Updated: Dec 5, 2020
While it is safe to say we still haven't fully recovered from the cancellation of the 2020 college baseball season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are ready to look ahead to the 2021 season. The start date of the 2021 season (February 19) is under a hundred days away, and we are beginning to get the first hints as to what the season will look like.
Let's start with the bad news. There are already signs that the 2021 college baseball season won't be totally normal, but it is fair to say that most people probably aren't expecting normal.
The Ivy League, the first conference to cancel its 2020 baseball season, recently announced a delay to the start of the 2021 season until March 1. The reality is that this announcement doesn't mean much in the bigger picture. Ivy League teams typically do not play a full 56-game schedule, and many teams wait until a few weeks into the season to start playing games anyway. A combination of the academic focus and cold weather prevents Ivy League teams from starting in the middle of February like the rest of the country.
In addition, multiple source have confirmed that the Big Ten Conference is opting out of non-conference play for the 2021 season. This news has broader impacts than the Ivy League news. Many teams were scheduled to play non-conference series against Big Ten teams, including Louisiana Tech and LSU. On top of that, Big Ten teams were scheduled to play in premier early season tournaments like the Round Rock Classic and Frisco Classic.
Reducing the import of this news, the Big Ten currently has no teams ranked in College Baseball Nation's Top 25. At this juncture, the announcement of no conference play puts Big Ten teams at risk of being left out of the NCAA Tournament more than it affects the larger college baseball landscape.
However, with that said, sources suggest that other major conferences are considering turning to a predominantly conference play schedule. The SEC, American, Pac 12, and Big West are among the conferences discussing what an enhanced conference schedule would look like. Per one head coach, "anything and everything is on the table."
Many conferences are considering four-game weekend series with a double header on one day. This type of weekend scheduling allows for more games at a similar cost to a three-game weekend series. While cost-savings is always on the mind of most college baseball coaches, that will be even more the case in 2021.
The Mountain West Conference has already made some adjustments to their conference schedule. All conference series will be three game series played over Saturday and Sunday, with a doubleheader on Saturday. Additionally, the Mountain West Conference will forgo their usual conference tournament and will rely upon regular season standings to determine an automatic qualifier.
Now let's switch to the good news!
Conference USA and the Southland Conference are both moving full steam ahead in terms of conference and non-conference scheduling. Louisiana Tech from Conference USA and Abilene Christian from the Southland Conference have both released schedules that show no aberrations from a normal schedule. While normal is good, it is worth noting that the mid-major conferences are most incentivized to proceed with normal scheduling. Teams from these conferences rely on non-conference games to get an RPI boost.
These schedules are also useful in revealing how other conferences are proceeding with 2021 scheduling. Several teams from other conferences have shown up on Louisiana Tech's and Abilene Christian's schedules, including Arkansas, Ole Miss, TCU, Tulane, and UT Arlington. This suggests that the SEC, Big 12, American, and Sun Belt are all on-pace to have non-conference play. Of course, there is still time for that to change before the season starts.
More good news is that as of the week of November 16, many schools were still actively pursuing non-conference games, including Oregon State, Texas Tech, LSU, South Alabama, Dallas Baptist, Virginia, and more, per sources. So for now, non-conference play as a whole is safe, with conference-only scheduling a backup option.
One source shared with College Baseball Nation the importance of the college basketball season. As a money maker for many colleges and the NCAA, basketball has a major influence on collegiate athletic budgets. Keep your eyes on college basketball and your fingers crossed that the season can proceed safely and effectively. Cash-strapped athletic departments are much more likely to reduce travel, decrease games, and cut college baseball programs.
In summary, we have signs of what is to come in the 2021 college baseball season, and generally speaking, there is reason for hope. We'll keep you updated as things develop over the next few weeks and months.