Fifth day of weather issues creates ‘most challenging College World Series’ for NCAA

Fifth day of weather issues creates ‘most challenging College World Series’ for NCAA
As heavy rain begins to fall fans look for shelter during a weather delay Monday. The game has been postponed until Tuesday. (World-Herald News Service)

This isn’t the wettest College World Series ever, but the steady drip, drip, drip of rain has the 2018 tournament in the running for that dishonor.

Heavy thundershowers Monday evening washed out Game 1 of the best-of-three championship series between Arkansas and Oregon State. Play is scheduled to resume 6 p.m. Tuesday at TD Ameritrade Park.

Game 2 will move to 6 p.m. Wednesday. The start time for a third, if-necessary, game Thursday is yet to be determined, though NCAA official Randy Buhr said Monday night the optimal time for first pitch would be around 5:30 or 6 p.m., barring weather issues.

Buhr, the director of championships and alliances for the NCAA, has been involved in Omaha’s annual baseball bash for 16 years.

“This has been the most challenging College World Series as it pertains to inclement weather,” he said.

Monday was the fifth day that rain either postponed or delayed a game. Last week, weather disrupted the schedule Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Buhr said he’s surprised the event is as on-schedule as it is.

“Especially early on,” he said. “I was concerned we were going to have to play potential games on (Saturday) and the off-day (Sunday). Luckily, we have a great grounds crew, and the expertise of our local meteorologist helps drive a lot of the decisions.”

In 1964, when the CWS was a six-day event, five full days of play were lost to rain. Rosenblatt Stadium at the time didn’t have a full infield tarp. To get the tournament played, gasoline was burned on the infield dirt and a helicopter was used as a hovering dryer.

A new tarp arrived two days before the 1965 series began.

Buhr said weather conditions Monday put Game 1 high on the list of single-game challenges he has faced.

After relatively steady rain from mid-morning to early afternoon, the clouds broke and sunshine bathed the field by 4:30 p.m. The tarp was removed, the grounds crew sprinkled the infield dirt and both teams headed out to the diamond to practice.

But at 6 p.m., when the first pitch was scheduled, the field was empty as the scoreboard warned that storms were on the way.

“You want to make the right decision,” Buhr said. “You want to protect the student-athletes first and foremost. You don’t want to burn a pitcher’s arm. Yet, you see the clouds break at 4:30 or 5 o’clock. So the fans think there are no issues.”

An Omaha meteorologist who works with MECA — the city unit that oversees TD Ameritrade Park — is consulted regularly, Buhr said.

“When we got that information,” he said, “we got feedback from both coaches and the primary administrator from each of the teams as to what they would like to do. It was all good feedback.”

MECA, ESPN and the grounds crew leaders also were in the conversation.

“The tough part is, do you start a game at 6 o’clock and knowing our projections were we were going to have weather hit between 7 and 7:30?” Buhr said. “If that was the case, we were looking at getting three, 3 ½ or four innings in.”

Buhr said the teams wanted some assurance of at least a three-hour window of uninterrupted play before starting.

Oregon State coach Pat Casey had no quarrel with the postponement.

“These guys do just a fabulous job of protecting the student-athletes and making sure the environment’s a safe environment to play in,’’ Casey said. “I’m very comfortable with whatever they decide. I trust them.”

According to NCAA guidelines, a CWS game can start as late as 11 p.m. local time. With Monday being the opener of the finals, Buhr said, the hope was not to start later than 8:30 or 9 p.m. Another factor: More storms were forecast for 11 p.m., and beyond.

“It was a really tough decision tonight,” Buhr said.

A doubleheader Tuesday to “catch up” was discussed, but Buhr said single games three days in a row were highly preferred, and that weather forecasts indicate a strong chance of no more delays.

Two years ago, Coastal Carolina and Arizona played their third game Thursday after a Wednesday rainout. That game started at noon, but Buhr said it was because more rain was expected that night.

“The optimal time would be (the) 5:30 or 6 o’clock window on Thursday,” Buhr said, “if weather isn’t a factor.”

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