07/17/05 — MOC coaches react to IOC decision

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MOC coaches react to IOC decision

Published in Sports on July 17, 2005 2:07 AM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Mount Olive College head baseball coach Carl Lancaster doesn't expect baseball to suffer too much from being cut from the Olympics. Conversely, Trojan head softball coach Jaime Kylis-Higginbotham considers the elimination of softball from the Olympics devastating.

The International Olympic Committee voted on July 8 to eliminate baseball and softball from the 2012 Olympics, which were awarded to London. The cuts mark the first time in 69 years a sport has been dropped from the Olympics.

Baseball was added to the Olympics in 1992 and softball made its first appearance at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Both sports will be included in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Kylis-Higginbotham says the addition of softball in the Olympics sparked a growth and interest in the sport in the U.S. and worldwide. She says the elimination of softball leaves a large void.

"It's a sad day," said Kylis-Higginbotham, who enters her fourth year at Mount Olive. "The Olympics gave softball a lot of exposure. It got a lot of girls into the sport and gave the sport a fan base. It gave players a goal to shoot for."

While there is a professional fastpitch league in the U.S., as well as professional leagues overseas, competing in the Olympics has become the pinnacle for softball players.

The role of the Olympics is different for baseball, says Lancaster, who begins his 20th season at the helm for the Trojans.

"For baseball players, I don't feel like their goal is to make it to the Olympic team," said Lancaster. "I'm sorry to see baseball dropped from the Olympics, but with most kids playing baseball, the goal is to play professionally. The ultimate goal is to make it to the Majors."

The absence of Major League Baseball players was a major factor in cutting baseball from the 2012 Olympics, according to Associated Press reports. Major League Baseball players are expected to be featured prominently in the inaugural World Baseball Classic, which will be played in March, 2006, and could include teams from as many as 16 nations.

"I think the (World Baseball Classic) will end up being bigger than Olympic baseball has been," said Lancaster.

Softball was nearly dropped from the 2008 Olympics three years ago, but the IOC voted not to cut any existing sports. The U.S. has won gold medals in softball in each of the three Olympiads, while Australia, China and Japan have also been perennial powers.

While baseball and softball are two uniquely different sports, Kylis-Higginbotham says the similarities between the two sports may have led IOC members to view the sports as a "package."

"That's a possibility," Kylis-Higginbotham said. "Baseball and softball do have a tendency to get lumped together. We're just now getting exposure for our sport.

"We've gone from having just the college national championship game nationally televised to having the entire (Women's College) World Series televised, as well as regionals, conference tournaments and regular season games, not to mention Olympic and international softball."

Baseball and softball must wait until 2009 to apply for inclusion in the 2016 games, although both sports may try to lobby for reinstatement for the 2012 games.

"I imagine the likes of (U.S. Olympians) Lisa Fernandez and Stacey Nuveman, and (U.S. Olympic Head Coach) Mike Candrea will lobby to get softball back in the Olympics," said Kylis-Higginbotham. "And I imagine the same goes for supporters of Olympic baseball. I'm sure there will be a huge uprising."