Press Box: Changing coaches shouldn’t be the only step for Missouri baseball program

The Missouri baseball program is at a crossroads having missed the NCAA Tournament for the past 11 years. (Associated Press)

We are approaching the 11-year anniversary of the University of Missouri joining the Southeastern Conference, and looking back, it’s a move the Tigers absolutely had to make.

I don’t see anyone in Columbia having any regrets about that decision.

Texas was taking too much control of the Big 12 Conference, so if Missouri wanted to add to its athletic department budget with a bigger chunk of revenue-sharing distribution, leaving for the SEC had to happen. The creation of the SEC Network a few years later helped a lot, too.

It was going to be a good move for a lot of Missouri sports, such as football, men’s and women’s basketball and softball.

But a few sports were going to be facing an uphill climb with the move to the SEC, and baseball has definitely been one of those sports.

Since joining the SEC, the Missouri baseball team has failed to reach the NCAA Regionals every season. Head coach Steve Bieser felt the brunt of that failure when he was fired four days after the 2023 season concluded with a first-round loss to Auburn in the SEC Tournament.

Last weekend, Kerrick Jackson was announced as Bieser’s replacement, returning to Missouri after previously spending the 2011-15 seasons as the Tigers’ assistant coach.

He’s not the only one coming home again. Tim Jamieson, who was Missouri’s head coach from 1995-2016, is also returning to Columbia, this time as an assistant coach.

I don’t follow the Missouri baseball team too closely, so I don’t know if a coaching change was necessary. For the first time since 2019, the Tigers won 30 games and also made the SEC Tournament, something reigning national champion Mississippi couldn’t do.

But when the program fails to make the NCAA Regionals for a 10th consecutive season -- I didn’t count 2020 because of COVID-19 cutting the season short -- I’m sure the athletic department felt like it had to do something.

One question still remains: Was a coaching change enough of a change?

From what I have seen on social media, it was not.

Many fans are saying the athletic department needs to invest more money into the program to help make it competitive on a national level again.

For example, nearly two decades ago, Missouri built Mizzou Arena for $75 million, and it’s one of the top college basketball facilities in the country. Mizzou Softball Stadium opened six years ago and was a $17.5-million project.

Taylor Stadium, the home of the Missouri baseball team, broke ground in 1999. What did it cost to build? $2.1 million.

The fans on social media may have a point. However, allow me to play devil’s advocate.

Missouri drew 1,447 fans -- according to the official box score -- in the team’s home finale against Georgia. That pales in comparison to other home finales for SEC schools such as Alabama (3,694), Georgia (3,789), Vanderbilt (3,802), Kentucky (3,884), Auburn (4,096), Tennessee (4,191), Texas A&M (4,555), Florida (5,712) and South Carolina (6,784).

And it’s not even remotely in the same ballpark -- clever wordplay, Greg -- as other SEC school like Mississippi (9,726), Arkansas (9,981), LSU (10,576) and Mississippi State (10,665). That figure for LSU came from a mid-week game and Mississippi State didn’t even qualify for the SEC Tournament.

You can blame Missouri’s lack of baseball attendance on several things. You can blame the weather, because it doesn’t feel like spring arrives until May these days. You can blame it on the state having two MLB teams, which I know seems odd but it really does have an effect. You can even blame it on the on-field performance if you want.

But if fans don’t show up to games, what incentive do alumni have to contribute money toward a new stadium?

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have the first clue as to what it will take to get Missouri back to a level where it can play games beyond the SEC Tournament.

However, if the athletic department isn’t willing to make changes beyond the coaching staff, we’re going to go through this same song and dance every seven years.