FAYETTEVILLE, Ark – Many coaches with long-term success often speak in clichés about building a program from scratch.
Wichita State baseball coach Gene Stephenson has done it.
When Stephenson was named the Shockers’ coach in 1978, Wichita State hadn’t fielded a team in seven years. There were no bleachers surrounding the field, and the school didn’t own any baseball equipment.
After 27 years, Stephenson is 1,453-463-3, tops in the country.
He has 16 Missouri Valley Conference championships and has qualified for postseason play 21 times, making seven appearances in the College World Series, and he won the national championship in 1989.
Although Stephenson has coached nearly 2,000 games, today’s regional opener against Missouri excites him. He graduated from Missouri in 1968, and since he took the helm in Wichita, he has split the two postseason meetings he has played against his alma mater. The Shockers knocked the Tigers out of the 1996 Midwest Regional in Wichita.
Wichita State plays Missouri at 2 p.m. today in the first round of the double-elimination NCAA regional.
“They’re my alma mater, you know. I got a lot of warm spots in my heart,” Stephenson said. “Some people think I don’t have a heart, but I have a big heart and lots of warm memories of Missouri.”
The two schools used to play every year but haven’t played the past three seasons.
“When we did that, we thought it was in our best interest to play people we had a better chance of beating,” MU coach Tim Jamieson said. Jamieson said he thought restarting the series was a possibility.
BEHIND SCHEDULE: During opening comments at the coaches’ press conference, Stephenson discussed what he believed were problems with the way the NCAA schedules – or, more specifically, doesn’t schedule – the baseball season.
“The time of the year we play does not give the opportunity of competitive equity to other teams in the country,” Stephenson said.
He said teams such as Le Moyne, which has to play its first two months on the road, have a disadvantage at the beginning of the season.
Le Moyne, a small Jesuit college in Syracuse, N.Y., opened the season with eight losses and didn’t play a home game until March 30. The Dolphins were 7-11 on their season-opening road trip.
Dolphins coach Steve Owens said he doesn’t necessarily support a radical change in scheduling to fix what he sees as a regional inequity because he thinks the summer college baseball leagues could suffer as a consequence.
Stephenson said he would support starting practice on Feb. 1 and the season on March 1 with the College World Series starting the last weekend of June.
“We’re the only sport in all of NCAA that does not have a common starting date,” he said. “I think that’s so, so bad and that needs to be changed dramatically. It’s been needed for many years.”
PREP TIME: Don’t blame Owens if the Dolphins didn’t get a chance to review a comprehensive scouting report on Arkansas. There weren’t enough people in Syracuse to help Owens out.
Last weekend, the Dolphins were competing for the Division II lacrosse championship, and Owens said most of the athletic department’s support staff traveled to Baltimore to help out and watch the game.
“All of our support staff was down there,” Owens said. “They got back early in the morning, including our sports information people, everybody. They were exhausted. … We didn’t have time to go over 10,000 scouting reports.”