Bianco: A full 2020 season “would have been fun to watch”
Mike Bianco hasn’t said much publicly about how the 2020 baseball season came to a screeching halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but on Thursday, he provided some perspective.
During the latest edition of Reb Talk, the Ole Miss coach spoke with David Kellum on several topics including the loss of a potentially historic season, returning all but two players for 2021 and what a spring football season would potentially be like parallel to a baseball season.
On March 12, Ole Miss was preparing to host LSU the following day to begin Southeastern Conference play, as the Rebels were riding a 16-game winning streak. Word broke out that LSU players were instructed to get off the bus after already loading up to head to Oxford, which was the first signal the spring college athletic season was lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In the midst of about 24 to 36 hours, you went from as well as things could be going for a college baseball player to it’s over,” Bianco said. “We’re around athletics, we know the rules. If you don’t have as many runs or points than the other team when the buzzer rings or the innings are over, you lose. Then, there comes a time where if you lose, you don’t play anymore. … We had just beaten the heck out of our last opponent. We were on a 16-game winning streak, and then somebody taps you on the shoulder and says, ‘It’s over.’ How do you explain that?”
The Rebels dropped their season-opener to No. 1 Louisville, but did not lose another game the rest of the way, putting them ranked inside the top-10 in several polls and looking like contenders in Hoover come SEC Tournament time in May and one of the eight to potentially make it to Omaha in June.
None of that came to be, as Bianco and every other spring sport coach across the country had to tell their players they had played their last game in the middle of March with no preparation or time for them to emotionally come to terms with the fact that their college careers had unceremoniously come to an end.
None of that stopped the fan base, or even national pundits, from playing the what-if game and posting projections or final rankings. Many of those projections had Ole Miss sitting at No. 2 or even No. 1, adding fuel to the hypothetical flames that the Rebels may have been on the verge of a truly historic season, getting back to the College World Series for the first time since 2014.
“Entering the season, we felt good about the team,” Bianco said. “People talk about that team looking like they were having fun. Well, when you win 16 in a row, it’s fun. What would have happened? I try to not to go that far, because you just don’t know. There was a lot of season in front of us, but man, it would have been a lot of fun to watch that team. Because it had a lot of the pieces that I think you need to make a deep run. Not just in postseason, but in the College World Series.”
Bianco returns most of his team, thanks to the NCAA granting a waiver that allowed all seniors of spring sports the option to return for another year.
Two key pieces of this year’s team will not be returning in shortstop Anthony Servideo and third baseman Tyler Keenan. Both were taken in this year’s truncated MLB Draft. Servideo went in the third round, while Keenan was taken in the fourth of five rounds. Both have also signed contracts, and Keenan is currently on the Seattle Mariner’s 60-man roster for the shortened MLB season, which begins later this month.
Bianco said this year’s draft process was different from years past, given teams were not playing or in the middle of an NCAA Tournament run, as they normally would be when the draft usually rolls around.
“We didn’t know going up to the draft if they were going to have a draft,” Bianco said. “We talked a lot. We had more conversations with them leading up to the draft than probably anybody we ever had in the program. But I’m proud of them, because they handled it the right way. We’ll find some positives out of this pandemic, and I think that was one of them. Give those guys a chance to kind of sit back and really get a game plan for the draft.”
Now, the attention turns to the upcoming athletic year and the fate of fall sports, including football. The Big 10 announced they were shifting to conference-only schedules for all fall sports, while the Pac-12 conference is also considering that same decision. The SEC has not made any decisions, but reports came out Friday that all 14 athletic directors were to meet with SEC commissioner Greg Sankey in person on Monday.
One option that is still on the table and picked up minor momentum is the idea of a spring football season. How that would look is still unknown, but it means baseball season would be going on at the same time. Bianco gave a hypothetical prediction of what a spring weekend in Oxford might look like if two of the biggest sports on campus shared a spring season.
“I think it’s going to be a great weekend and as an Ole Miss fan, how cool would that be to come up here on Friday, watch a ball game. Go to bed. Wake up the next morning, watch a football game at noon. Go back to your condo or go back to the Grove and come to a baseball game at 7 o’clock that night,” Bianco said. “Then, wake up the next morning and (go to) Game 3. I think it’d be a pretty cool weekend.”
A decision on the fate of SEC fall sports is anticipated to be made sometime before the end of the month, or early August at the latest.
The full July 9 edition of Reb Talk can be viewed below: