During this week off from competition BYU's baseball team is anything but idle.
The Cougars pause from a schedule which has produced a 5-11 record thus far as they ready for the opener in the Mountain West Conference next week at UNLV (originally these games were scheduled for this week during the MWC Basketball Tournament).
BYU's players are keeping up with their academic rigors, heightened by a schedule made more difficult by weather challenges for a northern-tier school, no Sunday play and lack of nearby opponents.
Amidst some concern that Cougar baseballers aren't often in class because of their playing schedule, BYU's players have been busy occupying laptop computers to write papers, attending mandatory study halls at hotels and keeping up with everything but the live lectures while on the road.
It means frequent contact with professors before and after road trips and not skipping classes when the team is in town. Instead of sleeping because of jet-lag after a red-eye flight last week from Hawaii, several players turned in papers and visited the Student Athlete Center within hours after landing.
Pitcher Sam Fernley applied the finishing touches to a paper on the Chronicles of the Barbarians. Pitcher Jeff Mousser lent his laptop to teammates when he wasn't using it for his algebra class on the Internet, writing a book critique for history or completing chapter summaries for his psychology class.
"I struggled as a freshman," said pitcher Ryan Adams, who now borrows his brother's laptop to take on trips. "I learned you have to be in class when you can and know where your teachers' office is and when they can meet with you." Adams is a history major who reads lots of novels and books on the road for his classes, but missed five lectures in a row because of the Hawaii trip that came in the middle of BYU's Olympic break.
BYU provides one laptop to the team through its Student Athlete Center and four personally-owned laptops are brought along by players and coaches. The laptops also allow players access to view their own ERAs (earned run averages) and RBI (runs batted in) totals as they work toward another alphabet acronym.
RPI stands for "ratings performance index." RPI means a potential post season tournament berth if a team like the Cougars doesn't win the Mountain West Conference tournament in just over two months at its palatial Miller Park. Playing fewer games than the NCAA allowable 56 contests would mean a lower RPI.
"We wouldn't have a chance if we played the 40-game schedule like we did when I was a player here," said Vance Law, whose double life as a Cougar basketball and baseball player in the 1970s helps him understand the academic challenges of his team. "It's tougher now academically at BYU than it was then, but we are trying to balance everything so that we can go to class, play an attractive home schedule and have a good RPI."
It helps to play tough teams for an RPI and it helps even more when BYU can pull off a coup like winning two of three at perennially-tough Hawaii. The trips to Notre Dame and Washington are BYU's only non-conference forays north of Provo this season.
Top-ranked Stanford and nationally-ranked Texas Tech lead the field of BYU's opponents who all have records hovering at .500 or better. The Washington trip in two weeks is to facilitate a return date with the Huskies in Provo next season as BYU upgrades its home schedule in a world made difficult by shrinking budgets, uncertain spring weather and sunbelt schools who feel little need to travel outside their confines.
In the spirit of "if Mohammed won't go to the mountain, then the mountain must go to Mohammed," BYU is forced to travel more than wanted to find willing teams. Opponents who normally play on Sunday gain an extra academic day at home, while the Cougars lose that advantage because it causes them to leave a day earlier for a weekend series.
With pre-season play now complete, the Sunday variable comes more into play as BYU plays rare doubleheaders at UNLV and the Air Force Academy.
Meanwhile, BYU's baseball team continues to attend classes and pack books and equipment on the road. Sympathetic professors and lights at home for night games in a new Miller Park have helped BYU's situation.
Utility player Jake Stubblefield says communication is key in maintaining a good relationship with teachers.
"We give our teachers our schedules and one of my professors looked at the syllabus with me to compare test dates and important assignments so that I could arrange to complete them before or after trips," said Stubblefield, who acknowleges staying on top of reading assignments helps.
"I've had some professors let me take tests after I get home from a trip, telling me 'let me know when you are ready to take the test,' " said Adams. "If you put it off, it can work against you. It requires a lot of self-discipline."
Catcher Mike Weingarten has free long distance service on his cell phone, so he keeps in contact a lot with his professors on the road.
"Not seeing the teacher work examples on the board while we are gone is a disadvantage," said Weingarten. "I actually miss not being able to attend class."
Recently, 13 baseball players, including eight on the current squad, were honored as scholar-athletes with grade point averages of 3.2 or better by the Cougar Club. Those from this year's squad are: Adams, Jason Garcia, Dave Jensen, Jeff Stone, Stubblefield, Weingarten, Adam Wilkes and Kirk Williamson. From last year's team those honored were Shane Belliston, Thomas Doxey, Shawn Hancock, Stephen Snow and Michael Wirrick. This is the fourth time Snow and Wirrick were selected.