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COLLEGE BASEBALL

Bigger Field Proves a Money-Maker

May 26, 2000|LON EUBANKS

The NCAA baseball playoffs get underway today, with indications that the 64-team format adopted last year has been well-received.

The NCAA moved from eight to 16 regionals and added eight best-of-three super-regionals to determine the teams that advance to the College World Series.

It quickly turned the playoffs from a money-loser into a money-maker for the first time in four years.

Dennis Poppe, the NCAA's director of championships, said last year's playoffs made $427,114. The year before, in the old format, the tournament lost $221,930.

Schools that play in the tournament don't gain any more financially than other NCAA schools when the event makes money. Money from NCAA championship events goes into a general revenue pool, and a portion of that is distributed to all member schools.

It was important for the tournament to make money, Poppe said, but NCAA officials also are pleased with the expansion for other reasons.

"It means 25 players on 16 more teams get the opportunity to play in the tournament," Poppe said. "And we've been able to hold tournaments in areas where we haven't had them before."

Cal State Fullerton, Rutgers and Louisiana Lafayette are hosting regionals for the first time.

"We left a lot of money on the table this year so that we could go into some new areas," Poppe said. "The baseball committee put a tournament at Minnesota this year when we probably would make more money by putting it at Wichita State. We hope the tournament at Fullerton will do well."

Fullerton has sold more than 1,100 tournament passes for its regional and expects good crowds.

Poppe said a factor in the financial success of last year's tournament was being able to reduce travel costs by keeping more teams in their home regions, using bus trips rather than airline flights.

The danger comes if the NCAA takes this regionalization too far at the expense of balance among the 16 tournaments. That might be the case this time with three top-20 teams--USC, Fullerton and Loyola Marymount--in the Fullerton tournament.

FRIENDLY OPPONENTS

The Fullerton regional has produced some interesting coaching rivalries.

Andy Nieto, a designated hitter and infielder for the Titans in 1985 and 1986, is an assistant at USC. Nieto's younger brother, Tony, who played at USC, is an assistant at Loyola Marymount.

"We're great friends and talk all the time, but we're both very competitive," Andy said. "It's just unfortunate our teams aren't against each other in the College World Series."

Loyola Coach Frank Cruz formerly was an assistant for Mike Gillespie at USC.

Jason Gill, who played at Fullerton in 1994 and was a graduate assistant coach for the Titans in 1995 and 1996, is an assistant at Loyola. He was on the Nevada staff for two years before joining Cruz's staff two years ago.

Gill gives Titan coach George Horton credit for helping him develop as a young coach. "He groomed me for a couple of years," Gill said. "I'd ask him a lot of questions about why he did things a certain way, and he shared a lot of his thinking with me. I appreciated that."

ON THE WAITING LIST

One of the most promising players at Cal State Fullerton this season, sophomore infielder Mike Rouse, has had to redshirt after transferring from San Jose State.

"San Jose State wouldn't give him his release so he could play this year," Horton said. "It's fairly unusual in college baseball for that to happen, but I can understand San Jose State's position. They're trying to make a point in this case. They don't want the same thing to happen to their program that has been happening at UC Santa Barbara."

Barry Zito and Justin Lehr transferred from Santa Barbara last season and became USC's two top pitchers. Justin Gemoll, who also transferred to USC from Santa Barbara before this season, is one of the Trojans' top hitters.

Rouse batted .313 and was second on the team with 42 runs batted in last season. He led the Spartans with 13 stolen bases.

"We're looking forward to having him playing next season," Horton said. "He has great baseball instincts."

Rouse has been invited to try out for Team USA this summer.

BACANI'S RUN

When David Bacani, the Titans' second baseman, was chosen to the Big West Conference all-star team this week, he became only the fifth player to be selected to the first team three years in a row.

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