On Tuesday, we published our initial article about the UW club baseball team’s 14-page proposal to bring back intercollegiate baseball at Wisconsin. Included were details about the finances that would go into the program, as well as proposed endowments that were turned down. On Wednesday, we focused on the Title IX implications. On Friday, Don August expressed his support for bringing back UW baseball. Today, we will focus on the issues of competitiveness written in the proposal.
A hypothetical Wisconsin intercollegiate baseball team may struggle in its first and second years, as one would expect. As of right now, the UW club baseball team competes with most Division III schools, and as baseball goes, can beat a Division I team on any given day.
But, hope remains with arguably the best baseball academy in the state in Madison, an impressive junior college program within city limits, the talented midwest, and the Wisconsin brand.
Former minor-league pitcher Greg Reinhard is the founder of the Greg Reinhard Baseball Academy, located on the east side of Madison. Reinhard’s academy has accounted for 45% of Division I players to come out of the state of Wisconsin in the past three years, including starters at Vanderbilt, Arkansas, and Ohio State. All of Reinhard’s employees have college baseball experience and are known for getting their players ready for the college baseball transition.
With players from Wisconsin and Illinois driving as far as three and a half hours to be a part of GRB Academy, the training and teams Reinhard and his staff have put together are highly-respected. Many of Reinhard’s former players are playing in the Big Ten, and he believes any in-state kid would check out Wisconsin as a destination.
“I think anyone in Wisconsin is drawn to playing in Wisconsin if they could,” Reinhard claimed in a phone interview. “But any kid that’s good enough to play in the SEC probably will [play in the SEC].”
Reinhard also thinks the Midwest gives Wisconsin a talented pool to recruit. The University of Illinois, a fellow Big Ten school and one of the nation’s best teams in 2015, has had success recruiting around the area.
“Illinois is really good, and we’re right next to Illinois,” he explained. “It’s a really simple pull to recruit what you need to out of Wisconsin, then recruit the Chicago-Metro – Indiana’s one of the better baseball states the country, Ohio is [too]. Those states are really good. You’ve got a close area to recruit from.”
Another source of talent could come from Madison [Area Technical] College, one of the premier JuCo programs in Division II. With a 42-12 record last season, Madison College reached its sixth straight Division II World Series.
Madison College has quality talent that could equate into transfers to the potential UW program. Most Division I schools have feeder programs, and the relationship would be mutually beneficial for both UW and Madison College.
“They always have guys who are going on to four-year full rides at big schools,” UW club baseball head coach Jeff Block said. “I’m friends with their [Madison College’s] coach Mike Davenport, and he thinks it would be nothing but great for them too to have Wisconsin here. If you get a guy who goes to MATC, kills it for a couple of years, all of his credits transfer and he comes to UW. It would work so well together.”
And then there’s the Wisconsin Badgers’ brand, which is the one of the strongest in college athletics and the strongest in the state of Wisconsin.
“I think the pessimists right away and see the proposal and say, ‘The team would suck,'” explained UW club baseball president Jalen Knuteson. “Not true. It would have the Wisconsin brand. Look at football; look at basketball. We would just build.”
UW club baseball Division II coach Billy Calawerts agrees with Knuteson, applauding the athletic department’s efforts in the last 25 years.
“If our football team recruits well and our basketball team recruits well,” Calawerts said. “Why wouldn’t our baseball team recruit well? Wisconsin has some great baseball talent that we’re not tapping into.”
Just this past week, Stoughton High School and future Michigan pitcher Dillon Nowicki told UW club baseball president Jalen Knuteson, who also works for the Wisconsin State Journal, that he would have considered Wisconsin if they had a program.
“I dreamt of (playing college baseball) throughout elementary school,” Nowicki said in the article. “I had the dream of playing for Wisconsin — until I found out that they didn’t have a baseball team.”