Mark Kingston’s been around baseball for more than 30 years and has been a head coach since 2010, but when he was named head coach at South Carolina last summer, he not only was tasked with turning around one of the sport’s most storied programs, he also took on a role as a prominent voice in the college baseball community.
Simply by being the coach of the Gamecocks, Kingston knew he could be influential beyond Founders Park.
“One of my roles as the coach at South Carolina ... is to make sure I’m overseeing one of the top programs in the country for our fans to be very happy about, but also as the head coach at South Carolina, you can have a positive impact in a lot of different areas,” Kingston told The State. “Whether it’s in our community, whether it’s being a role model, whether it’s helping baseball around our state in terms of at the high school and the amateur level. I take that responsibility very seriously, and it is a platform that if used properly, you can have a lot of positive impact. And that’s something that I believe in, and as long as I’m the head coach here, I’ll try to help in as many possible areas as I can.”
Angst over the sport of baseball as a whole and its future has been a constant topic of discussion among fans, media members, players and coaches over the past several years, and the NCAA recently approved a substantial number of rule changes that will be implemented in the 2019 season.
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Overall, Kingston expressed optimism about college baseball’s future and claimed “the game is at its highest level it’s ever been,” specifically pointing to the quality of play, improved TV ratings and increased attendance
Still, there were a number of areas where Kingston said there is room for improvement.
Asked to identify the biggest challenge facing college baseball, Kingston cited the number of scholarships each program is allowed to hand out to players — unlike football, men’s and women’s basketball and some other sports which award full scholarships, baseball teams are given 11.7 scholarships to divide among players, with a limit of a 35-man roster.
While Kingston did not specify how many scholarships he thought schools should be allowed to offer, he framed the issue as one of fairness for players.
“I think our student-athletes deserve more financial assistance for all the work they put in, all the attention they bring to athletic programs and universities. I would love to see our student-athletes get rewarded with more financial assistance,” he said.
PACE OF PLAY
When it comes to how long games last, count Kingston firmly in the camp of those who feel that they are too long.
“I think ideally, a great baseball game should be in that two-and-a-half-hour range. And it’s our game and the big league game now is longer than that.” he said.
In South Carolina’s regular season games that lasted nine innings this season, the average game time was three hours, seven minutes. Out of 54 games, just 18 lasted fewer than three hours.
Among those 18 games were three against Princeton, one of the few teams in college baseball where the catcher does not rely on a pitching coach to call each pitch. Because of the time it takes to relay signals from the dugout to home plate to the pitcher, the SEC permitted catchers to communicate with coaches via radios in their helmets in 2018, and Kingston said he was a “big fan” of the change.
“I don’t see any reason why we would ever go back to not using it. It’s quick communication, it’s taking signs out of the game that slowed the game down, it allows a pitching coach to help a catcher along and continue to develop him and what he should be thinking throughout the game,” Kingston said.
All told, Kingston expressed support for the NCAA baseball committee’s move to shorten games, while pushing back against those who dismiss game length as a non-issue.
“The committee is doing a good job of trying to create ways to speed the game up, because I think we all love baseball, but we don’t necessarily feel like we need to be out there for four-hour games,” Kingston said. “And so to me, I think we’re moving in the right direction, now we just need to see it in action.”
A recent raft of proposed reforms for NCAA basketball shook up college athletics, and led to some questioning whether baseball should build on the momentum of the basketball rule changes and allow current student-athletes to retain an agent or adviser after being drafted while maintaining their eligibility.
The NCAA already allows for high school seniors who have been drafted to consult with agents without sacrificing their amateur status, and there have been calls to allow current players to do the same.
Kingston believes such a move would be a good thing, “within reason,” he said.
“At the end of the day, student-athletes need to be able to make good decisions about their future, and if having good representation helps them to make good, intelligent decisions about their future, I’m for it,” he said. “I think the NCAA is starting to move in a good direction in terms of the use of agents and advisers in its right form. At the end of the day, as long as money’s not changing hands and kids are getting advice about their future, I think that’s a good thing.”