How is University Baseball doing at the end of 2016?
Mon 5 Dec 2016
By Luke Stott
This report is designed to highlight where university baseball currently stands in terms of participation and structure at the end of 2016, and to outline plans for the future.
The report is aimed at all stakeholders within British Baseball, not just university clubs.
There were 20 universities that had active baseball programmes in the UK during the 2015-16 academic year:
University of Cambridge (est. 2016)
Coventry University (est. 2015)
Durham University (est. 2016)
University of Edinburgh (est. 2010)
University of Essex (est. 2016)
University of Hull (est. 2015)
Imperial College London (est. 2009)
Leeds Beckett University (est 2015)
University of Leeds (est. 2015)
Loughborough University (est. 2014)
University of Manchester (est. 2016)
University of Nottingham (est. 1999)
University of Northampton (est. 2016)
Queen Mary University of London (est. 2016)
University of Sheffield (est. 2014)
University of Southampton (est. 1998)
University of Stirling (est. 2016)
Swansea University (est. 2016)
University College London (est. 2010)
University of East Anglia (est. 1994)
As the list shows, eight clubs have self-reported as being established this year and 14 clubs are under three years old. Two universities (Durham and Loughborough) feature multiple teams.
This has contributed to participation growth from as few as 70 people (from six clubs) playing baseball in the university system in 2013 to at least 580 people who, according to our latest census, are currently a member of a university club offering baseball. That is an increase in participation of 729% in a three-year period as well as a four-fold increase in the number of universities offering baseball.
The latest census was not exhaustive and clubs are being established with encouraging frequency, the vast majority with direct help from BaseballSoftballUK (BSUK). There is also evidence of this increase in participation filtering into BBF leagues, with dozens of university students playing for a variety of BBF teams across the country during the 2016 season.
Participation in BBF leagues has been designated as an exit strategy for university players and forms part of a mutual cooperation strategy in which all parties benefit.
It is important to note that of those who entered the university baseball system in 2013, the majority will have now graduated, as most university courses are three years in duration. This means that the current level of participation is not necessarily reflective of total participation over the most recent three-year period. That figure will be much higher but is difficult to track.
If you are a member of a university baseball club not on the list above, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, as the community would love to hear from you.
Currently, university teams have access to a variety of potential avenues for competition that run from October to April.
On average, an established team playing in the National University Baseball League (NUBL) and the twice-yearly National University Baseball Championships (NUBCs) can expect to play a minimum of 18 fixtures per season, with this number increasing depending on participation in tournaments and friendlies.
All university team competitions outside of the NUBCs are free to enter.
National University Baseball Championships
The National University Baseball Championships are a biannual competition that takes place over a weekend in October and another in March. It is designed to be the bookend for each Higher Education season and presents a goal for all university teams to aspire to. The NUBCs were created and are run every year by BSUK.
These tournaments are held in consultation with university students, and for many students provides their first taste of playing on a purpose-built baseball field.
The Durham Bishops are the current holders of the NUBC, having defeated the previous holders Loughborough Thunderbirds by a score of 3-2 in the final in October 2016.
The National University Baseball League
The National University Baseball league (NUBL) features 16 university teams competing across three divisions. It was designed to create consistent playing opportunities for university teams regardless of geographical location and to prepare university teams for NUBC-level competition.
Each team is scheduled to play 10 fixtures during the season, with a possible post-season tournament scheduled but dependent on fixture congestion. Results and league tables are hosted on BSUK’s Hit the Pitch website.
Play so far this season has highlighted the need for access to artificial surfaces. Next season’s schedule and participation will be decided in May to allow for better fixture organisation. As the NUBL is in its inaugural season, there are no current champions -- but the Loughborough Thunderbirds won the NUBL’s forerunner, the Northern University Baseball League, last season.
Currently, there is only one major tournament in the university calendar, called the M1 Series Tournament (M1ST). This year’s edition set the record for the largest university baseball tournament ever held in the UK, with nine teams participating.
There are plans for further tournaments to be staged around the country in 2017, including the third edition of M1ST at Loughborough University. The Loughborough Thunderbirds are the current M1ST champion.
Teams always have the option of organising independent fixtures. Some of the most popular of these are ‘varsity’ games between local institutions, and these are organised through the Uni Baseball Facebook group, which serves as a forum for the wider university baseball community.
University teams also regularly play friendlies against BBF teams.
This past year, the second annual University Baseball All-Star Game between Northern and Southern Universities was held at Farnham Park, with the North winning 11-9 in extra innings. This game is designed to illustrate the growth of university baseball, and as many as twelve institutions were represented by players at the 2016 game.
Selections for these teams are made by captains from the teams that finish highest at the NUBC, with a rule that every institution that wants to be represented will have at least one member in the final squad.
BaseballSoftballUK has assisted virtually every university baseball club in some way.
This ranges from helping to source equipment and funding to direct negotiation with university institutions. For many club Presidents, this is their first experience of club administration, and BSUK and the larger university baseball community has been on hand to guide their club’s development into an established team and beyond. Each team has a designated BSUK contact to help them achieve their goals.
BSUK organises the NUBCs and supports other competitions such as the NUBL, M1ST and the All-Star Game, as well as working with individual clubs. Some examples of their work include helping to source a home ground for multiple clubs, assisting with grant applications, providing access to coach education, running the BSUK Higher Education conference held in September and so on.
One of the ambitions of BSUK with regard to university baseball is to provide students with the skills to sort out these and other issues themselves.
Luke Stott, the lead Student Organiser in University Baseball and former President of Loughborough Students Softball and Baseball Club, said: “BSUK has always been the silent partner in all of the tournaments and club development activities that I have facilitated. They have provided equipment, locations, and expertise when requested yet have also allowed stakeholders to shape the sport; it’s really a synergistic relationship. Where there have been issues, I’ve found that BSUK and University Baseball have been able to work through these difficulties to create a stronger environment that is better suited to the needs of the students. BSUK has played a major role in the rapid growth in participation figures at university level.”
Kyra Bradley, President of the University of Sheffield Hornets Baseball Club, said: “BSUK has been our biggest partner in facilitating our club's growth in the three years I've been at Sheffield. They started by providing us with equipment and sport-specific expertise that our university couldn't provide, they have organised the National Championships we attend, and they provide opportunities for club and coach development. By checking in with our club at regular intervals and having a representative to look at any queries or ideas we have, BSUK has been able to support us in accommodating more members and improving our quality of play. BSUK take into account input from clubs in order to strategise regionally and nationally, as well as provide innovative and helpful advice to help our club to work towards our own objectives.”
Joseph O’Connell, Queen Mary University of London Baseball Club President and former Southampton University Softball and Baseball Club President, said: "When I was President of the University of Southampton Mustangs in 2015-2016, BSUK acted as the backbone of university-level competitions. In particular, the organisation of both autumn and spring University Championships has given clubs the opportunity to offer competitive sport to their members and increase cooperation with other universities. As the sport grows, the prospect for more frequent and comprehensive fixtures will undoubtedly increase, and this will be heavily reliant on the assistance BSUK provides. Having now started a club at Queen Mary, BSUK’s role has been invaluable, both in terms of providing essential starting equipment and giving advice on advertising the club to potential members."
Matthew Wildman, University of Nottingham Baseball and Softball Club President, said: “BSUK has provided university sport with a national competition that helps showcase the talent and growing strength of university baseball. Though they keep very much to themselves as far as competition is concerned they have given us a great place from which to show off a sport that we are passionate about.”
Chris Rawlings, BSUK National Development Manager with responsibility for university baseball and softball, said: “Over the past five years, BaseballSoftballUK has had a real focus on developing both baseball and softball in the Higher Education sector. It serves as a key stepping-stone for players and organisers between schools, clubs, and the wider playing community. Baseball has seen a rapid expansion in the number of university teams forming, largely as a result of some really hard work by students, supported and guided by the development staff at BSUK. By establishing the National University Baseball Championships, BSUK has created a focal point for university teams to work towards and created an awareness that baseball is now firmly cemented in universities. We hope that the number of universities with baseball teams will continue to grow.”
High Performance Academy (HPA)
Many graduates from the HPA and the Academy have gone on to university teams, many of whom now find themselves in positions of leadership. This year the HPA has advertised British University baseball as an alternative to studying abroad and it is the hope that mutual cooperation will lead to higher levels of playing attainment as well as increased participation and retention for both programmes.
Will Lintern, BSUK National Development Manager with responsibility for the HPA and the Academy, said: “One of the core values of the High Performance Academy is leadership. We hope that through our programme of talent development we are not only improving players’ abilities on the field but we are shaping them into the leaders of our sport in the future. To see those young players graduate from our programme and go on to be leaders at their university is a testament to the quality of young men and women in our talent programmes.”
Will Zucker, HPA Graduate and Durham University Baseball Club President said: “What teams like Durham and Loughborough have shown is that if there is a system where we can train multiple times a week people will be able to improve rapidly, like those who attend the HPA. I’ve only been to two NUBC tournaments but I think everyone can agree that there was a big difference in the level of competition, and with more HPA graduates in the university system that will only improve further.”
There are a range of goals, both near and long-term, which the university baseball community and BSUK are working towards:
Create a ‘Year 1’ Tournament for teams less than 18 months old.
Work towards closer unity with HPA and Academy programmes by introducing fixtures between these organisations and teams representing Higher Education.
Explore the viability of a British Universities Representative Team capable of playing fixtures against the GB Lions, GB Juniors and other representative teams.
Encourage partnerships between university clubs and BBF clubs to share coaching expertise, playing opportunities, playing space, equipment and so on.
Encourage more university players to participate in BBF leagues.
Continue to assist and develop the existing University Baseball community.
Support new teams and new players, wherever they may be found, to facilitate the continued growth of baseball in the Higher Education sector in the United Kingdom.
Establish a kit supplier for university baseball.
Track players in their careers with a view to introducing company baseball teams.
Continue advocacy with key Higher Education partners on the place of baseball in university sports programmes.
Improve connections between university programmes.
- Support the inclusion of baseball and softball into British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS) programmes.