Change of venue could broaden College World Series' appeal

Originally Published: June 22, 2007
By David Albright | ESPN.com

The time has come for the College World Series to leave Omaha.

Zesto's
Michelle Bishop for ESPN.comZesto's, located just outside Rosenblatt Stadium, is an Omaha institution.

There, it needed to be said.

And I did so at the risk of never again being able to show my face at Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium, or take a stroll through the Old Market, or drink in the slice of Americana that is Zesto's.

And I also did so at the risk of seriously offending some of my ESPN brethren who (to put it kindly) wax poetic about the prospect of spending nearly two weeks in Nebraska every year.

But seriously, why should Omaha have a stranglehold on one of the premier college sports championship events?

Some would argue that it is -- or has become -- a top-tier event because of everything that Omaha brings to the table each June. And they would be right. Seemingly everyone associated with this event is as welcoming and hospitable as the chamber of commerce ads would lead you to believe.

But that doesn't mean another community couldn't take all of the great things that already exist about the CWS and put its own stamp on the annual festival.

UC Irvine's extra-inning heroics would be a great story in any town in America. So, too, would Oregon State's run from nowhere to last year's national title.

It's no different than George Mason's historic run to the 2006 Final Four in Indianapolis.

Ah, Indy.

It's home base for the NCAA and it's constantly striving to be the "Amateur Sports Capital of the World" -- making it no surprise that the nonprofit Indiana Sports Corporation would love an opportunity to have a piece of the great story that the CWS has become.

Indianapolis also has Victory Field.

Opened in 1996 in a section of downtown that rivals everything Omaha has to offer, it is "the best of everything in one ballpark," according to Baseball America. And Sports Illustrated called it "the best minor league ballpark in America."

Wrigley Field
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesAn NCAA championship on Wrigley Field? It's worth thinking about.

I don't care if the CWS moves to Indy. I really don't.

There are plenty of other great minor league parks that could host this event. There's AT&T Bricktown Ballpark (Oklahoma City), AutoZone Park (Memphis), Dell Diamond (Round Rock, Texas), Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Louisville Slugger Field and Zephyr Field (New Orleans).

Let the record show that Rosenblatt Stadium, home to the Omaha Royals, is also a minor league park. And while it wouldn't be fair to call it a fixer-upper, the old ballyard on 13th Street clearly needs some fixing up.

Rosenblatt has undergone nearly $35 million in renovations over the past two decades, with another $25 million proposed if College World Series of Omaha Inc. can get a commitment from the NCAA to host the Division I baseball championships beyond the current agreement that expires in 2010.

There's also been talk of putting the $25 million toward building a new ballpark in downtown Omaha, but the city politics and the prospect of leaving Rosenblatt may derail that idea before it ever really gets off the ground.

For a radical idea, how about Chicago?

It's unlikely that an MLB ballpark would be available for the entire CWS run, but two stadiums could work. Play the elimination games on the South Side at U.S. Cellular Field and then move the championship series to Wrigley Field.

Go ahead and try to convince anyone that college baseball players wouldn't approach a shot at playing in front of the ivy-covered walls with the same fervor and zeal that they currently do in Omaha.

For its part, the NCAA has been relatively silent on the matter. Dennis Poppe, the managing director for baseball, told ESPN.com, "I guess when you have a commitment and a good relationship, it's kind of like a good marriage. Why would you look for another one?"

Rotating venues seems to work OK for the Final Fours and the Frozen Four, and those events are perennial sellouts. So why wouldn't it work for baseball?

For the people who can imagine this event being played only in Omaha, the list of reasons could fill a book.

Ultimately, the decision lies with the NCAA. And given the agendas, bureaucracy and conflicts involved, it's too early to tell how this will play out.

The best of both worlds might be to institute a rotation that includes Omaha as a permanent fixture every two or three years.

That would open up the College World Series to some other great venues and cities while still keeping a renovated Rosenblatt and Omaha in the mix.

After all, there's only one Zesto's.

David Albright is the senior coordinator for college sports at ESPN.com and can be reached at david.albright@espn3.com.

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