The sun - & blog - are back

Hello again MIAC Media Blog readers. The sun came out today, and the MIAC was finally able to play a full slate of baseball and softball games. For the first time all spring, I didn't have any schedule changes to process and our teams are finally back where they belong ... on the field. With 70s in the forecast over the weekend, fingers are crossed that we can finally return to some sense of normalcy for the final week or two of our spring season.

With snow each of the last two weeks, I was buried under spring sports scheduling issues, and wasn't able to get to the blog at all, so I'm coming back strong tonight and hitting on a lot of topics to get everyone caught up on what's been going on around the MIAC. Thanks for your patience! I saw on the news tonight that we should hit 60 degrees in the Twin Cities tomorrow for the first time in 2013. The average date we usually see 60 for the first time? March 26. Exactly one month earlier.

In addition to rescheduling games on a daily basis, you've probably heard by now we ushered in some fairly large changes as well. A week ago today, the MIAC baseball coaches collectively pressed the"reset" button on the 2013 season. We basically took all the unplayed games, scrapped the current schedule, and re-did it with increased dates of competition in an attempt to get all 20 MIAC games in for each team.

Our coaches started a few days earlier with 12 different ideas of how we could salvage the season, and from there they collectively whittled it down to the best scenario. MIAC Executive Director Dan McKane and Assistant Director Afton Goebel took on the big task of re-drawing the schedule using our new play dates, and ultimately the coaches agreed to move forward. Since weather hampered our early-week games, there's a chance we still might not get all 20 games in for every team, but at least now we've got an organized and well thought-out fighting chance.

The coaches also built in a contingency plan to alter the Playoffs. If, on May 8, all MIAC regular-season games cannot be completed, the Playoffs will change from a four-team double-elimination tournament to a six-team single-elimination tournament. Usually there are at least six teams in the mix for the Playoffs with a few games remaining in the season, so if all the games don't gets played, this format would honor all teams in position to make a postseason run.

Basically, our baseball teams have been Rocky Balboa all spring, with Mother Nature is starring as Apollo Creed (although I prefer Carl Weathers, who may be my favorite actor of all time). At this point, we'd like to win, but we're really trying to shock the world and just go the distance. Apollo keeps swinging, we keep getting back up, and hopefully when the bell rings on May 8 or 9, we'll be standing with a fully (or mostly) completed slate of MIAC baseball to set up our always-entertaining Playoffs.

I'd try to construct a Rocky II reference for the Baseball Playoffs, but we also had some huge news on the softball side of things, so I'll move onto that rather than trying another clunky weather-related boxing metaphor.

Softball will not finish its regular season. It's really unfortunate, but with a week less in its regular season, there isn't much we can do. However, the coaches were passionate about two things - accurately crowning our league champ and automatic qualifier for the NCAA Division III Tournament, and still finding a way to provide a great and exciting experience for their student-athletes, particularly the seniors who have had their final season of the sport they love ravaged by Antarctica-like conditions in April.

The answer? The MIAC is super-sizing its Softball Playoffs. Instead of just four teams, now all 12 are in. there will be round-robin pool play a week from tomorrow (four three-team pools) with the four winners emerging to form the usual four-team double-elimination on Saturday and Sunday, all in time to get our automatic qualifier submitted to the NCAA by the 6 p.m. deadline.

To call this spring disappointing would be a massive understatement. However, when all 12 MIAC Softball teams descend on Caswell Park in Mankato next Friday with four fields of postseason action, I'm really hopeful it will heal some of the weather-related wounds, and it should be a tremendous celebration of MIAC Softball.

So the worst appears to behind us (I almost just broke my hand knocking on wood) and sunnier times lie ahead. We'll be talking about the spring season of 2013 for years, but at this point, it's safe to say everyone is optimistic to move forward and finish with a flourish. With these changes to our baseball schedule and softball postseason, I'm confident we'll do just that.

Draft Day
I'm writing this while watching a huge event on the sports calendar every year, the first round of the NFL Draft. This is a huge day for NCAA Division I, as many of its biggest stars embark on their professional careers.

However, it's a bit different for Division III. Considering my professional ties, watching tonight's draft has made me think a lot about the equivalent for our student-athletes, who are equally great in many, many ways. Occasionally a D-III player has their name called during the draft, which has become a three-day extravaganza. In fact, the MIAC even had a player drafted in 2003, as Gustavus' Ryan Hoag earned the title of "Mr. Irrelevant," which is annually awarded to last selection of the seventh and final round.

To me, there's nothing irrelevant about any graduating MIAC student-athletes, if they're the first pick in the NFL draft, the very last pick, or ... more likely ... pursuing a new career in something else thanks to the education they received. As far as I'm concerned, "Draft Day" for graduating MIAC student-athletes is much more than one day, and just as fulfilling as hearing the NFL Commissioner call your name at Radio City Music Hall.

Instead of going up on a stage to join an NFL team, MIAC graduates move onto their next step by seeing their name on an acceptance letter for graduate school, or picking up the phone to receive their first full-time job offer. While many Division I teams sell recruits on their ability to get them to the NFL, the MIAC institutions pride themselves on preparing their student-athletes for all aspects of life. The NFL Draft and the upcoming graduation days around the league are a pair of great occasions to reflect on the success that awaits our conference's class of 2013.

Quick Hits
-Congrats to the St. Catherine women's tennis team. This week, the Wildcats locked up a share of their first MIAC Women's Tennis regular-season title, as well as the No. 1 seed in the MIAC Women's Tennis Playoffs. The 14-1 SCU team has a chance to lock up the outright title and an perfect 10-0 MIAC regular season on Friday. Quite a changing of the guard over the last three years ... after owning the conference for three decades, Gustavus was finally unseated by Carleton last season, and it appeared the Knights were ready to carry the mantle. However, Ben Hageseth's team is certainly one of the brightest surprises and best stories in the MIAC in 2012-13.

-Though one Gustavus tennis streak ended last spring, one continued this week as the Gustie men claimed at least a share of their 25th-straight title. We'll examine this feat more appropriately if they lock up the outright title this weekend, but pause a second to think about that. A quarter century ... a QUARTER CENTURY ... atop the conference standings. Quite a feat.

-It's still MIAC Strike Out Prostate Cancer Week. Now that we've got better weather in the forecast, make sure to get out to a MIAC baseball doubleheader this week and support a great cause. If you can't attend in person, the fundraising efforts are also accepting online donations.

-The new episode of the MIAC Media Weekly Podcast with Host Mike Gallagher aired today. If you want to learn more about the new softball developments, his guests are St. Olaf Head Softball Coach Ruthie Neuger, and Saint Mary's Athletic Director Nikki Fennern, who is the A.D. liaison to softball and a former coach herself. Always a great listen.

-Closing the blog with a little bragging ... the MIAC Media Blog, and all our MIAC Media efforts were praised by another blog that I really like and respect. The Small School Social blog, written by Edgewood (Wis.) SID David Petroff, honored the MIAC in his "Who's Killin' It" feature a couple weeks back. I've really enjoyed this blog since it was brought to my attention in March, so to have David recognize our efforts like this was both unexpected and a huge honor. We definitely hope to keep killin' it for a long, long time.

As always, if you have a question for the blog, or one for Mike on the Podcast, send me an email and ask away! We'd love to get the outstanding MIAC fans into the conversation. Thanks for reading, and I hope everyone can finally enjoy their favorite MIAC spring team and some sunshine this weekend!

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