Thanks so much for all of you that reached out to us with your questions on Liberty Athletics. In fact, we received such a large response that we already have too much for one post and will split it into two separate posts, one for this week and a following one for next week. Continue to send over your questions via comments on this post or reaching out to us on our various forms of social media as we will continue to do mailbags throughout the summer.
Today’s questions focus on baseball, softball, the new Liberty arena, and, of course, some football talk.
On a scale of 1-10, how underwhelming has baseball season been and what does next season look like?
— Did Liberty Win? (@didlibertywin) May 7, 2018
The season isn’t over yet with one final weekend series and the Big South Tournament still ahead so it would be unfair to rate the season at this point. If you’re not a die-hard Liberty baseball fan you may be disappointed with the season thus far, but the team has faced their fair share of adversity particularly on the injury front this year. The Flames are also sitting at 2nd place in the Big South heading into a big 3-game weekend series against Radford. Also, don’t forget the Big South Tournament will be hosted by the Flames, and the baseball power Coastal Carolina is no longer standing in our way. So, while we’re talking about how “underwhelming” this season has been thus far, how will it look if we were to win 2 of 3 this weekend, win next week’s tournament, and advance to the NCAA Regionals?
As for next season, it’s really too early to tell, but if our pitchers are healthy, we could be really good. Ace Jack DeGroat should be back after missing all of 2018 to anchor the staff. JUCO transfer Andrew McInvale should also compete for a weekend spot. Add those two to Garret Price and Noah Skirrow, and our pitching staff could be scary good and deep. Be patient with 2nd-year head coach Scott Jackson and give him a chance to get his guys in the program.
Dot Richardson and her squad have put together an amazing regular season with a mark of 44-12 overall and 18-3 Big South record. The Flames are the regular season conference champions and the #1 seed in this weekend’s conference tournament. Certainly winning the tournament championship and Big South automatic bid to the NCAA Softball Championship is ideal, but if the Flames were to slip up this weekend they have a very solid resume to make a claim for an at-large. Their RPI is currently 36, but only 10 conferences are represented in the top 35 of the RPI. 64 teams make the national tournament with 32 auto bids and 32 at-large. If Liberty falters in this weekend’s Big South tournament, they will be squarely on the bubble. For example, last year the SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12, and ACC took up 28 of the 32 at-large bids. Let’s just take care of business this weekend! The NCAA tournament field and pairings will be announced this Sunday at 10PM eastern on ESPN2.
Here’s a question. Liberty is the best and I’m the biggest fan.
— Sparky Flames (@SparkyFlames) May 8, 2018
There has definitely been increased chatter on social media this summer about tickets, which is a great thing to see with the FBS move and expanded stadium. As has been typical over the past several years, season tickets are all that is available for purchase right now, and that’s not unusual for most G5 schools. Individual tickets will likely go on sale sometime in late July or early August, but let me encourage you to begin considering season tickets. It won’t be long before individual game tickets will be hard to come by as our schedules continue to bring in more and more prominent opponents beginning in 2019 with Syracuse. And have you peeked at the early home slate for 2022? BYU and Virginia Tech will highlight that season’s schedule, and if you want to be at either of those games it will probably be more economical to buy season tickets. Also, don’t rule out the 2018 season opener against Old Dominion as being a tough ticket to come by if you wait any amount of time. Our entire thought process as a fanbase regarding tickets has to change as we move to the FBS. Gone are the days that you can just show up for any marquee game and easily purchase a ticket.
- Nothing has been finalized in regards to the specifics of the interior design of the new expanded FOC which was just announced last week, but we do know that the locker room will be renovated and expanded and there will be a brand new players’ lounge and recruiting area. These spaces are sure to include big TVs with game consoles and couches which have become common in these areas. Other recent operation center upgrades at other FBS programs have included arcade areas, small theaters, and even a barber shop. Several of the recent locker room upgrades have even included individual safes for players to store valuables.
- Assuming you are talking about the new Liberty Arena which will be built between the Vines Center and DeMoss Hall and is scheduled to be completed in time for the first basketball game in 2020, the most important thing is to create a unique home court advantage and environment. Over the past 15 years, average attendance for men’s basketball games has been right around 2,300. In a 9,500 seat Vines Center that just feels cavernous and doesn’t lend itself to much of a home court advantage. Put 2,300 in a 4,000 seat venue and you can start to develop a nice environment and hopefully see that average attendance increase.
- It’s nearly impossible to get much recruiting information for sports outside of football and basketball. There is some information for baseball and women’s basketball, but it is still very limited. Probably the best way to see where Liberty stands nationally in each sport is to look at what each individual sport has accomplished nationally. Our men’s golf team and track & field and cross country programs have consistently performed well on a national level. Women’s basketball has made 17 NCAA Tournament appearances with one Sweet 16 appearance. The trajectory of the softball program is also one that will begin to make some noise on a national level perhaps as early as this year.
- Honestly, I put the likelihood of College Gameday ever being at Liberty in the next 15 years at less than 5% and that may be generous. We probably had a better chance to get Gameday in Lynchburg at the FCS level than we do at the FBS level in the near future. Outside of Power 5 schools, Army, Navy, and Air Force, Gameday just doesn’t make many appearances elsewhere. Since the inception of the show over 25 years ago, only 13 G5 schools have hosted Gameday. With that said, let’s have some fun. How about a matchup with BYU on October 22, 2022? Mormons vs Christians. Could be an interesting storyline. After that, a game against either Virginia or Virginia Tech if both teams are somehow ranked in the top 25 or so, especially with a few matchups in November if they ever had playoff implications. Ok, back to reality.
- Maine transfer Josh Mack will have to sit out 2018 after transferring to Liberty and will have 2 seasons of eligibility remaining. At Maine, he was the leading FCS rusher as a sophomore in 2017 with 1,335 yards while averaging 5.5 yards per carry. He was also a weapon out of the backfield with 30 receptions for 209 yards, 2nd on the team. He led the FCS with 133.9 rushing yards per game and was in all of FCS with 161.5 all-purpose yards per game as he was named a first -team all-American by multiple publications. Mack’s sophomore season numbers were very similar to Rashad Jennings’ numbers as a junior and senior at Liberty. That’s the type of potential this guy has. Against the #1 FCS team James Madison, he rushed for 144 yards. Against UMass, an opponent he will face in 2019 and 2020, he rushed for 110 yards. And yes, he will be here in 2019 alongside seniors Buckshot and Antonio Gandy-Golden. The offense will be loaded.
What’s gonna happen to the Vines center?
— Da General (@RetiredRapper) May 7, 2018
Nothing, really. The purpose of the new Liberty Arena is to be used for men’s & women’s basketball and volleyball. It will allow the Flames to have a more intimate environment for games that have historically had less than 3,000 fans in attendance. The Vines Center will continue to be used for any games in which attendance is expected to exceed 4,000, but its primary role will be for Convocation and concerts. Not having to set up and tear down the stage and floor seating for Convo and sports events will eliminate countless man-hours and resources. The new Liberty Arena will allow the Vines Center to remain set up for Convo for longer periods of time.
As for any updates to the Vines, the school release stated that as part of construction of this new arena, the Vines will also receive an exterior facelift to include updates to the dome roof and the addition of overhangs at the entrances.
If you asked us a question and it wasn’t answered here, don’t worry, it will be featured in our MAILBAG post next Friday!