On Friday night, Purdue defeated Nebraska 7-5 to run its record to 30-5, 11-2 in the Big Ten. As Purdue claimed the nation’s top winning percentage by picking up the victory in the Big Ten Network’s nationally-televised match-up, any remaining doubt that Purdue is one of the nation’s elite teams was erased. With it, attention is beginning to turn to Purdue’s fortunes come the NCAA tournament which sees regional-play begin in six weeks.
Arguments against Purdue being a one-seed in a regional are hard to come by. In fact, in the minds of some national media Purdue should be considered for a national seed. With their gaudy record, a 15-4 mark against RPI to-100 teams, the national-rankings and a number 10 RPI according to Boyd’s World Saturday morning RPI, Purdue has the resume of a one-seed and to host a regional.
Unfortunately for the Boilermakers, their resume and on-field success is coupled with a less-than-stellar on-site facility which has put a cloud and uncertainty around Purdue’s ability to host a Regional.
As we approach the 40-day mark until NCAA postseason play, here is a look at what we know, what the NCAA looks at, options available and why we may soon find resolution.
Why are we here?
If everything had gone according to plan Purdue would not be in this predicament, a potential regional hosting would have been one of the all-time marquee events for Purdue athletics in West Lafayette.
On May 28, 2010 the Purdue Board of Trustees approved financing for construction of a new $10.3 million baseball stadium for the Boilermakers. The $21 million project, which includes a new soccer complex, tennis facility and cross country course is as part of the $121 million Mackey Complex/Northwest Site master plan, that was approved in May 2007. On February 4, 2011 the Purdue Board of Trustees approved a contract $17.4 million construction contract with Indianapolis-based Shiel Sexton Co. Inc. to build the new baseball stadium which was scheduled to be completed by April 1, 2012.
With raised external expectations as Purdue returned all but four members of a team that went 37-20 in 2011 and finished third in the Big Ten, one game behind co-champions Illinois and Michigan State, many preseason prognostications had Purdue claiming the 2012 Big Ten championship. Purdue’s second conference championship, and first since 1909 was to be captured as they played out the home conference slate in the new and glistening John and Anna Margaret Ross Alexander Field.
Purdue currently sits in first-place by three games, but their five home conference wins have all be won at Lambert Field. On January 24, 2012 Purdue announced, due to delays in the construction of Alexander Field, all 2012 home baseball games would be played Lambert Field. Hope has lingered that Alexander Field would be completed by June 1 and ready to host a Regional. As time progresses slowly optimism wains.
Photo below from an April 17 construction update shows workers have a Goliath-task at hand if there were to have the facility ready.
Purdue hosting a regional in Alexander Field is not in the cards, but it does provide the opportunity for a grand opening on the heels of the of the best seasons in Purdue baseball history.
What the NCAA wants
Why the completion of Alexander Field was critical to Purdue hosting on-campus is due to what the Boilermakers have in Lambert. While serviceable for the Boilermakers whom have played there since 1965, as Lambert Field is without lights and sits just 1,100, the facility is not up-to-par for hosting a regional. While unable to find an exact definition on what an acceptable facility is, the 2011 NCAA Division I Baseball Championship Handbook does state under Site Selection Criteria that “lights are highly recommended at all prospective regional sites.”
In the 2012 NCAA Manual, bylaw 126.96.36.199.1 which is Criteria for Site Determination lists the following:
(a) Quality and availability of the facility and other necessary accommodations.
(b) Revenue potential (e.g., a financial guarantee (for baseball it is $50,000) or guideline that ensures fiscal responsibility and is appropriate for the particular event, as recommended by the governing sports committee and approved by the Championships/Sports Management Cabinet); (Revised: 11/1/07 effective 8/1/08).
(c) Attendance history and potential.
The restrictions facing Purdue and Lambert Field do not bode well for the above three, neither does part (e) which is Championship operating cost if Purdue was to bring in additional seating and light.
What Purdue is facing with their on-campus home is similar to what California-Berkeley faced last year. After the Bears claimed the Houston Regional, hosted by Rice, they held their 2011 Super Regional against Dallas Baptist, who unexpectedly won the Fort Worth Regional hosted by TCU, more than 50 miles and one hour away at Cal Poly in Santa Clara. UC’s light-less, 2,500 seat Evans Diamond was insufficient for NCAA play.
Minor League alternatives, major problems
With both Alexander and Lambert fields out of the equation, if Purdue were to host a regional they would be doing so off-site. From last year’s baseball championship handbook, “ordinarily, all regional and super regional tournaments will be located on or near the campus of one of the competing institutions; however, a regional or super regional tournament may be scheduled at a neutral site.” With Purdue’s campus in the West Central part of Indiana, the university is little more than 60 miles from Indianapolis and the Pittsburgh Pirates AAA-affiliate Indianapolis Indians.
In the guidelines for the Regional format, handbook also states that regional-play must start the Friday after Memorial Day and will be conducted over a four-day period. This year those dates are June 1-4. Guidelines state that there might not be a game played on Monday, provided the “if necessary” game is not needed, that all regional competition should be completed not later than the Monday before the start of super regional competition.
This is where playing at Victory Field, the home of the Indianapolis Indians provide a conflict as the Indians are home throughout the weekend of regionals. If one were to look elsewhere around the state, Indiana is home to a pair of single-A Midwest League teams in the Fort Wayne TinCaps and South Ben SilverHawks, those two are neither viable options.
Like the Indians, the SilverHawks are home throughout the weekend. Though Baseball America’s Aaron Fitt wrote Purdue has other local hosting options, including Parkview Field in Fort Wayne and U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, the TinCaps are home on Friday, June 1 with a 7 p.m. game. It would take a lot of flexibility to be able to play two games before the TinCaps play their game, and certainly a few dollars to have the TinCaps bump their start to 10/11 in the morning. That is a lot of trouble for a facility more than two-and-a-half hours away.
Big problem, B1G solution?
If Purdue were to venture into facilities that are two or more hours away, instead of looking eastward, a suggestion that a view towards the west could provide beneficial.
The Illini, the Boilermakers closet Big Ten neighbor, play their home games at Illinois Field. An Illinois Field that has lights, has bowl seating of 1,500, the same as Alexander Field has, 1,500 lawn seating with the ability to reach 3,000. Illinois Field has shown in the past it can house a regional-quality crowd. In 2009 when the Illini hosted Ohio State on May 8, the two nationally-ranked teams squared off under the lights in front of 5,214 fans.
With the quality of the facility Illinois Field is, the possibility of the Big Ten to be able to not only showcase the premier facility but also one of the best teams in the nation in Purdue, the possibility is thought-provoking. Not only would the Boilermakers be playing closer or in similar distance to discussed options, is there any doubt they would have a home-field advantage? The Illini are as hospitable as any fanbase in the country and as they come off a regional appearance of their own, they certainly would be fully-behind the Boilermakers in pushing a Big Ten program as far as possible.
In the handbook it is stated the Division I baseball committee shall attempt to place regional tournaments so that maximum national balance can be obtained. This is achieved by preferably at least one regional in each of the eight Division I baseball regions. Both Purdue and Illinois are in the Mideast Region, a 40-team region where Purdue is the only one of a regional one or two-seed slotting and hosting selection.
If the Illini were to capture a bid of their own however, which at this point would occur via the same route as a year ago in winning the conference tournament in Columbus, they may have more their own regional agendas to focus on.
But a regional at Illinois Field should certainly be an option to look at. What options the Purdue administration is considering should all but be wrapped up at this point.
The championship handbook from last year provided a date of April 22 when regional and super regional proposed budget e-mail sent to prospective preliminary round hosts from the NCAA national office. That date was exactly 52 weeks ago from Friday. The deadline for the proposed budget was Friday May 20 which a similar calendar puts at May 18 this year.
As the Boilermakers head into May with a head full of steam they’ll playing like one of the nation’s best. The next few weeks should shed light on where there regional destination rests.
Alexander and Lambert field photos courtesy Purdue Athletics, Illinois Field photo couresy ballparkreviews.com