THE DEAN’S LIST BY DEAN HOCKNEY
The Kokomo Jackrabbits time in the Prospect League is quickly coming to an end. As announced on July 3, the squad will leave the league at the end of the current season and join the Northwoods League for the 2019 summer collegiate campaign.
As someone who has been around the team for all four seasons of its existence, the move is not really a surprise. The writing has been on the wall since the first press release on Sept. 2, 2014, that stated: “In addition, the Prospect League is looking into moving its corporate headquarters to Kokomo in an effort to grow and improve the league.” Four years later, that HQ move not only failed to materialize, I am not sure how serious the league was about a move in the first place. Then, ROC Ventures – the ownership group of the Jackrabbits – pulled its Jamestown Jammers (New York) team out of the league in 2016.
But that has not been the only hiccup for the Prospect League-Jackrabbits relationship – from the outside looking in, scheduling has been a major issue. After a 2015 campaign that looked promising, the season schedule of games has been troublesome. Part of that is due to teams joining and leaving the league, and league officials said they would fix the problem.
Part of the schedule issue is an unbalanced travel schedule, such as the Jackrabbits having not played a game at the Danville Dans historic stadium or Hoosier-rival Terre Haute since 2016 – both of those locales would have been ideal for Kokomo fans to visit. Then there was last year’s travesty when the Lafayette Aviators and Jackrabbits played an anguishing 20 times in 60 games – and the two teams are not even in the same division. This year, that was reduced to 14 meetings – still too many for non-division opponents.
On the financial front the Prospect League is not helping one of its top-drawing teams. During each of its first three seasons, the Jackrabbits finished third in overall attendance (142,297 overall spectators for an average of 1,598 per game). But this season may have different results as the Rabbits have its first-ever Monday games, which are not big draws, and only play five Friday and three Saturday contests when gates are normally at a peak. To top it off, during Howard County 4-H fair week, they are home five times when crowds are typically lower at the stadium. Attendance is already down from this time last season, and by the end of the season, the Jackrabbits could have an attendance decline for the first time ever – and that would be shameful considering how much the community supports the program.
But the Prospect League had plenty of positives, like bringing the 2016 All-Star Game and 2017 Home Run Derby to Kokomo Municipal Stadium. While rain dampened the ASG, it was still an enjoyable event. Under then-coach Matt Howard, the Rabbits earned a playoff berth in 2016 and hosted its first – and to this date only – playoff game. And through July 1, the Rabbits boast an overall regular season record of 102-104 with 54 of those wins coming at Municipal Stadium.
The Northwoods League will not be without its own set of issues – namely travel. The Rabbits will be the most southern team in the league, and I will make an assumption that they will land in the South Division. The closest division team would be in Kalamazoo, Michigan (172 miles) and the furthest in Wausau, Wisconsin (449) – much different than Lafayette (45) and West Virginia (412) in the current Prospect League. The league does play divisional games only during the regular season, meaning the Jackrabbits presumably would play seven teams from Wisconsin, two from Michigan and one from Illinois – if they are assigned to the South Division. If not, hello Canada.
Will the Jackrabbits be competitive in the Northwoods League? It is hard to tell, but if they can draw from the talent pool around the Midwest who want to stay closer to home – including Indiana, Purdue, Kentucky, Louisville and Notre Dame – they have a great chance of success. Municipal Stadium is still a draw for talent, but it is a huge gamble on the part of ROC Ventures. So here is to the Jackrabbits taking the Prospect League title this year and earning a Northwoods League playoff spot next season.
Until next time, remember to keep the man and ship in sports – and I’ll see you at the game.
Dean Hockney is the publisher of the award-winning Sports Journal of Central Indiana and the public address voice of Kokomo Municipal Stadium for the Kats and Rabbits. You can follow him on Twitter (@Sports_Journal) for the latest in local sports news and in-game reports.