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The Big Ten hasn’t had a team make it to college baseball’s biggest stage _ the eight-team College World Series _ since Michigan in 1984. The conference’s last national champion was Ohio State in 1966.

Last season, Michigan State won the Big Ten regular-season championship, was runner-up in the conference tournament and had a league-best RPI of 82. The Spartans were passed over for an at-large bid. Illinois, with an RPI of 118, received the Big Ten’s only bid by virtue of winning the conference tournament.

There’s been a league-wide push for coaches to strengthen their schedules, but that requires games against elite teams early in the season. So that means road trips — lots of them.

Michigan State has made separate trips to Florida and South Carolina the first two weeks of this season. The Spartans will head to Texas this week, then back to Florida. In all, they’ll play 17 games before their home opener March 23, while Illinois will play 25 away or neutral-site games before its home opener March 30.

The home-field advantage is undeniable, and early losses hurt the Big Ten’s RPIs beyond repair. Coaches are hopeful a new RPI formula that goes into effect next year, one that will give more weight to road wins, will help.

“At the beginning of the year we’re completely different than at the end of the year,” Michigan State coach Jake Boss Jr. said. “The fact we play where we play, that difference is more dramatic. I’d be happy to play anybody anywhere at the end of the year, and I’d roll the dice and feel pretty good about what we have. Right now I sit here in my office and look out the window and it’s snowing. It’s not easy.”

The Big Ten also is handicapped by conference restrictions on the number of recruits who can be offered scholarships each year. The inability to “over-sign” makes it difficult for teams that lose a significant number of underclassmen to the major-league draft to replace the loss of personnel the following season.

Since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1999, the Big Ten has received one bid six times, two bids four times and three bids three times. Only four Big Ten teams have advanced past regionals over that span.

The Big Ten previously has asked the NCAA Division I Baseball Committee to consider pushing the season into July and guaranteeing a minimum of two regionals be hosted by northern teams.

The proposals went nowhere. If the same thing happens with the fall-spring recommendation, the Big Ten’s Traviolia said, the idea of a summer schedule could become more appealing.

It would work best if other northern conferences were willing to follow suit, Traviolia said.

“That’s unknown at this point,” he said. “There are some good reasons for doing it. You hate to see these beautiful facilities some schools have constructed to sit idle for the prime months they could be used.”

Players typically migrate to wood-bat summer leagues after the college season, and Big Ten coaches say those teams make money off the players developed by colleges. By playing in summertime, perhaps with wood bats, northern schools could generate revenue. Anderson suggested a tournament for northern teams, perhaps culminating with a CWS-like event in Omaha in August.

He figures summer baseball would also result in attendance increases and provide fresh content for the Big Ten’s television network.

“BTN will televise baseball whenever the Big Ten plays it,” network spokeswoman Elizabeth Conlisk said.