Huskie baseball in on-deck circle

By Jeff Kirik

When Jeff Wilson’s line drive was snared by Central Michigan’s second baseman on May 22, 1982, the season and the NIU baseball program had come to an end.

More than seven years after CMU swept the Huskies by scores of 12-0 and 13-0 in that season-ending doubleheader, NIU is faced with the challenge of rebuilding its baseball program.

On June 14, Athletic Director Gerald O’Dell and his fellow athletic administrators decided to add baseball to the NIU athletic program when five other NIU men’s sports joined the Association of Mid-Continent Universities. The AMCU accepted the membership of the Huskie basketball, soccer, tennis, golf and swimming and diving programs on the condition that the university have a baseball program ready for league play by the 1991-92 season.

“(Starting a baseball program) is something we had discussed internally,” said O’Dell. “The process was speeded up though, because of the AMCU requirements.”

Nine of the 10 AMCU schools will have baseball programs by the time NIU begins conference play. Wisconsin-Green Bay is the only conference school that does not and will not have a baseball team.

“I asked (AMCU Commissioner) Jerry Ippoliti why all the schools in the conference didn’t have baseball,” said O’Dell, “and part of their criteria for expansion was that any school coming in would have to have baseball. Schools already in (the conference) weren’t required.”

Because of budgetary problems, NIU dropped eight sports in 1982, including baseball. Men’s and women’s cross country, indoor and outdoor track and women’s badminton also got the ax.

O’Dell, who believes “we’ve stablized this athletic program financially,” said the money for restarting baseball will come from a projected rise in gate receipts and funds raised through the development program. He added that baseball will be an “integral part” of the five-year plan the athletic department is forming.

“We’re going to be very gradual in the implementation of this program—as far as expenditures,” he said. “I have no illusions about us having an NCAA competitor over the next two or three years. I think that would be totally unfair to build those kind of expectations. But at the same time, whatever product we put on the field is going to be a good product.”

O’Dell said there has been little discussion among the administration thus far about the baseball program, but added that the university wants to cover all angles of the program—facilities, personnel, operational budget, etc.—before making any moves.

The thought of forming a screening committee responsible for finding a coach hasn’t entered O’Dell’s mind yet, but he added, “I do know this: Whoever we hire will have to be willing to do a lot of work.”

Walt Owens, an assistant professor in NIU’s physical education department, coached the NIU baseball team its last seven seasons. The Huskies posted a 133-158-8 record in that time, including a high-water mark of 26-13-2 in 1977.