For years, the OHSAA has put together a tightly-packed schedule of regular season affairs in baseball and softball — with little room to reschedule games — or even schedule practices, as a result — if inclement weather arises.
That, however, may be coming to an end — as early as 2019.
On Thursday, the state’s high school sports governing body could pass a motion that will extend the baseball and softball seasons to the middle of June — while keeping the start of the season on the final Saturday of the month — in order to extend the regular season by two weeks into the latter portion of May.
As far as a lot of people are concerned, that change could be very beneficial in regards to additional practice time, rest for pitchers and players, and the ability to make up regular season affairs — whether they be conference or nonconference games.
However, the idea also concerns many individuals, especially considering the fact that many travel ball organizations start their seasons right as the OHSAA would end theirs.
Still, it seems that most coaches are for the idea of spreading the regular season out.
Green baseball coach Dan McDavid and softball coach Shane Jenkins, along with Notre Dame baseball coach Drew Mader and West’s Chris Rapp are among the major proponents of the rule because of reasoning that includes either rest for players, more time to make up regular season affairs when games do get rained out, or both.
“In my opinion, the two-week extension will put Ohio in a similar spot that other locations around us offer and gives our guys a better experience,” Mader said. “Even though I do enjoy playing every day, there are days when you need to practice and rest up.”
“I hope it passes,” Rapp added. “It would give us the chance of starting the conference season a week later, and plain nonconference games the week before. Also, it gives us a chance to practice. With the way that we do it now, you start at the end of March, and it’s a steady grind without any practice time.”
“After a long stretch of back-to-back games, like we had this year, it would be nice to give teams a night off in order to rest their legs and refresh mentally,” McDavid said. “When the state sent out a survey midway through the season, I voted for it.”
“While there are a few downsides to extending the season, I believe that the pros greatly outweigh the cons,” Jenkins said. “Softball and baseball are two of the few sports that rely on absolutely favorable conditions to be able to play a game or practice. If it rains hard for three hours prior to a football game, the game still gets played. If it rains like that before a softball game, schools could lose two to three days of field time depending on the field conditions. It will also help teams with getting more outdoor practices in before the regular season starts, and that is never a bad thing.”
With the way the season played out, especially in 2017, each of them have a valid point.
An example of their reasoning can be found simply in Clay’s baseball schedule. Due to weather, the Panthers were only able to play five games from March 27 to April 9. From April 10 through May 2, Clay only had six days off, total — and three of those days were Sundays, when no games are played.
During that stretch, the Panthers had to cancel two games against Division III opponents Chillicothe Huntington and Wellston — two affairs that aren’t necessarily crucial on paper, but are significant due to the solid play of the pair — to make up SOC I matchups with Green and Eastern.
“Personally, I like (the proposal),” McDavid said. “I think that it will give us a chance to actually play all of the games that we have scheduled. I like to play every day, but it’s hard sometimes to work on your team’s problems when you don’t have a full practice to work with.”
“Teams today are playing four to six games a week just to stay on track with the 27 games allotted,” Mader added. “You obviously want to play as much as possible, but practice is vital to the game as well. With the inability to rest arms today, the extension could see teams with smaller rosters succeed at a greater extent because those teams don’t have to pick only league games to throw their best guys.”
And teams with smaller rosters, like Clay, who only had 10 players this year, and Notre Dame, could really benefit from being able to have more time to heal up nagging injuries.
“We have run into years where we have almost 20 players and are okay,” Mader said, “but some years, we are shorter on numbers, and you really have to pick and choose who you throw as well as who you schedule.”
Like the four coaches before him, South Webster baseball hand Ryan McClintic is also a proponent of the schedule changes.
“More days for practice time for us would be beneficial, because of all the multi-sport athletes that we have,” McClintic said. “Sometimes, they get limited practice and limited rest between seasons. It also gives us a better chance to be competitive against larger schools from a pitching standpoint. Having your top pitchers pitching the majority of your games also gives you a better idea of the team that you are come tournament seeding time, because your top pitchers will be the ones throwing in the tournament games.”
The limited rest between seasons arguably affects South Webster, along with Clay and Notre Dame, more than anybody, as Alek Blevins, Shane Zimmerman, Matthew Shonkwiler, Trevor Coriell, Blake Fulk, and Jacob Ruth were among a few of the many Jeeps to play at least two or more sports.
Blevins, Zimmerman, Shonkwiler, and Ruth — four of South Webster’s five starters on the basketball side — only put in one week of practice, according to McClintic, before the regular season began due to the late start from their Division IV District Final appearance in basketball. A wider length of time to play the regular season — while keeping the maximum amount of games at 27 — could greatly assist in getting multi-sport athletes up to speed.
“I think that’s why we played much better at the end of the season,” McClintic said, “because we had time to practice during our tournament run. I know this happens between soccer and basketball, or in other cases, football and basketball or volleyball and basketball, but basketball teams have more time to practice throughout the season for those guys who just got back.”
Then, there’s the issue of schoolwork, which could very well be the biggest plus in passing the idea. With games spread out instead of being played four, five, or even six days in a row, student-athletes don’t have to worry as much about finding a way to study for tests or get homework assignments completed when they are playing on a nightly basis.
“(The proposal) gives more time for students to do their schoolwork without falling behind,” McClintic said. “The season is a grind, and doesn’t leave a lot of time for students to keep their grades up without sacrificing sleep. I’ve seen many kids struggle to keep their grades up during baseball since it’s basically right after school until dark every night.”
But even though McClintic ultimately voted for the idea, he’s still somewhat hesitant to the idea because of what it could do for younger pitchers who need mound time to develop on down the road.
“I think that it would pretty much destroy the idea of doubleheaders,” McClintic said. “I’m not a huge fan of them anyways, but plenty of coaches still are. Also, teams with plenty of quality pitching would find it hard to get all those guys innings without sacrificing the top guys getting their normal workload. This may hurt the development of younger pitchers who don’t have the opportunity to pitch at the junior varsity level.”
Rapp’s only concern with the plan also had to do with pitching, but from an aspect that teams could try to use inclement weather as a reason to obtain more rest for pitching arms.
“One thing that I hope doesn’t happen is if coaches start cancelling games when, in the past, the field could have been ready to play,” Rapp said. “It shouldn’t be used as a way to manipulate your pitching staff.”
West softball coach Dani Coleman’s concerns, however, are also valid. With players graduating in the third and fourth weeks of May — which would be the final two weeks of the regular season — the risk is there for a high school graduation ceremony and a baseball or softball game to coincide on the same day, which could mean that an SOC or an OVC title-deciding affair could be pushed back and affect another previously scheduled game late in the year. Previously planned family vacations could also be an issue, as is overall interest in a sport that is now two weeks longer.
“It was brought to our attention at the last district meeting,” Coleman said. “We were asked our opinion on it. I think that the downfalls would be that the games and practices would extend beyond graduation dates. Many players also have vacations scheduled with their families (over the two weeks that the OHSAA is trying to add on). Additionally, I think that the mindset about the game would be affected as well by not having as many games per week.”
The vote, for or against extending the seasons, could be made as soon as Thursday.
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7