Frei: For the kazillionth time … it’s time for CU and CSU to revive their baseball programs

Jun 27, 2017; Omaha, NE, USA; Florida Gators players celebrate winning the national championship against the LSU Tigers in game two of the championship series of the 2017 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Our digital photo archives only go back 25 years … so we don’t have a shot of either the CU Buffs or the CSU Rams playing this thing called “baseball” as an official NCAA sport.

(I say “official NCAA sport” is because the ardent proponents of the schools’ club programs bristle when they’re disregarded. OK, their participation is noted … but it isn’t Division I NCAA baseball.)

This absence of baseball at CU and CSU has gotten ridiculous. And even embarrassing.

As the 2018 NCAA College World Series begins, with teams shooting to make the final eight-team field at Omaha and possibly succeed the Florida Gators — above, celebrating a year ago — as the national champions, the Rams and the Buffs don’t even get participation ribbons.

The following Pac-12 Conference schools don’t have baseball programs:

  • Colorado.

The league actually could have done all of us a favor by requiring the return of baseball at CU as a condition of admission in 2011.

The following Mountain West Conference schools don’t have baseball programs:

  • Colorado State.
  • Utah State.
  • Wyoming.
  • Boise State.

The catches are that Hawaii is a football-only league member, but does have a baseball program; and that Boise State is scheduled to resume baseball in 2020.

Boise State … can … do … it.

CU dropped baseball in 1980.

The axe fell on the baseball program at CSU in 1992.

The positives of restoring the sport, especially in intangible terms of alumni goodwill and  giving Colorado prep products a chance to attend the state’s two best-known public schools and play NCAA Division I baseball, outweigh the negatives.

The negatives all involve cost and the need to adhere to Title IX standards.

That said, I’ll recoil at any reflexive attempt to blame gender parity in athletic opportunity for the absence of baseball at CU and CSU.

Baseball at CU and CSU was a non-revenue sport, like golf and gymnastics. Folks who at least implicitly oppose equal opportunity for men and women in non-revenue sports on the college level are riding dinosaurs as they enter the discussions.

The point is, other schools pull it off in 2018.

Hell, almost all Division I schools pull it off. They have baseball and they manage to pass Title IX muster.

I get it. Athletic directors Rick George at CU and Joe Parker at CSU aren’t to blame here for the state of affairs.

This predated their tenures and bringing the sport back is harder — a lot harder — than keeping it alive.

They had other higher-priority missions: George was charged to find a way to get new football program facilities built, even if it meant doing it before all the money raised, something previous AD Mike Bohn wasn’t allowed to do. Parker had to prioritize shepherding through the on-campus stadium project that was Jack Graham’s baby, and he did a terrific job.

Beyond that, both feel the need to get the existing programs on solid ground and perhaps add a women’s program to provide Title IX breathing room.

But both could be heroes for finding a way to bring back baseball.

There’s just something distasteful and even disgustingly small-time about the lack of chances for Colorado high school graduates to play a traditional and popular sport at the  Division I, not club, level. Yes, Northern Colorado’s underfunded program plays in the Western Athletic Conference. Air Force is in the Mountain West. And the state’s Division II programs in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference actually benefit from the lack of Division I competition and are, well, pretty good.

Yet excellent baseball players who would be amenable to attending CU and CSU for four years and majoring in business, engineering, or anything else, while playing Division I baseball should have that opportunity.

It would be costly to build new baseball stadiums on the CU and CSU campuses.

So what?

Students should be able to walk out of CU’s Muenzinger Auditorium after a tough exam and be within walking or campus shuttle distance of being able to sit in the sun at the baseball park.

The similar experience should be available at CSU.

This should not be done on a shoestring. In my travels around the country — to the University of Arkansas, for example — what’s noticeable on the baseball front is that many campus baseball stadiums are little gems that look like the best of the spring-training parks or the new minor-league parks.

The final objection you hear about spring college baseball in Colorado is this: Gee, what about the weather? That’s absurd. Yes, in some Colorado springs, high school schedules get backed up and games are squeezed in. But one of the most underplayed accomplishments in recent NCAA history was Oregon State’s back-to-back College World Series championships in 2006 and 2007. And the Beavers have remained a national power since.

Has anyone checked the spring weather in the Willamette Valley? It ain’t exactly Palm Springs. And the Beavers’ success caught the attention of the school down the road in Eugene, and — with Phil Knight and Nike money supporting it — the Ducks revived their baseball program in 2009.

Colorado can do that, too.

So can Colorado State.

Both schools need to find a way.

* * *

Terry Frei of the Greeley Tribune writes two commentaries a week for Mile High Sports. He has been named a state’s sports writer of the year seven times, four times in Colorado (including for 2015 and 2016) and three times in Oregon. He’s the author of seven books, including “Third Down and a War to Go” and “’77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age.” His web site is terryfrei.com. His additional “On the Colorado Scene” commentaries are here and his Greeley Tribune columns and major features, including his Memorial Day tribute to another Dick Monfort, can be accessed here.   

E-mail: [email protected]

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