Thursday, May 29, 2008


Vandy baseball was somewhat of a hot topic in the Keith Law chat today, mostly because of our monster recruiting class. There was one particular question however that caught my eye:

Tony, Chicago:
Given the baseball renaissance at Vandy recently, for a non-big state school to do the same, in what order of importance do you put the following factors: weather/conference/coach/facilities/academics?

SportsNation Keith Law: That's a cool question. Totally my opinion, but I'd say academics, coach, conference, weather, facilities. Corbin and whoever does his recruiting deserve credit for scouring cold-weather states for kids like Flaherty, Hewitt, Marquis, Loftus, etc.

I find that answer both extremely interesting and somewhat hard to believe. Law must be talking about how important those are for non-big state schools, but even at that I find calling academics the top reason for going to Vandy to play baseball a little questionable. Baseball, unlike basketball and football has many private universities that do extremely well and many of these are very good academic schools as well. However are academics an important factor in their success on the field?

Six schools from the 2008 USA Today's top 20 colleges play Division I baseball (non-ivy's). Three of those six are either #1 of #2 seeds in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. This seemingly suggests some kind of correlation between academics and college baseball success. However there is a clear difference between the three that made it (Stanford, Rice, and Vandy) and two of the three that didn't (Northwestern and Notre Dame, Duke was the sixth). Conference and weather, in college baseball they're pretty much the same with only the Big 12 being a top 10 conference not primarily in the southeast or on the west coast, are better indicators for success than academics for these non-big state schools.

In college baseball trying to be a successful program in a cold weather location outside of a major conference is almost impossible on a year in year out basis. Location and conference are an even bigger predictor for success for private schools, going further down USA Today's rankings, except for Duke and Wake Forest, every southern or west coast school in the top 75 is either a traditional power or enjoying recent success like Vandy. Although most northern academic schools do not play baseball, the ones that do are all terrible, despite their high academic status.

Academics seem to be more of a cherry on top than the real determining factor of a team success. However if a school has favorable location and conference affiliation than academics can almost guarantee success. Again it is amazing to look at the college rankings, every school in the top 50 of the rankings that has location and conference on their side made the NCAA tournament except Duke and Wake and UCSB. Over 80% of schools that have all three made it.

The question is why is this. Why do academics seem to put teams in good situations over the top? In other sports kids choose schools based on things that matter more like the other reasons mentioned in the question as well as fan bases, traditions, and numerous other factors that are more important than academics. My guess is the format of the MLB draft is to blame. Anybody not interested in taking college seriously can go pro straight out of high school. What's left are kids interested in a good education. However getting smarter will always be secondary to getting better which is why weather matters more.

I'm not trying to take credit away from Coach Corbin and his staff, they have done a great job the last few years and it looks this will continue into the foreseeable future, but with a great combination of conference, academics and weather it was seemingly only a matter of time until our baseball program began to dominate.


Will Gibbons said...

I agree your reasoning about the way the draft works, and I'll also add to it a bit.
I wouldn't attribute baseball and academics directly--I think it's a social class issue. What has developed over time is that the baseball scene for kids is primarily suburban, and those families typically perform better academically. It's just a wealthy suburban sport at this point.
I live in Memphis, and I can tell you the city schools for the most part are lousy at baseball. The private schools and the suburban schools are really solid.

Aram Hanessian said...

I think that's true to a certain extent. However I'm from Brooklyn and the best teams in the city are always from some of the poorest neighborhoods. However as far as college baseball is concerned these kids are all going pro and not thinking about college at all. There is definitely an urban baseball culture, but it rarely comes into play in the college game.

Greg Viverito said...

Great post, although I think Getz might have something to say about your sample size

Jarred Amato said...

I agree completely that academics is not the determining factor for success. Vanderbilt has always been a great academic school, yet for a long time was awful at baseball. Only recently has it emerged as a national power.

Why? I think the No. 1 reason is coaching. Tim Corbin is one of the best in the nation at selling his program. Players come to Vandy to play for Corbin. Just look at David Price and more recently Sonny Gray.

Sure, you need to play in warm-weather climate and in a top conference to attract recruits, but more than anything you need a good coach.

People forget how bad the Vanderbilt baseball program was before Corbin got here. It was a struggle every year for the Dores to qualify for Hoover. And yet, Vandy was still Vandy back then. It had the same (give or a take a few spots) ranking in the USA Today, still played in the SEC and was still located in Nashville.

As for facilities, they were awful when Corbin got here and he was still able to attract the nation's top talent. And now, because of the program's success, the Dores have added an indoor batting cage, a weight room, brand new offices and class rooms, while Hawkins Field has been renovated and expanded and is quickly becoming one of the SEC's finest.

So, to answer Tony from Chicago's question, for a non-big state school to become a national power like Vanderbilt, the No. 1 priority is having a great coach to get recruits to recognize all the other factors (academics, weather, conference, facilities).