Before we look at Nebraska's 2012 Big Ten Conference baseball schedule in the next couple days, there's one thing you need to understand just in case you haven't heard it enough already:
The Big Ten is irrelevant nationally in baseball.
I could say it in nicer terms, but that's the bold-faced fact. If you watched Darin Erstad's speech, you'd recall him stating that the Big Ten conference last year was ranked 14th, and that he couldn't even name 13 conferences in college baseball. It was a good joke, but that's the place Nebraska finds itself in this season.
It's not just that the Big Ten isn't good, it's that they haven't appeared to do much about it.
For example, let's take a look at the ISR's of the Big Ten conference. (Boyd's World's ISR is basically meant to be a projected RPI):
Ohio State 128
Michigan State 138
Penn State 144
For a comparison - Oklahoma has the lowest ISR in the Big 12 at 87.
For years, northern schools have complained about a universal start date and having to travel early in the season.
But looking at the schedules of the Big Ten's top teams (as picked by this year's coaches) shows the problem - too many northern teams playing other northern teams instead of pulling in tougher opponents that will help raise their ISR/RPI and further their chances of getting into the NCAA tournament.
Michigan State's out of conference schedule includes series against Cincinnati and Oakland who have a 2012 projected ISR of 181 and 186, respectively. The Spartans have a series at Texas A&M (ISR: 59) early in the season - thank goodness or who knows what their ISR would look like.
Minnesota has a huge advantage over over Big Ten schools in that they can use the Metrodome for indoor games early in the season. Yet Minnesota's schedule includes Milwaukee (uh, what? Wisconsin-Milwaukee, maybe? ISR: 215), The Citadel (131), Cal Poly (49), Stony Brook (276), Kansas (63), and Kansas State (66).
Purdue's schedule features Murray State (160), Wichita State (92), East Carolina (65), Maryland (45), Western Carolina (134), and a late season series at UCLA (4).
Ohio State schedule includes a series at Georgia Tech (19), vs Western Michigan (208), in the Coastal Carolina tourney vs Marist (227), Toledo (173), Coastal Carolina (120), Austin Peay (205) at home, and a late series versus Seattle University (117).
For the past few years, some Big Ten schools have played in the Big Ten/Big East challenge, held in St. Petersburg, Florida. A look at some of the competition again shows the problem. Big Ten teams will compete against Louisville (135), South Florida (148), Cinncinati (181), Pittsburgh (175), Seton Hall (165), Notre Dame (151), Connecticut (140), St John's (152) and West Virginia (155).
While it may be well and good that the teams can compete in a warm area early in the season and get a bunch of games in in a short time span, there isn't a single team among non-Big Ten competition in that challenge that's going to help improve the Big Ten's strength of schedule.
Baseball America reported recently that the Big Ten/Big East Challenge is being scaled back in 2013, perhaps a sign that changes are in the works by Big Ten schools to improve their scheduling. Some alterations to Big Ten scheduling may be forced by changes coming to the RPI formula next season. Schools will be rewarded for playing a tough non-conference schedule and for winning on the road.
The bottom line is simple. If Big Ten teams (and Commissioner Jim Delany) expect to be taken seriously as a baseball conference, the out of conference scheduling must improve.
Otherwise the status quo will remain. The Big Ten's sole entry into the NCAA tournament will be the conference winner.
And the day a Big Ten team makes it to the College World Series? The world might just well end before that happens again.