Thursday, March 19, 2015

NC State And BC To Meet In The Snow Bowl

The first legitimate weather-related travesty of the 2015 Atlantic Coast Conference baseball season is looming this weekend when NC State heads to Boston to play Boston College at the New England Baseball Complex in nearby Northborough, Mass.

This is a travesty because metro-Boston is still buried under what remains of the 100-plus inches of snow that fell in February, with still more snow forecast for this weekend. Unlike Boston College's Commander Shea Field — the school's on-campus ugly duckling of a ballpark — the complex at Northborough has a field-turf surface, which no doubt has been cleared by snow plows to make it playable this weekend.

So, play ball, right? Well … Friday's forecast for the Boston area calls for a high of 34 degrees and a 50 percent chance of snow. Things improve slightly on Saturday, with a forecast high of 43 and only a 30 percent chance of snow. Sunday's high will be back down to 35 under partly cloudy skies, but with no chance of further precipitation. No matter how you interpret it, then, the weather is going to be brutal all weekend, snow or no snow.

We won't rehash a prior post on this blog about moving back the start of the college baseball season. Given what's taking place this weekend in Boston, that seems like low-hanging fruit right about now. More to the point, is it right for Boston College to have a home conference series this early in the year? And should a series such as this one be moved out of the region because of the weather? The answer to both questions is no, but then what?

If you've ever attended a home baseball series at Chestnut Hill in March (or April or even May, for that matter), you know what a miserable experience it can be. No one should have to play baseball in conditions like that, assuming the weather actually allows you to play at all. At the same time, if the league were to mandate that BC not play a home ACC series before, say, April 1, the Eagles would have to play their first 12-15 conference games on the road, which is not an equitable solution. Assuming they ever field a truly competitive team, playing the first half of their conference series on the road would give the Eagles no chance of ever succeeding. So you either punish the conference by making teams play games in Chestnut Hill in March, or you punish Boston College by not allowing them to play a home game until midway through the season.

The problem of moving a series out of the region, specifically moving this weekend's NC State series, is equally problematic. It wouldn't be an issue at all if the conference hadn't allowed North Carolina to move its 2013 series at BC to Chapel Hill. This was largely a perception problem, the perception being that the ACC office will bend over backwards to help UNC but won't do the same for the rest of the conference. The fact that the ACC commissioner and baseball administrator are both former UNC student-athletes, and the chairman of the ACC Baseball Committee is UNC's senior associate director of athletics strongly reinforces this perception. The league denies this, of course, but perception is reality and actions speak louder than words. The ACC's action in this case was to allow North Carolina to fly Boston College to Chapel Hill to play what was supposed to be a home series for BC at UNC’s Boshamer Stadium, further reinforcing the perception.

One would like to think that the suits at the conference office would have anticipated the response to this from the rest of the conference — the other 10 coaches were all understandably upset — but one would be mistaken. UNC, on its way to a 39-2 start and a trip to the College World Series, was ranked No. 1 in the country and appeared to be possibly the best team in conference history. The last thing the rest of the league wanted to see was North Carolina getting an extra home series. Anyone could see that coming, right? Well, apparently not, because it happened anyway.

Thanks to the fallout from that regrettable decision, the conference instituted policies following the 2013 season regarding the possible movement of games, and to its credit the league made it much more difficult — nearly impossible, in fact — to move a series to the other team's home area. A lengthy checklist of options must be exhausted first, including finding suitable sites in the home team's region, and then possibly moving the series to a completely neutral site. This happened two weeks ago when Virginia was unable to host Pittsburgh in Charlottesville. That series was moved to USA Baseball's National Training Complex in Cary, N.C.

The folks at NC State very much wanted this weekend's series moved to Doak Field, and many took umbrage when Boston College coach Mike Gambino said no, which, make no mistake about it, was his right. This is his home series. Because the conference no longer allows the visiting team to pay the home team to move a series, Gambino would have to pay for the trip to Raleigh with funds that are not in his budget. A conservative estimate says that such a trip, booked on short notice, would cost about $30,000, maybe more. (When the UNC-BC series was moved from Chestnut Hill to Chapel Hill in 2013, North Carolina reportedly paid for BC's entire trip, from airfare and hotel rooms to team meals and ground transportation.) Even if NC State was allowed to pay BC's way to Raleigh, Gambino still would be perfectly within his rights to refuse to move the series. There’s no doubt the fact it was North Carolina that got to move its series from Chestnut Hill two years ago plays a huge part in NC State's frustration, but the folks from West Raleigh need to get over it, stop obsessing about UNC and get ready to play baseball this weekend.

This Wolfpack team has not exactly been a world-beater. Yes, it defeated Clemson two of three to start the conference season, but in hindsight that doesn’t appear to be much of an accomplishment. At 2-4 in the conference and 9-10 overall — their earlier series win over South Carolina notwithstanding — these Tigers look like the latest in what is becoming a lengthy succession of disappointing Clemson squads. NC State got swept last weekend at Miami. Okay, that can happen to anyone. The Hurricanes got their recruiting mojo back the last few years, they hit home runs, and, in particular, they can run a seemingly endless parade of quality arms to the mound. So the Wolfpack's 2-4 start to ACC play isn't exactly awful but it's a long way from great. Add on ugly non-conference losses to Albany (4-7 as of March 18) and UNC Greensboro (7-11) and you get an NC State team with a less-than-impressive case for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

All of which makes this weekend's series with BC utterly critical. The Wolfpack is not the kind of team that can flip its gloves on the field and win. Far from it. And despite BC's poor start, people around Chestnut Hill believe this year's Eagles could be the most talented Boston College team since 2012. For NC State, which desperately needs this series and cannot afford to lose it, to view BC as anything less than dangerous would be suicidal. This is, after all, largely the same Eagles team that won two of three games from the Wolfpack in Raleigh a year ago.

Maybe the weather will be so bad this weekend that the games won't be played and NC State will get a weekend vacation in Boston. Assuming the games are played, however, the Pack needs to be 100 percent focused on Boston College and not on what an unnecessary and unhappy inconvenience the trip is. Otherwise, the meaningful portion of NC State's season could be over by the end of the day on Sunday.

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