is broken soon and those baseball field plans become more than just sketches on a piece of paper. You can blame Frank Anderson and Mike Holder all you want, but the reality is that hoops and football are the kings of today and everything exists to the extent that its athletic director and school president care about its existence.

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