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Bo's Baseball Bites: Remember The Days Of 'All You Can Play' Schedules?

Long for the times of 73-14? They Are No More...

DALLAS – Those early primary results are in, and they show a heated duel between Biden and Trump. Oops, thinking about this 2024 national election year, and here is a more pleasing topic to college baseball fans.

For starters, 2022 NCAA runner Oklahoma and mastermind coach Skip Johnson (he took a team that was 18-11 at one point, won the Phillips 66 Big 12 Conference Championship and fell to Ole Miss in the ’22 NCAA Championship Round in Omaha to close the year at 45-24 overall) guided the Sooners to a 3-0 sweep of UCF, which had opened the season at 8-1 to tie for the early Big 12 lead with an improved Houston nine.

The ’24 season also marks the most teams competing in the Big 12 since the 2001 season, when Iowa State dropped baseball, as 13 schools vie for the loop’s automatic NCAA bid. The first five years of that conference’s competition consisted of 11 schools, as Colorado also dropped the diamond sport in 1980, due to Title IX and weather conditions.

While the expanded Big 12 is starting a record, 30-game conference slate with early March matchups, other conferences such as the 14-school Atlantic Coast Conference also are pushing toward final series in the May 16-18 weekend (with Thursday-Saturday three-gamers replacing the usual Friday-Sunday weekend).

ACC leaders after one weekend are 3-0 NC State, topping the Atlantic Division, and dual 3-0 ACC starters North Carolina and Virginia Tech topping the Coastal Division.

One of the more intriguing matchups in that opening weekend featured preseason and early weeks’ No. 1 nationally Wake Forest hosting Top 10-ranked Duke for a trio of contests, with the Coastal Division Blue Devils winning two of three. That also sent the Demon Deacons into a 1-3 tailspin over four games after a 17-9 road thumping at Coastal Carolina on March 12.

Those “sunshine” conferences may seem to be getting an early jump on the “snowbirds” of the East, Midwest and Northwest, as the squads from the latter three regions have to flee to Florida, Arizona, Texas, or California to get into early March activity.

Among the warm weather circuits, California started 3-0 in the Pac-12 (which unlike the SEC and Big 12 does not compete in divisions), while the Big West and West Coast Conferences chose to open their conference campaigns in the coming weekend. Part of that has to do with the numbers of competing teams with nine or fewer in the BWC and WCC.

Incidentally, the frostbite Mid-American Conference decided to roll the dice and bring out the thermals for an opening league weekend March 8-10, that resulted in a three-way, 3-0 deadlock among Bowling Green, Kent State (alma mater of baseball/football player Nick Saban and rock musician Joe Walsh) and Toledo.

Kudos to those Midwesterners, and it brings to mind another development from the 1980s when NCAA and conference regulation of the approved number of regular-season games scheduled began.

Wichita State set a NCAA record in 1982 with an astounding, 87-game schedule (including conference tourney and NCAA Championship skirmishes) that produced a 73-14 record. In the middle 1960s, aging Alabama head coach, and Baseball Hall of Fame member, Joe Sewell scheduled 70-plus overall tests, ending up with a 38-32 mark after some rain-outs and re-scheduling. Texas also often slated 60-65 regular-season games, with an eye toward rainouts, against then-Southwest Conference opponents and several nearby non-conference rivals.

As mentioned in an prior column, the Southeastern Conference fell in line with the NCAA’s revision to a maximum of 56 regular-season contests by requiring SEC members to play at least 33 home games for team success and economic reasons.

Schools such as Mississippi State had to end some historic, popular, and competitive in-state series with the likes of Mississippi College, Delta State, William Carey, and similar out-of-state rivals due to another league requirement that all scheduled games should be against NCAA Division I competitors.

In some cases when teams saw they were not headed to postseason play, they might slip in a game with Lipscomb (in its pre-DI days) or Livingston/West Alabama (when it was Division II) to get an extra game gate or to work some younger pitchers a few more innings.

Regardless, at continued urging by primarily the Big Ten Conference, the start of each season in the late 1990s was pushed back until the third Friday in February.

This kept teams such as early-birds Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, New Mexico State, and several schools from Florida, Texas and California from scheduling games as early as the final week in January and having as many as 15-20 games under their belts before some of the Big Ten, Big East, Ivy League, or others had been able to dig out of snow drifts.

It definitely provided an experience advantage to traveling teams headed toward these destinations as they were moving outdoors for the first time.

The Clearwater and St. Petersburg (Fla.) Sports Commissions had an idea from 2009-13 to match Big Ten and Big East Conference teams (when Louisville, West Virginia, Rutgers, and others played in the Big East) in a third-week-in-February tournament with three intersectional tussles Fridays-Sundays.

The only problems with this were such curve balls as Illinois’ commercial flight being delayed one Thursday night until midnight in Chicago, with the Fighting Illini not arriving at their hotel for a noon game until Friday morning at 4 a.m. (EDT); or when groundkeepers had to scrape a rare snowfall off the Clearwater diamonds to help a delayed start get going in another year of Big East-Big Ten Challenge.

At any rate, NCAA Division II teams have been limited to 50 regular-season contests, and the DIII teams are allowed 45 regularly-scheduled contests before their tournaments. There also was a move in the late 1990s (vehemently opposed by Hall of Fame head coaches Ron Polk and Gene Stephenson) to cut the DI slate back to 50-52 games, but the 56-game standard still remains.

Stay tuned, and let’s see if these early conference openers are favorable for those DI teams come postseason tourney time, or if the conferences who waited might have more rested crews with fresher arms and legs.


Bo Carter is the Executive Director of the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) and is a long time professional in sports media and information. He is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and has plied his trade in the Southeastern Conference, the Southwest Conference, and the Big 12 Conference. In addition to his NCBWA duties, he also serves as a consultant and columnist for the National Football Foundation. Follow the NCBWA, which produces ranking polls for D1, D2, and D3, as well as naming All America teams at both the D1 and D2 levels and the Dick Howser Trophy (presented each year in Omaha at the Men’s College World Series) at @NCBWA. And, if you’re a college baseball fan, you don’t have to be media to be a member, check them out at and join today!

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