The Gophers baseball team is at Nebraska this weekend for a four-game series. There's one game on Friday, a doubleheader on Saturday and one game on Sunday.
The Gophers softball team is at Illinois this weekend, also for a four-game series with two on Saturday.
Both teams are in the early part of their seasons, which were approved by the Big Ten Conference.
But even though they are playing, they do so at a significant disadvantage.
The conference has ruled out nonconference opponents for this season, the only Power Five conference to do so. Athletic departments across the country have seen revenue plummet because of the pandemic, leading to budget-conscious decisions — particularly about sports that aren't viewed as revenue-generating.
The fallout from this affects the development of players, and opportunities for teams to play in the postseason.
In 2019, the Gophers baseball team played in Arizona, Washington, Texas, North Carolina and California. But the U also played Augsburg, St. Scholastica, North Dakota State, South Dakota State and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Those were games in which underclassmen could gain experience. Without those games, underclassmen are sitting more often.
Keep in mind that Division I baseball teams are allowed 11.7 scholarships a year. Scholarships are hacked into halves and thirds and fourths, with the players taking on the rest of the cost of attending college.
So when the 2022 season comes around, there will be kids entering their third year of college baseball with very little playing time — 2020 halted by the pandemic, and low innings in 2021 — while paying, on average, 60-65% of their tuition.
The 2019 Gophers softball team went 49-14 and reached the College World Series. The team played games in Florida, Alabama, Texas and Arizona as it built a case to be considered one of the top teams in the country. This season, they are busing around the Big Ten. There are 12 scholarships allowed for softball teams.
The conference did send all its softball teams to Leesburg, Fla., for two weeks of games over three weekends. But matchups against top teams from other conferences weren't allowed. And while Gophers softball entered the weekend 9-3 on the season, the Tennessee softball team had already played 28 games.
Nonconference games factor into rankings that are used determine how teams are selected for the NCAA tournaments. There's concern that Big Ten teams will be devalued come tournament time because of their inability to schedule top opponents outside their conference. Tournament committees for both baseball and softball will be challenged when evaluating Big Ten teams.
So despite the return of these batted-ball sports to the field, their fields aren't level in comparison to other programs in the country.
Yes to no trades
Gersson Rosas made the right call in standing pat at the NBA trade deadline. Dealing assets in order to give Karl-Anthony Towns a running mate up front would have been a shortsighted move that's only made when teams are trying to win. The Wolves are trying to develop.
Anthony Edwards has star potential, although a recent three-game stretch of 33% shooting was worrisome. And it looks like they are onto something with fellow rookie Jaden McDaniels, whose defense is sorely needed.
Time and health will allow the Wolves to see how much progress this young duo can make. Time and health also will allow them to evaluate how all this looks once guard D'Angelo Russell returns from knee surgery.
By the end of the season, a plan needs to be in place to move this program forward.
It was a just a seven-day audition last summer, but a meaningful one for Brent Rooker. The Twins outfield hopeful batted .316 with a home run and two doubles while reaching base in all seven games. But his season was ruined by a Zach Plesac pitch that broke his right forearm.
Now healthy, Rooker's chances of making the club increased when Alex Kirilloff was cut from camp last week. Rooker, a righthanded hitter, has shown he can hit righthanded pitching.
"My goal is to kind of prove that the success I had over that seven games wasn't the result of a small sample size, that that's who I am as a player, that's what I can do if given the opportunity over a prolonged period of time," Rooker said.
Rooker is batting .265 with a .719 on base-plus-slugging percentage.
MLB rule that needs to go will go
The Major League Baseball loophole that teams use to keep prospects under contractual control is more than antiquated. It's a system that has led to grievances being filed and can foster hard feelings between players, agents and clubs. Prediction: That loophole will be closed in the next collective bargaining agreement.
Gophers will get influx of talent
Parker Fox? Race Thompson? Ishmael El-Amin? These are among college players with local ties who are now looking at a possible transfer to Minnesota now that Ben Johnson has been hired as Gophers coach. The pick here is that Johnson will land at least two of these types of transfers as he builds the program.
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