I would love to have a softball update for you. Hell, I would have loved to write one yesterday. But there's been no games.
It comes with the territory in the diamond sports that northern teams can't play at home for a while. This year's squad has traveled to Alabama, Texas, Georgia, and California before March ended. MAC play started with a pair of tough losses to Kent State.
Since, then it's been more drama than softball. If you care enough to read when I write about softball you know about the Ball State series, the second half of four straight games played on Miami's field. The middle two games of that quartet were hard-fought and close. The first against Ball State was one of the team's best of the season through six innings, but the Cardinals tied it up and it went nine.
UB was scheduled to play ten games in the first ten days of April. Those four in Oxford are the only that have actually happened. A pair in Binghamton were cancelled. Doubleheaders yesterday and this afternoon - finally a chance for a young team to play at home - had to be cancelled. And now two more home games this weekend have been relocated to Akron.
The issue at hand for this string of home games is not necessarily the weather, though it plays a bit of a role. The official line has been "unplayable field conditions."
Director of Softball Managerial Staff Matt Meyer told me on Twitter that the issue the last two days has not been the infield, as is usually the case when baseball or softball games are cancelled, but rather that there was standing water in the outfield both yesterday and before scheduled gametime today. Decisionmakers were apparently pessimistic enough on the state of the field to preemptively move two games this weekend against Akron to the Zips' home turf in Northeast Ohio.
A few thoughts:
(1) Weather happens. I get that. After the games were cancelled yesterday, I'm told it rained more in Buffalo into this morning. You can only control so much
(2) It is a lot harder to get water off the grassy parts of the field than dirt. On the infield, you throw whatever product you use on it and get it drying. Drag it out and let the wind work on it and you can make a lot of progress in half an hour. In the outfield it's basically a waiting game.
(3) It's near impossible if your outfield isn't graded and flat. Even a slight slope over a long area will pool the water once it rains hard enough and you can be doomed for days.
(4) A properly graded surface is a prerequisite to a good drainage system, but field with modern system in place can weather upwards of 6 inches of rain per hour. Major league ballparks are usually concerned with the infield and time delay moreso than wet grass.
All that said, I do not know how well-graded Nan Harvey Field is or what drainage system is in place, other than that a new system was installed in 1999. I didn't ask Matt about that, but maybe I should have. If anyone knows, let us know. The grading will be pretty easy to see. If the field isn't level enough, that can overwhelm a good drainage system.
Regardless, cancelling games and losing home games because we can't maintain a field is a really bad look for the athletic department. In the past baseball has played early-season home games out towards Rochester, which is a bummer, but now softball is going to be playing home games against Akron in Akron. That's well beyond "bummer".
When the new facilities master plan was announced last year, Nan Harvey Field was slated for a new artificial turf surface. There's no mention in the document of regrading the field or installing some drainage, but no turf company would install a new surface without leveling the entire field, and a proper drainage system is a little cheaper with turf because you need fewer dirt layers above the sand and gravel layers to sustain healthy sod.
In the master plan document, these renovations were not labeled as "high priority" improvements, as that label was saved for UB Stadium, the fieldhouse, the new football HQ, and the Tennis building. As much as I fight for more attention to the less high-profile sports, I understand that.
There's a lot of nonsense quibbling right now about how much money UB can offer a basketball coach. In the grand scheme of things, the answer is not very much, and people need to realize that UB's problem is less a shortsighted administration with no understanding of how to do business (as they're being painted) and more a lack of money.
But dropping home games because you don't have appropriate facilities is an embarrassment. The listed cost of the total Nan Harvey improvements was two million dollars. Turf alone costs should be substantially less than that.* Athletics needs to prioritize the Fieldturf and create a facility that can host games as soon as possible. Either that or they need to make a deal with an area field that can host them, as they did in baseball in years past.
*Assuming ~50,000 square feet of turf (the size of Dartmouth's softball field) and some scratch calculations based on this site, it should be less than 800K.
Because nothing - not even widespread criticism for not being able to retain your basketball coach, no matter how misguided - flies in the face of "Big Time College Athletics" more than a team without a home.
Tomorrow evening we'll be back to actual recaps, once Buffalo plays some actual softball. Go Bulls