College baseball is baseball that is played on the intercollegiate level at institutions of higher education. In comparison to football and basketball, college competition in the United States plays a smaller role in developing professional players, as baseball's professional minor leagues are more extensive. Moving directly from high school to the professional level is more common in baseball than in football or basketball. However, if players enroll at a four-year college, they must complete three years to regain eligibility, unless they reach age 21 before starting their third year of attendance. Players who enroll at junior colleges (i.e., two-year institutions) regain eligibility after one year at that level. In the most recently completed 2016 season, there were 300 NCAA Division I teams in the United States (including schools transitioning from Division II to Division I).
- Recent growth
- Collegiate rules
- Metal versus wood bat
- Draft process
- Recruitment process
- Substance policies
- Longest game in college baseball history
- Video gaming
As with most other U.S. intercollegiate sports, competitive college baseball is played under the auspices of the NCAA or the NAIA. The NCAA writes the rules of play, while each sanctioning body supervises season-ending tournaments. The final rounds of the NCAA tournaments are known as the College World Series; one is held on each of the three levels of competition sanctioned by the NCAA. The College World Series for Division I takes place in Omaha, Nebraska in June, following the regular season. The playoff bracket for Division I consists of 64 teams, with four teams playing at each of 16 regional sites (in a double-elimination format). The 16 winners advance to the Super Regionals at eight sites, played head-to-head in a best-of-three series. The eight winners then advance to the College World Series, a double elimination tournament (actually two separate four-team brackets) to determine the two national finalists. The finalists play a best-of-three series to determine the Division I national champion. In 2016, Coastal Carolina won the College World Series.
The first intercollegiate baseball game took place in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on July 1, 1859, between squads representing Amherst College and Williams College. Amherst won, 73–32. This game was one of the last played under an earlier version of the game known as "Massachusetts rules", which prevailed in New England until the "Knickerbocker Rules" (or "New York Rules") developed in the 1840s gradually became accepted. The first ever nine-man team college baseball game under the Knickerbocker Rules still in use today was played in New York on November 3, 1859 between the Fordham Rose Hill Baseball Club of St. John's College (now Fordham University) against The College of St. Francis Xavier, now known as Xavier High School.
Traditionally, college baseball has been played in the early part of the year, with a relatively short schedule and during a time when cold (and/or rainy) weather hinders the ability for games to be played, particularly in the northern and midwestern parts of the U.S. These and other factors have historically led colleges and universities across the nation to effectively consider baseball a minor sport, both in scholarships as well as money and other points of emphasis.
College baseball has grown phenomenally in popularity since the 1980s, as coaches and athletic directors in warm-weather regions of the nation began to recognize the unrealized potential appeal of the sport. These coaches went out and aggressively recruited the sport to potential athletes, as well as made various upgrades to their programs; such as bigger and better stadiums, more money for staff and support salaries, and promotions.
As these efforts resulted in better players and overall programs, more television and print media coverage began to emerge. The ESPN family of networks greatly increased television coverage of the NCAA playoffs and the College World Series.
Soon, in many warm-weather regions, baseball came to be considered a major sport, approaching the level of football and basketball. And even non-warm weather schools started to recognize baseball's potential and began to put considerably more emphasis on it. Nebraska, Notre Dame, and Oregon State are three notable examples of cold (or rainy) weather schools with very successful programs. The first two made the College World Series when warm-weather schools placed major emphasis on baseball as well as had the advantage of playing earlier and more games because of favorable climates. Oregon State won back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007; at that time, archrival Oregon had been without baseball for a quarter-century, having dropped its program in 1981. Many credit the Beavers' success as a primary factor in the University of Oregon's later decision to revive baseball in 2009.
Before the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome was demolished in early 2014, Minnesota took advantage of it to play the majority of their games, including hosting a prestigious preseason tournament. With the 2010 departure of the MLB Minnesota Twins for the new Target Field, the school hoped to use the Metrodome for future Big Ten tournaments and bids on the NCAA tournament. Along with that, many smaller conferences (not in Division I) played games at the Metrodome during February in order to keep up with schools in warm-weather locations. While the Metrodome's replacement, U.S. Bank Stadium, was designed mainly for the NFL's Minnesota Vikings, it has movable seating banks that allow it to be configured for baseball.
For 2008 and succeeding seasons, the NCAA mandated the first ever start date for Division I baseball, thirteen weeks before the selection of the NCAA tournament field, which takes place on Memorial Day.
The rules of college baseball are similar to the Official Baseball Rules. Exceptions include the following:
Metal versus wood bat
Though a wood bat is legal in NCAA competition, players overwhelmingly prefer and use a metal bat. The metal bat was implemented in college baseball in 1975. Use of a metal bat is somewhat controversial. Supporters of an aluminum or composite bat note that it can increase offensive performance, as the speed of a ball off a metal bat is generally faster than off a wood bat. Those against metal, and for wood, argue that a metal bat is not safe to use, and that a metal bat doesn't prepare players for the next level, as professional baseball uses a wood bat exclusively. In the 2011 season the NCAA changed the requirements for a metal bat, reducing the maximum allowed exit speed in a way that is said to produce a feeling more like a wood bat. As a result, in 2011 there was a drop-off in overall "long" drives or home runs relative to past years.
All players resident in the U.S. and its territories are eligible to be selected in Major League Baseball's Rule 4 Draft upon graduating from high school. However, once a player enrolls in a four-year college or university, he is not allowed to be drafted (or re-drafted) until completing three years of school or reaching age 21, whichever comes first. By contrast, players who enroll in junior colleges (i.e., two-year institutions) are eligible for selection at any time. The Rule 4 Draft of eligible college and high school players consists of 40 rounds. Despite MLB's draft being considerably longer than that of the NFL or NBA, only about 9.1% of all NCAA senior baseball players are drafted by an MLB team.
One of the biggest controversies with the draft and these amateur athletes is the use of agents. There have been many cases of college athletes consulting or hiring an agent prematurely in direct violation of NCAA rules. The NCAA came up with the "no agent rule" as a result of this, claiming it was to benefit the amateur athletes. The rule states that "[a]n individual shall be ineligible for participation in an intercollegiate sport if he or she has agreed (orally or in writing) to be represented by an agent for the purpose of marketing his or her athletics ability or reputation in that sport". Representation of an agent is considered to be any direct contact with the professional team during the contract negotiations. This contact can be made many different ways, whether through direct conversation, via mail or through the telephone. This rule is strongly enforced by the NCAA and has harsh consequences if broken.
The recruitment process is similar to that of the Major League Draft in that a high school athlete is taking the next step in his career. The NCAA places restrictions on the coaches that are trying to convince athletes to come play for them and attend their university. College baseball programs are only allowed to offer a limited number of scholarships each year, so the process of earning a scholarship is quite competitive. Baseball is classified by the NCAA as an "equivalency" sport, meaning that limits on athletic financial aid are set to the equivalent of a fixed number of full scholarships. Division I schools are allowed the equivalent of 11.7 full scholarships; Division II schools, only 9.0. Schools generally choose to award multiple partial scholarships rather than exclusively full scholarships. In Division I, the NCAA also limits the total number of players receiving baseball-related financial aid to 27, and also requires that each of these players receive athletic aid equal to at least 25% of a full scholarship. The 25% rule does not apply to schools that offer aid based solely on financial need (most notably Ivy League members), and also does not apply to a player in his final year of athletic eligibility who has not previously received athletically related aid in baseball at any college.
Before September 1 of a potential college player's 11th grade year, it is illegal for a college program to give any kind of recruiting materials to the prospect. A phone call is not even permitted to the prospect until July 1 of the student's 11th grade year. Once the player is committed to the school of his choice, he must sign his letter of intent during one of several signing periods. The early signing period for a Division I baseball player is between November 8 and 15; the late signing period dates for these players are April 11 to August 1.
The substance policies for college baseball are very strict and set by the NCAA. There is a set list of substances a college baseball player is forbidden to put in his body, and there is severe punishment for those that defy it, whether it be intentional or unintentional. There is a very long list of these substances, including alcohol, marijuana, anabolic steroids, and heroin, to name just a few. These substances fit into categories such as stimulants, anabolic steroids, diuretics, street drugs, hormones, anti-estrogens, and more. Failure to pass scheduled or random drug tests can result in ineligibility.
Longest game in college baseball history
The longest college baseball game was played between Texas and Boston College on May 30, 2009, during the NCAA Division I Baseball Championship regional tournament at Austin, Texas. Texas – which was designated the visiting team despite playing on its home field – won the game, 3–2, in 25 innings. The game lasted seven hours three minutes.
After losing its license for Major League Baseball, EA Sports released MVP 06 NCAA Baseball, the first college baseball video game. A second game, MVP 07: NCAA Baseball, was also released before the series was discontinued due to low sales.