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Archive for Tuesday, January 17, 1995

LOOP COACHES RIGHTLY VOTE TO NIX DIVIDEWED. HARTSOCK COLUMN

January 17, 1995

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The final salvo hasn't been fired yet in the war to integrate the soon-to-be Big 12, but the league's baseball coaches called a cease-fire of sorts on Monday, when they narrowly voted to implement a round-robin schedule for next spring.

It remains to be seen whether they'll be able to work and play well together.

But barring a surprise today, when the league athletic directors will hold a conference call to make the matter official, they will play together.

The format of the Big 12's baseball schedule was hotly contested, as feverishly if not as publicly as the football format.

When the Big 12 -- the existing Big Eight, plus Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Baylor -- begins in the fall of '96, some league baseball coaches had hoped for divisional play. Others championed a round-robin format.

Generally speaking, the proposed southern-division coaches favored divisional play, while the northern coaches were in favor of round-robin play.

"At times," said first-year head Kansas coach Bobby Randall, "it was pretty heated."

And with good reason.

The southerners were trying to protect their establishment from the riffraff up north. The northerners wanted to cash in on the league's new-found baseball wealth.

"I think divisions would really damage our ability for postseason play," Randall said. "We would have a very difficult time playing a good schedule. And it would have damaged recruiting."

As it is, southern schools traditionally have inherent geographic advantages. It's easier to recruit to warm-weather climes, and baseball is played longer there. Therefore, there's more talent available to the southern schools, and more talent means more success.

So the Big 12's southern sisters circled their wagons.

The north, however, saddled as it is with worse weather, hoped to take advantage of the league's premier status, luring prospects with the promise of playing against the likes of tradition-rich Texas and Oklahoma State.

Interestingly, somebody had to cross divisional lines to get the round-robin format to pass. Since Colorado doesn't have a baseball program, there are only five members of the proposed northern division -- Kansas, Kansas State, Nebraska, Missouri and Iowa State.

Somebody -- Randall's not saying who -- broke ranks from the six-team southern tier.

And it's a good thing, too.

Round-robin play is in the best interest of the Big 12 as a whole. Sure, it might lead to a little more parity, but there's no substitute for warm weather and tradition, and most of the southern schools have both in plenty supply.

"The easy way out," Randall said, "would be to say, 'Let the southern schools have their divisions. We'll play each other.' But that's the easy way out. It's not good for the schools, the fans or the players.

"When I was at Iowa State, people asked me if I was afraid to join the Big 12. I was never afraid of that. My biggest fear was that they were going to take away the opportunity to be great."

Well, pending the outcome of today's AD vote, that opportunity has arrived. What remains to be seen is what the northern tier can make out of that opportunity.

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