Men’s basketball: UAA champions. Women’s basketball: UAA champions. Same goes for men’s and women’s indoor track and field. As you read this, I myself will be in sunny Atlanta, taking at shot at the conference crown for men’s tennis.
Softball and baseball players, however, will never get the opportunity to capture a conference title. While they are technically in the UAA, they are not eligible to compete in their UAA tournament. In fact, every bat-free sport on campus competes for a UAA title, but not them.
Well, it’s a simple matter. While the UAA tournament signals the end of the season for virtually every sport, both softball and baseball play their respective tournaments March 11 to 15. So this year while Wash U was scooping up the UAA softball title, the quarter system was still peppering our athletes with exams and papers. To break it down, baseball is a spring sport, but the UAA tournament is held before the start of spring quarter.
If this is any indication, Case Western’s first baseball game this season was part of the round robin conference championship. Makes sense.
So instead of having true UAA membership, our baseball and softball teams compete as independents. They wander in a schedule with no structure, no progressive buildup, and no rivalries.
Unfortunately, their games often serve as tune-ups for other teams, who choose to rest their aces and preserve their fragile arms for “meaningful” conference games. That’s when our teams are lucky. Oftentimes, however, they don’t even get the opportunity to play the games. Opponents sometimes choose to cancel on the threat of rain, or to rest their team for their conference games that take precedence.
Quite frankly, our teams deserve better than this. After the hard work each and every university team puts into its sport, the least they deserve is a shot at a conference title.
It should be noted that the teams still do have an opportunity to qualify for the NCAA tournament. They can make the Championships through Pool B, which is comprised of vagabond independents from throughout the country—six are chosen in this category out of a field of 54.
Softball has taken advantage of this in recent years, making the trip to Nationals five times in the last seven years. Without strong conference ties, however, baseball often misses out on opportunities to compete against quality opponents because of the previously mentioned, and frequently occurring, game cancellations. In order to put together a strong enough schedule for the selection committee, they are essentially at the mercy of their opponents and the weather.
There are, however, some advantages to being independents. Scheduling is more flexible, allowing for extended travel such as baseball’s spring break tour of Japan or softball’s trip to Australia in 2005. Not being tied down to a strict conference schedule also allows the Maroons to play many regional teams, limiting exhausting travel and allowing more time for academics. The current situation also avoids flying to Brandeis, for instance, and risking the game being rained out—a true waste of the athletes’ time and the athletic department’s funds.
There is a solution to our problem, however, that sacrifices little of the benefits and still allows our athletes to vie for a conference championship.
Given that there are currently only five baseball and softball teams in the UAA—Case Western, Emory, Brandeis, Wash U, and Carnegie Mellon—our inclusion would round it out to an even six. From there, the teams could be separated into an east and west division. The Maroons would fall into the west along with Wash U and Case. Once a year, each division would meet at a rotating site and play a round robin against the other teams. The winners from each division would go on the next week to battle it out for the UAA crown.
So there you have it baseball and softball, problem solved—no more playing for monopoly money. You deserve better.