The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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May 6, 2014

Mazey wants to implement radical change

When Randy Mazey was hired as the head baseball coach at West Virginia University in July of 2012, the Johnstown, Pa., native faced obstacles most believed were too large to overcome.

For starters, the Clemson graduate and former Charleston Southern and East Carolina head coach was taking over a program that had been to just 10 NCAA Tournaments in its history and hadn’t made a postseason appearance since 1996. He would be coaching at an outdated Hawley Field and working with a roster that wasn’t exactly stuffed full of major league prospects.

Mazey ignored the naysayers, though, and he’s quickly found a way to clear most of those hurdles. He’s used his connections from former stops to bring in talent from Texas, Florida, Kansas, Oklahoma and other baseball hotbeds. He’s spearheaded the construction of a new stadium — a $21 million facility that will open in time for the 2015 season — and he’s quickly developed a winning culture. The Mountaineers went 33-26 in his first season, and despite being a unanimous pick to finish at the bottom of the Big 12, posted a 13-11 conference mark, good enough for a tie for third.

This year’s team, his second, is performing even better. It’s 26-17 overall and predicted by most to be a No. 2 seed in an NCAA regional.

The 47-year-old Mazey has done an amazing job in his short stay at WVU, but the 19th head coach in the program’s history still believes his team is driving a race car with used tires while many of his competitors are running on new Goodyears.

The only thing keeping the Mountaineers from becoming a major player on the national stage, he believes, is Mother Nature.

That’s why Mazey is asking for a radical change to the game of college baseball.

In a proposal he wrote even before taking the job at WVU — while an assistant at TCU, in fact — Mazey explained the benefits of making a major change to the college baseball schedule.

In a perfect world, the coach believes, the college baseball season would start after spring break — giving baseball players a chance to have a spring break like other students — and end just before the start of the fall semester.

Although playing college baseball in the summer, while school is not in session, seems odd at first, Mazey is confident the benefits outnumber the setbacks. His main objective is equality.

While schools in the south are able to practice in warm weather basically all year round and can begin their home schedules as soon as the NCAA allows, schools farther north have to spend a huge part of their season on the road.

This year, WVU began the season with 20 straight road games, traveling to South Carolina, California and North Carolina before finally opening up the home schedule March 25 against Pitt. That, the coach said, is just not fair to the schools that spend February shoveling snow instead of looking for sunscreen.

“It’s clearly not fair to half of the nation,” he said.

Mazey also believes a change in scheduling would greatly improve attendance, and, as a result, the bottom line.

WVU drew only a few hundred fans for its April 15 matchup with Ohio State, as temperatures dipped into the low 30s. During the summer, he said, the stands could be packed with “10 times that many” fans for such an intriguing matchup.

“The only reason is the weather,” Mazey said. “You’d have to be out of your mind to sit through a snowstorm to watch a college baseball game.”

And it’s not just at WVU where the numbers could soar.

“An Ohio State-Michigan series on July 4 could get 20,000 people a game,” Mazey said.

The coach isn’t naive enough to believe that such a switch will come without a fight. He knows southern schools, who use the weather as a recruiting tool, would quickly come out against such a move.

“I would have to convince those schools that have such a competitive advantage to do what’s in the best interest of the sport,” said Mazey. “Or I would have to convince somebody that there’s no way to have a vote to determine what’s in the best interest of the sport with so many people with such an advantage voting.

“We’d have to get somebody who doesn’t have a dog in the fight.”

Others — like Minor League Baseball, which could see a decline in attendance if college baseball was played during the summer, and wooden bat leagues, like the Prospect League, which is home to the West Virginia Miners and gets its players from college rosters — would also surely fight the change.

But Mazey — who said he started this crusade when his son, Weston, was born because “If he’s ever fortunate enough to play college baseball, I don’t want his options to be limited, like mine were, to schools in the south” — still believes that he has a chance of one day seeing his idea put into action.

“I’m crazy enough to think I have a chance to do anything,” he said. “When I took this job, I thought I had a chance to compete with Texas, draw fans in Morgantown and get a great program started. I don’t think a lot of people believed it could happen, but I believed it could happen, and we worked hard to make that happen.

“I’m going to push as hard as I can for (the schedule change) to happen. Hopefully by the time (Weston) graduates from high school, it will be an even playing field.”

— E-mail: chuffman@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.

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