Ohio State Baseball Starts Strong, But Why Isn't It More Popular?

By Nicholas Jervey on February 16, 2014 at 6:31a

Ohio State baseball is on a quest for national relevance. An enthusiasm gap is holding it back.

Great things were not expected of Ohio State baseball in 2014.

One preseason poll ranked the Buckeyes 105th in the country and 7th in the Big Ten. Big Ten coaches were more generous, predicting Ohio State to finish third in the conference, but either way the Buckeyes were an afterthought in the national race. 

As a result, beginning the 2014 season with the Snowbird Classic in Port Charlotte, Fla. looked like a mistake. Ohio State's three opponents received votes in preseason polls, and coach Greg Beals didn't sound all that confident either:

“It’s going to be interesting,” Beals said. “We lost nine seniors and our entire rotation, so there are a lot of new guys in the mix. There will be growing pains — especially with the caliber of schedule. I believe come conference play these freshmen will be ready. I’m more than comfortable with this baseball team.”

An 0-4 start appeared likely; against all expectations, the Buckeyes are 2-1 heading into Sunday.

First, the Buckeyes' bats came to life in an 8-2 win against Connecticut. Jacob Bosiokovic hit a grand slam in the third inning to give Ohio State a 4-2 lead, and RBI hits from Craig Nenning, Troy Kuhn, and Tim Wetzel extended the lead. Freshman Travis Lakins came out of the bullpen to close the game with three shutout innings.

The Buckeyes followed that up by blanking Auburn 1-0. Josh Dezse singled in the game's only run in the fourth inning, and Ryan Riga, Tyler Giannonatti and Trace Dempsey combined for a five hit shutout.

The Buckeyes dropped their first game of the season to Indiana State a few hours later, 7-3. Should Ohio State beat the Sycamores in a rematch on Sunday, they might receive votes in the national polls.

Considering preseason expectations, Ohio State is off to a great start. So why don't more people care about the baseball team?

The Buckeyes have several players marked for national success, namely preseason all-American candidates Josh Dezse and Trace Dempsey. The Buckeyes went 35-23 last year, and came within three outs of a regular season Big Ten title. And yet, all the attention is on men's basketball and hockey.

The Big Ten's decades-long impotence bears some blame for that. Until Indiana made the College World Series last year, no Big Ten team had done so since Michigan in 1984. The Big Ten is trying to become more nationally relevant by linking to the East Coast:

"We're so much more sensitive to working at this," Delany said. "We want to get people to adopt the Big Ten. That means come to New York, play games in DC, play games at [Madison Square] Garden -- play, live and build on a broader scale. It's where you recruit students, where you play bowl games, where your television games go. 

"We have 30 percent of the population, 15 percent of the territory, but we're not constrained to that. We have a national look."

...but that's not where baseball success comes from. It comes from the Sun Belt.

In the Sun Belt, baseball is held up alongside football and men's basketball as a revenue sport. Texas baseball had revenues of nearly $7 million in 2011-2012 and profits over $4 million. That represents 4.7% of Texas athletics’ revenue, a far greater share than Ohio State earns from baseball.

Attendance numbers show the enthusiasm gap as well. Ohio State averaged only 1,128 fans per home game last year. By contrast, Texas averaged 5,793 fans per game. LSU saw 472,391 fans come through its gates, 10,736 per game. That's over nine times as many fans than came to see Ohio State.

Although Bill Davis Stadium does not draw crowds like Texas or LSU, there ought to be more enthusiasm in Ohio for a winning program. The Buckeyes were consistent winners under Bob Todd, but the lack of tournament success should have left fans hungry. The Buckeyes haven't made an NCAA tournament since 2009, or a super regional since 2003, or a College World Series since the 1960s. 

The popularity of the Reds, Indians, and Clippers shows that Buckeye baseball has the potential fan base to succeed. Nick Swisher's MLB success shows that Ohio State can recruit elite players. So why isn't Ohio State an elite program?

To be sure, the early start date of the season hurts the program. The NCAA is cowed by Sun Belt baseball schools, which insist the regular season begins in mid-February or earlier. After all, what says regular season baseball like Valentine's Day, or playing in the Grapefruit League while 49 of 50 states have snow on the ground?

Southern and western schools refuse to play in the north early in the season, meaning that northern teams either have to schedule other northern teams and weaken their RPI, or spend the first month of the season on the road... and weaken their RPI.

So yes, playing no home games until mid-March sucks, as does the NCAA's refusal to allow creative solutions to the imbalance. But that doesn’t mean we ought to use that as a crutch. Ohio State and the rest of the Big Ten have the resources to invest in baseball, and the recent achievements of Purdue and Indiana show Big Ten teams can succeed. With the Big Ten Network to distribute games nationally, the whole Big Ten could get good at baseball someday.

For now, these dreams of national relevance are building castles in the sky. Ohio State will face a bevy of neutral and road games before the first home stand against Siena on March 14. It could use some support on opening day for what looks like one heck of a team.


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mtrotb's picture

The top players in Ohio for the most part are either drafted or go play in more traditional baseball conferences down south or go to Kent State which is the best program in OH for baseball.  OSU gets a few, but is the exception rather than the proverbial rule.


+1 HS
Seattle Linga's picture

Spot on - I wish we could dominate but it has never been a focus.

+1 HS
MarkC's picture

I know there are some excuses as to why the team has struggled (recruits like warm weather, football is a big deal here, etc) but we really should be able to pull this off. If Kent State can do it in this weather (among others) why can't we? If TTUN can have a national power softball team in cold weather and with a shadow-casting football team, we can have a good baseball team. 

This just sounds like a case of OSU, somewhere in the system, needing to try harder. Bill Davis Stadium is obviously pretty nice. How are our baseball practice facilities? How much of a support staff (think Mark Pantoni of baseball, video coordinator, etc) does our baseball team have in place? I know even Ohio State doesn't have an endless stream of cash, but if we have a top of the line team/academic/indoor practice facility, the right support staff, and a solid coaching staff recruiting "like their hair's on fire," there is no reason an institution like Ohio State can't have a national power baseball team. 

daytonbuckeye1983's picture

Bingo! You nailed it. I coach at a big div 1 school and Ohio State didn't get any of the top players in the GWOC. Same thing last year, Kent State gets the best that go to college. The ACC has also begun to jump in our league lately.

MarkC's picture

Is the Buckeye baseball community (coaches, players, alumni, fans, etc) okay with this?  What do the ACC schools and Kent State have that we don’t?  Only four ACC schools have significantly warmer weather in March.  Do they have better team facilities?  That would be either an unconscionable oversight on our part or an institutional decision not to compete at the highest level, which doesn’t sound like the way we approach academics, athletics, medicine, the arts, or anything else.  Did Kent State have a better coach (just hired by Georgia) than Ohio State?  If so, why don’t we have him?  (Let me emphasize I don’t think we have enough information to judge Coach Beals yet. He might be good.)  Does Kent State have a bigger baseball budget than Ohio State, allowing them to buy the kind of equipment and swag that attracts recruits?  That would seem unlikely.  Do we need more or better player personnel staff for recruiting?  What are these other programs doing to gain a competitive advantage and what can we do to up our game?

daytonbuckeye1983's picture

Kent State's coaches are top notch, and recruit Ohio hard. Ohio State doesn't make much effort in our area. Other coaches notice this too. The five best players in the biggest league in Dayton went to Kent State, Virginia Tech, Miami, Wright State, and Eastern or Western Kentucky (can't remember which one). I know all of them were good enough to play at OSU.

+1 HS
BuckRock's picture

 "Did Kent State have a better coach (just hired by Georgia) than Ohio State?  If so, why don’t we have him?  (Let me emphasize I don’t think we have enough information to judge Coach Beals yet."

I played ball with Greg Beals at Kent state, I will say this , there isn't a better coach for the job, to take Ohio State to the next level.  He was a great player, great professional, and has a gift for getting guys motivated when other coaches could not. Give him some time and he will bring this program into the National Spotlight, guaranteed.

** My spell check does not work on this new site, any advice to get it to work would be greatly appreciated.

InvertMyVeer's picture

Nice article. Ohio State football does cast a rather large shadow. While it will obviously never come close to the interest the football team draws, string together a couple of good seasons and recognition will come to the baseball Bucks too (ie: men's basketball team). Glad to hear the team's off to a nice start.

Football is complicated...

+1 HS
buckeyedude's picture

We need to recruit more southern SEC speed!!!!

Sorry. I couldn't help myself.

I understand that football is king in Ohio, but I never quite understood why the OSU hockey and baseball teams don't get a better following. Hockey has to compete with basketball, I get that.  But it's obviously not a priority with the OSU AD, maybe because it doesn't bring in the $ that football and basketball do. But why can't they use a little advertising(billboards, radio and TV) to get people excited about it? Without any advertising, people in C-bus and the rest of Ohio are not going to get too excited about OSU baseball. In a city the size of Columbus, they should be able to draw more than 1,000 fans/game, IMHO.

The only other thing that will likely get fans interested is a national championship. That would be a bigger upset than the 1980 men's USA hockey team over the USSR. But it is possible, I guess.



+2 HS
thatlillefty's picture

Did anyone else see that pic and think his arm is way late on his delivery? I know tOSU has much better coaches than me, but I would worry for that kid's elbow.

RBuck's picture

I always thought OSU baseball was the best deal in town.

Long live the southend.

seafus26's picture

We don't recruit best regions of the country for baseball and if they did why wouldn't they play in those atmospheres of Texas, Texas A&M, LSU, shoot even little southern schools for Baseball only of course. I live half the year in Texas and half in western PA, I've yet to catch a HS baseball game here in PA this year. I fly back to TX in Wed. And we'll see the HS playing as they have been since they came back from Christmas "break." They still have practice and pre-season tournies during said break. Baseball has been a year long outdoor sport for some time. There is no coincedence the first round talent that comes outta Houston aline (2-3 years ago the first 4 picks of the draft were former Houston HS players or playing collegiant ball in the city). 

Go Bucks and michigan STILL SUCKS!

+1 HS
bucknut94's picture

The Hockey games are the best deal a fan can get. The ticket prices are reasonable, the setting is great, and hockey is very entertaining with the game, top rank opponents, cheerleaders and band. The fans that show for hockey games can get just as enthusiastic as football and basketball fans. The fans actions can be as entertaining as the game.

+2 HS
dcbucks's picture

I totally agree. Maybe I missed it, but a spotlight on the new B1G hockey would be great. I expect our hockey program to become profitable, if it isn't already, just like these baseball teams. Having a B1G game follow the USA-Russia encore on NBCSN last night was a great spot for the league. This year OSU has the worst attendance among B1G teams and still gets over 4,400 on average, 6100 on average in B1G games. I can only imagine that will grow quickly now that we are out of the old CCHA. With no disrespect to the teams, it's much more exciting to watch us play Michigan St and Wisconsin than those like Ferris St and Lake Superior St. 

+1 HS
prevetbuck's picture

The crowd at the hockey game last night was probably twice the size it normally is. I don't know if it was the meet-and-greet afterwards, Wisconsin fans making the Saturday trip, the USA win over Russia drumming up hockey excitement, or the fact that it was cub scout night... Come to think of it, it was probably a combination of all four, though it didn't feel like there were that many Wisconsin fans in attendance. I would love to see that crowd size become a more frequent occurrence, because I think our hockey team is definitely on the rise and B1G Hockey is going to be exciting for years to come.

+2 HS
hit_the_couch's picture

College baseball will never be popular here because we have pro teams. Plus it's still cold out for part of the season. I doubt most want to sit there for hours to watch an unpopular sport in the weather we have.

Down there the entire dirty has, off the top of my head, the Atlanta Braves? Plus I think wrastlin' is on only once a week.

And then I told her...i'm no weatherman, but tonight's forecast is calling for several inches!

NoVA Buckeye's picture

The Barves (misspell intentional) are just kind of there down south, though. So are the Rays and Marlins. The only other Sun Belt team after that is the Astros, who are likely to finish with the worst record in baseball yet again. 

The offseason begins when your season ends. Even then there are no days off.

+1 HS
Crumb's picture

Good article, it's funny because I was just thinking about this a few days ago and decided I'm going be better about following the baseball team this year than I usually am. We just had a nice 4-run sixth inning to tie up this afternoon's game too!!


"The only good thing about it is winning the d*** thing" - Urban Meyer on The Game The War

+1 HS
NoVA Buckeye's picture

Leading 6-4 at the top of the 9th! Hoping for a 1-2-3 inning!

The offseason begins when your season ends. Even then there are no days off.

+1 HS
Crumb's picture

Unfortunately that entire ninth inning was a cluster f***.

"The only good thing about it is winning the d*** thing" - Urban Meyer on The Game The War

+1 HS
harleymanjax's picture

If you are truly honest with yourself,  you would admit that if you had scholarship offers from OSU and Florida in baseball, you would go south!

"Because I couldn't go for 3"

ibuck's picture

The NCAA makes it harder for northern teams through early schedules and how they judge which teams make the regional tournaments. Reminds one of how the southern teams get favored in football and have the (not neutral field) bowl games in their backyard. The NCAA could do more to include teams from the north. But would they have to do the same for southern ice hockey teams?

Our honor defend, so we'll fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

+1 HS
36buck's picture

Bob Todd recruited like the old woman's bball coach.  Lazy.   Todd for one of his last fee teams had zero players from ne Ohio.  Incredible.  Held the team back for years. Should have been let go years ago.

mc22's picture

The best pitcher from Northeast OH is going to Louisville.  The top rated pitcher from OH is going to North Carolina.  That's like losing the top two football players players in the state.

Can't keep losing these kids if you want to be a top 20 program.  Maybe Urban should visit baseball prospects as well.