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COLLEGE WORLD SERIES

Event Isn't Exactly a Bonanza

As Cal State Fullerton can attest, financial rewards from baseball are modest when compared to other 'major' college sports.

June 17, 2004|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

Cal State Fullerton, like every other school in the California State University system, has budget problems. And just because the Titan baseball team will make its 13th appearance in the College World Series on Saturday doesn't mean the Fullerton athletic program will be in any better shape.

Among "major" college sports, this is an undeniable truth when it comes to baseball:

It's not football or basketball.

In football, bowl championship series teams each earned about $14 million to be divided, in most cases, among the schools in their conference.

In basketball, multibillion-dollar television contracts have resulted in lucrative paydays for every member of the 65-team tournament field. Pacific, which won a game before being eliminated in the second round, earned $290,000 for the Big West Conference.

But the Big West won't get any kind of check from Fullerton earning a place among college baseball's final eight teams. The Titans won't, either -- except to cover some of their expenses.

The reason: The financial rewards from baseball are modest -- a profit of about $2 million in each of the last two years -- and relatively recent.

Only since 1998, the first season the NCAA expanded its baseball playoffs to the current three-tier format -- 16 four-team regionals, eight best-of-three super regionals, then an eight-team final -- have the playoffs made money.

What profit there is, the NCAA says, is divided evenly among all Division I member schools. That check, by all accounts, isn't nearly big enough to help a financially strapped college athletic program.

"We just hope the sport continues to grow in popularity so that some day it will command a major television contract," Big West Commissioner Dennis Farrell said.

The television following does seem to be growing -- ESPN said that last year's national championship game between Rice and Stanford was the most-watched college baseball game in the history of the network -- but progress has come in baby steps.

Last year was the first time ESPN affiliates televised each of the super regionals as part of an 11-year, $100-million deal to broadcast 21 NCAA championships. In contrast, CBS and ESPN paid the NCAA $6.2 billion to broadcast the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

George Horton, Fullerton's baseball coach, said he would like to see baseball teams rewarded on their performance in a way similar to that of football and basketball teams -- even if the bonuses are much smaller.

"It's unfortunate for us, being a state institution here under a budget crunch, that there isn't some positive revenue coming back from this environment," Horton said. "There are some people that are part of our staff and we cannot afford to take them."

Schools that generate money from big-time football and basketball programs, "their per diem is better and the university buys tickets for the players' families," Horton said. "Because we don't have the resources, we sometimes incur a deficit when we go to Omaha."

Funding isn't a problem for the other schools in the College World Series.

In football this year, Miami and Louisiana State were in BCS games and Georgia, Arkansas and Texas were in other major bowl games. South Carolina and Arizona didn't play in the postseason but still enjoyed the financial shares from conference rivals who did.

In basketball, Arizona, South Carolina and Texas were tournament teams.

Fullerton had a losing record and was bounced from the Big West tournament in the first round.

Farrell said revenue from the baseball tournament wasn't missed because it had never been expected. But the Big West commissioner, who is also chair of the Division I baseball issues committee, said that may change as the sport continues to grow nationally.

Whether schools might someday receive revenue based on their performance in the NCAA playoffs may depend on baseball gaining a larger foothold in northern cities, Farrell said.

"I don't think we've come anywhere close to peaking in terms of interest," he said. "We have to continue to grow interest in the Northeast and Midwest. There are huge population centers in those markets and in cities like New York, Chicago or Boston, we have to try to give those teams some opportunity to really compete for the national championship.

"That's where TV ratings have the greatest impact. With ratings comes revenue."

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Capsules

A look at the eight teams competing in the College World Series. Note: Coaches' records at current schools through super regionals:

*--* No. 1 TEXAS (55-13)

*--*

* Coach: Augie Garrido (275-160-1, eighth year).

* Road to Omaha: Won Austin regional: beat Youngstown State, 10-3; beat Oral Roberts, 7-5; beat Oral Roberts, 7-3. Won Austin super regional: beat Vanderbilt, 15-3; beat Vanderbilt, 10-2.

* 2004 record vs. CWS teams: 2-0 (vs. Cal State Fullerton).

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