South Carolina opens the baseball season on Friday against the Virginia Military Institute. The two time defending national champions will play a three game series over the weekend in one of the nicest venues in the country. Playing an opponent from a (perceived) weaker conference is how most of the major programs begin their season. It's the way South Carolina usually begins their season.1
There's nothing wrong with the way the Gamecocks create their schedule. There is enough depth in the SEC to ensure the strength of schedule will be high at the end of the season. There is enough excitement in Columbia after the last two years that ticket sales aren't an issue. So, in a sense, it doesn't matter who the opening opponent is, but it could be better. Here's how.
South Carolina should host a three day, round robin tournament for the first or second weekend of the year. They should invite some big name programs and show off their stadium, facility and program.
An ACC team should be invited, probably from north of South Carolina; a B1G team with a large southern alumni base should be invited, and a team from the west, Pac-12, Big 12 or other big time program should be invited. Each team would play one game each day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The northern ACC teams often travel south for the first few weeks of the season, and Columbia would be a logical stop. The B1G teams almost always travel south for the same reason. The western team would have to make a special trip, but I'd be willing to bet one major baseball program would be interested in coming here.
South Carolina would play a night game on Friday, the night game on Saturday, and a late afternoon game on Sunday. For example, Virginia, Ohio State and UC-Irvine might make up the field one year. Virginia and Ohio State could play a game at 3 on Friday with UC-Irvine and South Carolina playing at 7. On Saturday, UC-Irvine and Virginia could play at 3 with Ohio State and USC playing in the 7 o'clock game. On Sunday, Ohio State and UC-Irvine, the teams with the farthest travel home could play a 1 pm game, and South Carolina would host Virginia around 4:30.
The Gamecocks would get to play three interesting games that would draw substantial fan interest. The visiting teams would get the same benefit. No one would tax their pitching staffs any more than usual, and all would probably get a bump on their RPI. The University would get to sell tickets to three extra games, which, depending on the teams, could be very well attended.
It's even possible that if the teams are big enough, perhaps TV could pick up a few games. Would the Big Ten Network be interested in showing one of the Ohio State games? Would the SEC Network or SportSouth or CSS be interested in the South Carolina games? How about a FoxSports broadcast of the western team's games? I don't know much about the production costs and expected ratings, but I'd have to assume the ratings would have to be higher for these large schools than for a weaker conference match-up.
Opening weekend is always a great weekend for the hardcore fans. If the Gamecocks decided to change up their opening weekend opponent and format, they might be able to generate even more fan interest for a program enjoying some golden years.
1South Carolina did open the season against Long Beach State in 2009, which hardly fits the traditional model.