Big 12 competition could overshadow WVU baseball

There was a time not all that long ago when West Virginia University baseball won conference championships, joined other southeastern-based teams in NCAA District or Regional tournaments, and had a long series of winning seasons.

When a member of the Southern Conference, the Mountaineers regularly qualified for District III tournaments in Gastonia, NC. After that, WVU teams did well against their regional rivals in the Eastern Eight, East Coast Athletic Conference or Atlantic 10. And there were several NCAA tournament appearances after joining the Big East.

The spectacular baseball facility at Texas A&M in College Station.

But of late, the Mountaineers have slid backwards . . . even losing non-conference games to Morehead State, Maryland, and George Mason on one-game dates.

And the 2012 season has not produced much satisfaction or much enthusiasm for joining with the national powers that inhabit the Big 12.

Athletic administrators in the Big 12 have shown conference-wide concern for WVU’s baseball facilities. None of the 10 Big 12 members have fields, clubhouses, or grandstands that are on the spartan level of West Virginia’s. Athletic directors and baseball coaches are worried about what they will find (or won’t find) when they come to Morgantown for a March game.

Those affiliated with Mountaineer baseball have to wonder how WVU will fare when faced with most of the Big 12 teams.

In this year’s Big East standings, West Virginia can be found in 11th place in a 12-team league. Only Cincinnati at 2-16 is below the Mountaineers in a league where none of the teams can win enough to find the way to the College World Series.

As of May 4, the Mountaineers were just 5-13 in Big East games. West Virginia has been swept in three-game series by Connecticut, Rutgers, and Seton Hall. The overall record was 17-27.

The Big East Conference holds a tournament where the champion emerges as an automatic qualifier for the 64-team NCAA tournament that begins with six-team Regionals spread out across the country.

With three games remaining against second-place Louisville (31-14 overall) and three games against 10th-place Georgetown (20-24 overall), the Mountaineers will probably miss qualifying for the Big East tournament.

Only eight teams qualify for the Big East event. And eighth-place Villanova had an 8-10 league record . . . leaving it three games ahead of WVU for the final spot in the league tournament.

If West Virginia is finishing 11th in a 12-team Big East, where will it land in the ultra-competitive Big 12 Conference?

It is not the troubled win-loss season West Virginia is having that most troubles the Big 12 administrators and coaches.

It is Hawley Field, the baseball facility, that is most worrisome.

Hawley Field doesn’t have clubhouse or locker room facilities for either team. Visiting opponents must dress in their motel or hotel rooms and then bus over to Hawley Field to play. When games have been completed, those opponents board their buses and return to their motels or hotels to shower and accomplish their post-game assignments.

Hawley Field also has small concrete block dugouts, no covered grandstand area, a very small pressbox, and a seating capacity of 1,500.

The Mountaineers have never qualified for the College World Series.

Nebraska has already left the Big 12 and Missouri will leave after this season.

Let’s look at the baseball stadiums and facilities around the Big 12.

The University of Texas has Disch-Falk Field with a seating capacity of 6,500 and 5,000 chairback seats. Appearances by the Longhorns in the College World Series are numerous; as are the national championships. Spacious clubhouses are available to both teams.

The mostly-covered seating areas are comfortable and handicap accessible, but the reason Coach Augie Garrido’s teams average 6,500 fans a game is because of the national championships and the expectations of another one every season.

Baylor has become a national power and this year had an 18-0 conference record through May 4. The Bears have a stadium with 3,200 chairback seats under covered stands and 1,000 more uncovered seats. There are 42 luxury boxes and a 13-foot by 16-foot video screen above the scoreboard. Again, large carpeted clubhouses are in place for both teams.

The record crowd to see the Bears play is 5,602.

At Oklahoma State, Allie Reynolds Stadium holds 4,000 and has 1,000 chairback seats. The Cowboys have qualified for a number of College World Series visits. The clubhouses are roomy and modern.

Texas A&M qualified for the 2011 College World Series. It plays at Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park, a facility that recently had a $24 million renovation to its 6,500 capacity covered grandstand. Here in 2012, the Aggies are 32-13 overall and appear ready for another NCAA tournament run.

The Oklahoma Sooners play at 2,700-seat Dale Mitchell Baseball Park on campus and have hosted Regional tournaments at a minor league stadium nearby.

Oklahoma won national championships in 1951 and 1994.

Like West Virginia, Texas Christian will be a new member to the Big 12 for the 2013 baseball season. The Horned Frogs have a 4,500-seat, double-decked grandstand that is covered. Recent College World Series appearances have come from teams that were ranked in the Top 10 during the regular season. The record crowd in Fort Worth to see the Horned Frogs is 6,099.

At Texas Tech, there has been a $5 million upgrade to Dan Law Field, a facility with a seating capacity of 5,015. The average crowd in 2011 was 2,771 and the Red Raiders still have miles to go before they reach as high on a yearly basis as Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Christian, and Baylor reach.

The baseball team at Kansas has a history of only one College World Series appearance, but the facilities are still worthy of being in the Big 12. The seating capacity at Hoglund Stadium is 2,500 and the field is covered in Astro Turf so games are played if it isn’t raining. The clubhouses are roomy and plush.

The Jayhawks were 18-27 on May 4.

Kansas State squirms to compete in the Big 12. Its 3-15 conference record leaves it in last place in 2012. But it has Tointon Family Stadium to play in and that facility has a seating capacity of 2,331. The largest crowd to see a Wildcat game is 4,200. Many minor league teams don’t have the same quality clubhouse haunts.

Baseball teams coming to Morgantown from the Big 12 don’t want to dress in a motel. They won’t like the dugouts.

Will the combined voices of the other nine schools be loud enough or threatening enough to bring changes to Hawley Field? And will the Mountaineers be able to compete better in that league than they have this year in the Big East?

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