Published June 16, 2013
OMAHA, Neb. – LSU coach Paul Mainieri would like to put a little more oomph back into college baseball.
The record-setting offensive numbers of 15 years ago made the game a farce to old-school fans that preferred more pitching and defense. Bat standards adopted since then have brought the statistics back into line.
Mainieri said there might have been an over-correction.
"I just worry that it goes in the other direction," Mainieri said. "Because whether we want to admit it or not, we still are fighting for the fan bases and the support."
The NCAA began taking steps to tone down aluminum bats after the 1998 College World Series, when there were a record 62 home runs in 14 games. The current bat standards went into effect in 2011, bringing the performance of metal bats as close as possible to wood.
The NCAA midseason statistical trend report showed the college game is at its least offensive since the wood-bat days of the early 1970s. So yes, the bats are doing what they're supposed to do. But Mainieri wants to make sure the game remains entertaining.
Division I teams were batting .270 at midseason, scoring 5.25 runs a game and averaging one home run every three games. Only 32 teams batted .300 this season.
It's not as if Mainieri's Tigers have struggled. They came to Omaha with a .308 average, 46 home runs and a scoring average of 6.6 runs. His lineup packs plenty of punch all the way through and features two of the nation's top hitters in Alex Bregman (.380) and Mason Katz (.366, 15 homers).
Still, Mainieri said he liked where the game was in 2010, when Division I teams batted a combined .305 and averaged seven runs and about one homer a game. Some 177 of 292 teams batted .300 or better that year.
"My personal feeling was, in 2010, they had the bats right and they changed them again," Mainieri said. "I like to see offense. I like to see the ability to come from behind with late-inning home runs. I think that's a niche that made college baseball very exciting, and I'd just hate for us to lose that."
The drop in offense has been magnified at the College World Series. TD Ameritrade Park is a pitcher's paradise, with batters hitting into a prevailing south wind and spacious outfield.
An average of 7.2 and 7.1 runs a game were scored in the first two years the CWS has been played at the new stadium, the lowest since 1973.
North Carolina coach Mike Fox said he's not sure it's time to tinker with the game, which is getting an unprecedented amount of national television coverage this season.
"It's hard to argue with the popularity of our game," Fox said. "I think we'd all agree that's ultimately the most important thing."
North Carolina State's Elliott Avent compared the baseball debate to football.
"Do you want to go see a 10-0 football game or a 47-41 Boise State-against-Nevada-Reno maybe?" he said. "So it's whatever you're in to. But as long as the popularity of the game hasn't been hurt, I think the coaches will be OK."
THAT OTHER SPORT: It's been a Who's Who of basketball coaches the first two days at the CWS.
Roy Williams of North Carolina and Mike Gottfried of NC State were on hand for the battle of the Tar Heels and Wolfpack on Sunday. Indiana's Tom Crean was in the stands to watch the Hoosiers beat Louisville on Saturday.
Speaking of Louisville, national-championship coach Rick Pitino is scheduled to be in town for the Cardinals' elimination game against Oregon State on Monday.
POPPE PLAZA: Retiring NCAA official Dennis Poppe, who oversaw the growth of the CWS for all or part of three decades, will have an area on the southwest side of TD Ameritrade Park named in his honor.
The Dennis Poppe Plaza will be identified by a permanent monument standing more than 8 feet tall with a description of his contributions as CWS lead administrator from 1988-2013.
Poppe is retiring as NCAA vice president of championships and alliances on Jan. 1.
SHORT HOPS: Everything was spelled correctly on the College World Series logo on top of the third-base dugout Sunday, a day after the NCAA had to deal with the embarrassment of seeing the word "college" spelled "COLLLEGE." Fans guffawed over the mistake, and it was a trending topic on Twitter by Saturday night. An NCAA spokesman said there was a mixup involving the graphics company that produced the sign. ... Mississippi State's Brett Pirtle goes into Monday's matchup with Indiana having reached base in 40 straight games. ... The NC State-North Carolina game was the first meeting between the schools in any sports in an NCAA tournament since they squared off in women's soccer in 1994.