The good news is Boise State is getting a baseball program! The bad news is Boise has been without a D-1 baseball team for almost 40 years now, and the closest D-1 baseball program is nearly 350 miles away at the University of Utah.
With a void that large, you don’t have to feel bad if you don’t know what to expect. Here is a refresher on the basics of how NCAA baseball works as well as what baseball in the Mountain West Conference is like.
The rules of college baseball are very similar to the Official Baseball Rules, with a few exceptions. Probably the most obvious difference is the bat material.
The bat “may be made of wood or a composite material” (metal) that meets NCAA standards. Composite bats are required to pass the “Bat-Ball Coefficient of Restitution” (BBCOR) test, which measures how much energy is lost during the bat’s contact with the baseball.
The NCAA says that 0.50 would be the maximum value a BBCOR bat could achieve; which is only slightly higher than that of a wood baseball bat. Since the composite bats have a slightly higher BBCOR rating, most, if not all, players use them over wood.
Other rule differences include the use of the designated hitter rule, though teams may choose not to use it. One or both ends of a doubleheader can be seven innings in length, but the NCAA encourages schools to play as many nine-inning games as possible. This rule is usually used on the final day of a conference series or non-conference doubleheader.
There is a mercy rule in college baseball when one team is ahead by ten or more runs after seven innings, or five innings if the game was scheduled as a seven inning game, with the exception of NCAA Tournament games. There is also an automatic ejection for a player maliciously running into a defender.
The college baseball season starts in mid-February every year. This creates a problem for teams that are based in northern cities that have cold/wet weather in February and early March. Most of these teams usually play tournaments or away games in warmer weather cities for first few weeks.
For example Nebraska, who has a strong program, will play their first 11 games away from their home field this year. The Broncos will play up to 56 games per season, 21 of which will be conference games.
Baseball teams usually schedule one mid-week out of conference game on Wednesdays. These games are often a regionally close team that can be traveled to easily. The teams you may expect to see in these games are Utah, BYU, Utah Valley, Portland, Washington State, Gonzaga, Oregon, Oregon State, Seattle, or Washington.
Then teams play a 3 or 4 game series each weekend against either conference or non-conference opponents. The regular season finishes in the end of May, culminating in the conference tournaments on the last weekend of May.
The NCAA tournament, starting the first weekend in June, consists of 64 teams, 31 conference champions and 33 at-large teams. The tournament starts with four teams playing in a double elimination tournament at 16 different regional campus sites.
The 16 winners advance to the Super Regional at eight campus sites, and play in a head-to-head best-of-three series. The eight Super Regional winners then advance to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. The College World Series consists of two separate four-team double elimination brackets to determine the two national finalists. The finalists play a best-of-three series to determine the national champion.
Rosters, scholarships, and recruiting for college baseball teams have regulations that are quite different from either football or basketball. Football and basketball are headcount sports when it comes to scholarships. This means they have a maximum number of full-ride scholarships they can hand out. But baseball is an equivalency sport, this means each school can divide up their scholarships between multiple players.
Schools generally choose to award multiple partial scholarships rather than full ride scholarships. Each NCAA baseball program can use 11.7 scholarships in their program, but cannot give a scholarship of less than 25% of cost of attendance (or 0.25 scholarships) to a player.
The best players on a baseball team usually receive around a 50% scholarship. There is a roster limit of 35 players but only 27 of players can receive a scholarship. When it comes to recruiting, Coach Van Tol will have to compete with professional baseball as well as other colleges for a player’s interest.
This is because a baseball player is eligible for the draft after high school is completed. But once signed, the player must complete three years of college to get back their draft eligibility, unless they reach age 21 before starting their third year of college.
The Mountain West Conference is not particularly strong when it comes to baseball. They are usually a one bid league in the NCAA Tournament. To get in, a team will have to win the conference tournament. The two perennial powers in the conference are New Mexico and San Diego State. In fact, the past 7 conference championships have gone to one of those two teams.
They are the only two teams that have had an average RPI rating in the top third of all D-1 baseball programs in the last 5 years. That isn’t bad, but the rest of the conference is not as strong. The next strongest program is Fresno State. Though they do have a National Championship (2008) their RPI over the last five years averages out to be middle of the road. Nevada and UNLV are just below average baseball teams.
Rounding out the bottom of the conference (and the bottom of the NCAA) are Air Force and San Jose State. Even though the conference is not the strongest, talented athletes will definitely play for and against Boise State.
Most scouts place D-1 college baseball on par with Single A Minor League Baseball, with the stronger conferences, like the Big12 or SEC, comparing similarly to Double A. The Mountain West does produce MLB talent, including All-Stars like Aaron Judge (Fresno State) and Stephen Strasberg (San Diego State.)
So far the Baseball program has been progressing nicely. Shortly after hiring Coach Van Tol, they received two verbal commitments from Idaho High School athletes.
They already have preliminary plans to build a stadium, offices, and indoor hitting/pitching facilities. And the first camps were more popular and successful than expected.
This momentum is indicative of all Boise State Athletics. All programs are managed intelligently and efficiently. The fan base should be proud of the accomplishments so far, and excited for the future to come.