UT’s National Champs

Congratulations to the University of Tampa baseball team that captured the NCAA Division II national championship less than a fortnight ago. The Spartans virtually went wire-to-wire as the top-rated D-II team in the country and topped off a remarkable 54-6 season in dramatic fashion by coming from behind to defeat Cal State-Chico, 3-2, in Montgomery, Ala., in the national title game.

UT outfielder Lee Cruz was Player of the Year, and two other Spartans were first team All-Americans. A school record five Spartans, including Cruz and fellow All-Americans Sergio Perez (pitcher) and Orlando Rosales (outfielder) were selected in Major League Baseball’s draft.

UT was – and has been over the years – that good. It was UT’s fourth such national title. Once again, UT made its hometown proud.

All that was missing was hometown media coverage commensurate with such success. UT won four games in Montgomery – and all were covered by stringers or “correspondents” for the Tampa Bay dailies. Local TV was no better.

Granted, UT is a D-II school, and this is a major metro market with pro sports, NASCAR fever, a D-I university in USF and lots of interest and allegiances to the Gators and Seminoles. And, of course, there are budgetary and personnel considerations. But there are also priorities. Being the very best warrants, well, better coverage.

“I think we were undercovered all year,” says UT’s Athletics Director Larry Marfise. “We can compete with any baseball program in the country.

“Look, I know the media can’t cover everything, and not having football probably hurts us overall,” points out Marfise. “But we’re an incredible story. I think the media’s missing some great human interest angles. I think it cheats the kids.”

One way for UT to garner more coverage would be to play some D-I teams, such as USF. Unfortunately, the bigger schools often look at D-II opponents as an “everything-to-lose, nothing-to-gain” proposition. Bigger is expected to be better. Stepping down in classification certainly doesn’t help a major school’s chances for post-season play.

Marfise has tried unsuccessfully to arrange a baseball game with USF – at Legend’s Field. “You get a local charity involved. I think it would be great for the community and local baseball,” he reasons. “But I understand. They’re trying to get themselves established in the Big East.”

Perhaps next season could be different. Perhaps a USF team with a losing record in 2006 would find value in playing – if not defeating — the defending D-II national champion and perennial powerhouse in front of an uncommonly sizable and spirited crowd.

Perhaps the media could get behind it and cover it for what it would be: an intriguing and fun match-up of well-regarded city rivals who could use the exposure.

Perhaps.

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