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Opinion

UWRF baseball cut due to weather, academics

Ben Brewster

May 7, 2009

Here we are again, at the height of baseball season, and for the seventh year UW-River Falls students have no varsity team to root for. 

A common misconception among students is that the team, which was cut after the 2001-02 season, was lost because of Title IX, a U.S. law that requires schools to have an equal number of male and female sports. 

In reality, it had nothing to do with Title IX and was a combination of weather and academic factors, according to UWRF Athletic Director Rick Bowen. 

“Cutting baseball was one of the more difficult decisions we have ever faced as an athletic department,” Bowen said in an e-mail.  Because of the cold weather in the Midwest, the conditions are not good enough until early to mid April to start play.

That leaves a little less than a month to play 30 games. According to Bowen, the doubleheaders would sometimes start at noon or 1 p.m. because the conference required baseball to play nine-inning games, unlike women’s softball, which plays seven innings. 

Adding to the problem, UWRF was unable to bring on a full-time baseball coach, and the school had extremely high turnover with part-time coaches.  According to Bowen, sometimes players were required to show up at 10 a.m. for batting practice before a noon doubleheader. 

The end result is that players were missing too much class trying to squeeze that much playing time into April and May. 

Bowen said that professors complained more about baseball players missing class than all the other sports combined. 

These are all valid reasons and obviously something had to be done, but to completely remove the National Pastime from UWRF seems a little drastic. 

They even built tennis courts on the field, leaving only the scoreboard as a remnant of the former program. 

This effectively crushed any hopes of bringing baseball back to UWRF, because now the school will have to pull a giant sum of money out of thin air to build a new field before even thinking about how to fix the problems that caused the program to be cut in the first place, and with this economy, I’m not holding my breath for that to happen. 

Now, the club baseball team that has been at UWRF for the past few years is forced to play its “home” games in Cottage Grove, Minn., about 30 minutes from River Falls, according to club baseball player Rob Silvers. 

With no decent option for a home field, the team has only played three home games this season, most of its games are played on the road, sometimes in places as far away as Michigan and southern Illinois. 

A club team with no home field is a poor substitute for a varsity team. I understand why action was needed, but with the destruction of the field it’s almost like they wanted to remove any chance of bringing baseball back in the future. 

Rather than cutting the team, other options could have been considered. 

Like what about playing more weekend games? Or building lights so the team could play later at night and not have to start so early? Or finding a coach who wouldn’t require players to be at the field so early before the game? 

When I decided to attend UWRF it didn’t even occur to me that there might not be a team because baseball is such a basic and popular sport.

I was looking forward to playing for, or at least following, my school’s team. It was dumb of me not to check beforehand, but had I known it would have definitely affected my decision to come here, and I’m probably not the only person who feels that way.

The WIAC has nine schools in it, and all but UWRF and UW-Eau Claire have a baseball team. If seven schools in our conference can support baseball, why can’t we?

Ben Brewster is an alumnus of UW-River Falls. He was editor of the Student Voice during spring semester 2009.