Birmingham-Southern baseball trying to keep on playing as school prepares to close

Birmingham-Southern’s baseball team is playing on, even as the college prepares to close its doors.

The Division III Panthers, in fact, could outlast the 168-year-old private liberal arts school with a super regional win this weekend at Denison in Grandville, Ohio.

The Birmingham, Alabama, school is closing its doors one week after the series opens Friday because of financial difficulties, a decision that came in March after legislation aimed at securing a taxpayer-backed loan stalled in the Alabama Statehouse. But while the school’s fate was decided, the team took control of its own journey, winning 17 of its final 21 games to earn an at-large NCAA regional berth.

“Even just battling through that in a normal year, to finish 17-4, would be a great story of overcoming some adversity,” said Jan Weisberg, who’s trying to extend his 16th season as Panthers coach. “But they went 17-4, along with finding out what happened to the college. This is just a really special ride for a lot of reasons.”

And when it's over, it's really over. For the team. For the program. For the school.

If the Panthers can make it to the World Series scheduled for May 31-June 7 in Eastlake, Ohio, they will officially be playing as a team without a college. Birmingham-Southern, which has about 1,000 students, shuts its doors on May 31, a possibility that has been lingering in recent years.

The school dates to 1856, when Southern University was founded in Greensboro, Alabama, before merging with Birmingham College in 1918.

Weisberg, a former Kentucky player and coach, has had to recruit and maintain his program against a backdrop of years-long financial struggles and recent uncertainty for the college's future. He has led the Panthers to within one victory of his 11th 30-win season and took them to a national runner-up finish in 2019.

This team proved especially resilient, bouncing back from a 13-10 start even with the distractions. Weisberg said six of his players have locked down their next landing spots and another one-third are pretty sure what school they'll play for next season.

Potentially playing for a college that no longer exists is rare but not unheard of. The Antelope Valley Pioneers basketball team advanced to the NAIA men's national tournament in March. The team from California fell to Huntingdon (Indiana) in the first round to finish 26-5.

As for Birmingham-Southern, the Panthers breezed through the Transylvania regional in Lexington, Kentucky. They beat the host team 21-7 and 5-2 and knocked off No. 1 seed Spaulding 4-2, playing perhaps their best baseball at the right time.

The Panthers are playing for the program's legacy, and Weisberg emphasized they needed to do so in a way that honors all the players that came before.

It wound up uniting the team. JT Weisberg, the coach’s son and one of his players, said the team started hanging out more off the field knowing their time together was so short.

Now, they're trying to extend that time one more week.

“Our message as a team is we just want another weekend to play together,” JT Weisberg said. “We just want every minute we can.”


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