College baseball has been around since the 19th century, and the first game between rival schools took place in 1859. The sport on the collegiate level has experienced a great amount of growth over the last four decades, especially since networks such as ESPN have begun broadcasting games. In fact, all of the top-five attendance records for college baseball have been set since the beginning of the new millennium.
Larger programs are sanctioned by the NCAA, while the NAIA oversees many of the smaller institutions across the United States. The NCAA season culminates in the College World Series, while the NAIA holds their annual Avista NAIA World Series.
While most MLB prospects opt to skip college and go straight into the minor league farm system, it’s becoming more common for players to receive an education before pursuing a career as a professional ballplayer. Players who elect to do so must complete at least three years at a four-year university before once again becoming eligible for the MLB draft (or turn 21).
Like most sports, the main rules of baseball are the same at all levels of play. However, there are some notable differences between the college and professional ranks.
One of the most noticeable departures is the use of a metal bat. While wooden bats are allowed, most student-athletes prefer a composite bat due to the increase in hitting velocity and the general enhancement of the offense. Due to safety concerns, the NCAA implemented new requirements in 2011 to slow the speed of the ball off metal bats, and this has resulted in an overall reduction of home runs.
While a nine-inning game is still the norm, a seven-inning game may also take place under the right set of circumstances. These include two teams playing multiple non-conference matches on the same day, as well as the final day of a conference series.
A malicious slide with the intent of taking out an opposing player is prohibited in the college ranks. Instant replay may be used to review slides in tournament and televised games, and anyone deemed guilty of purposely running into a player to prevent a force out or tag is automatically ejected from the game. If a malicious slide is initiated in order to prevent a double play, then an automatic double play may be credited to the aggrieved team.
Like the American League, NCAA baseball uses the designated hitter rule allowing a player to bat in place of the pitcher. Unlike the Bigs, however, a player may serve as both a designated hitter and pitcher concurrently, and they may remain in one position even if they’ve been pulled from the other.
The mercy rule is sometimes applied, which allows a game to be called if one team has at least a 10-run lead over their opponent after seven innings (or five in the case of seven-inning games). NCAA tournaments do not use this rule, and some conferences either ignore it outright or limit it to Sunday games.
This NCAA tournament is held annually, and there’s a separate competition for Divisions I through III. The Division I tournament begins in June, with 64 teams playing in a double-elimination format. The 16 winners then play best-of-three series to reduce the field to eight teams, and this is followed by another double elimination tournament to determine the two finalists. A best-of-three series then crowns the winner of the College World Series.
Since the tournament debuted in 1947, the USC Trojans hold the record for the most title wins with 12. They’re followed by the Texas Longhorns and LSU Tigers, both with six wins.
While sportsbooks often provide odds during the College World Series, it’s less common to find lines for regular-season games. This is due to the sport still being far behind college basketball and football in popularity, as even the most ambitious book has to make room for other athletic competitions taking place around the globe.
College baseball isn’t as popular as basketball or football, but it’s made major strides in the last few decades thanks to national television coverage, a larger presence in sports media, and inclusion in video games. This has resulted in more revenue, which has in turn led to better facilities, bigger venues, more aggressive recruiting, and additional options for bettors looking for something to wager on.