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In crowded summer, Northwoods League unveils 2021 schedule

Northwoods LeagueWith two new summer-collegiate leagues backed by Major League Baseball debuting, next year will be a great time for college players. Here’s what the 22-team Northwoods League has planned for its 2021 schedule.

MLB is behind two new 2021 summer-collegiate leagues: the 10-team Appalachian League (the former Rookie-level pro league pivoting to summer collegiate) and the MLB Draft League, now at six teams with five announced, with formerly affiliated teams in the NY-Penn League and Carolina League transitioning to a summer-collegiate model. Both leagues are based on the premise that only the best college players will be invited to participate, with younger players in the Appy League and older prospects in the MLB Draft League.

That’s the plan, anyway, and we’ll see if the MLB imprimatur will indeed be enough to lure the best prospects to these two leagues. Meanwhile, the leading summer-collegiate leagues with histories of producing prospects will continue on. From a business model, it may not make a lot of difference if you attract the best prospects or not. Indeed, when the plan for the MLB Draft League was first unveiled, the biggest issue had little to do with talent and more to do with the absurdly short season proposed by MLB, just 26 home games and 52 total games; after potential owners said there’s no way they could make money with such a short season, it was extended. (Alas, the Appalachian League will not operate with the same consideration; the plan is for just a 52-game season.)

For the Northwoods League, a longer season of 72 games has been the game plan for years, and the schedule unveiled by the league follows that pattern. The Northwoods League managed to sustain play in 2020 thanks to regional pods, with limited crowds in markets where local authorities signed off. The 2021 schedule, assuming all local authorities sign off on play, divides the 22-team circuit into two divisions–the 12-team Great Lakes and 10-team Great Plains divisions–with only interdivisional play allowed. There will be a July 20 All-Star Game at ISG Field, home of the Mankato MoonDogs, with a season beginning May 31 and ending August 14, followed by a four-team playoff.

“On behalf the league, we are excited to announce the complete 2021 schedule,” said Northwoods League President/Commissioner Ryan Voz via press release. “The league prevailed this past summer with much patience, effort and safety made by everyone. The 2021 season will commence and shine as we celebrate the 28th season on Memorial Day.

“Today is the first step forward to achieving normalcy and with hope to mirror the 2019 season as a league,” he added. “Next summer will again give players the experience they are deserving, while also providing much needed entertainment for fans in our 22 markets.”

There will be plenty of experts evaluating the level of play in the older and newer summer-collegiate leagues; you can bet Baseball America and D1Baseball will be tracking the competition. Our interest is whether there’s a correlation between the level of play and the ability of teams to draw–and given the fact there’s not really been a correlation historically, we’re guessing we will be reporting in three years that over time there is no such alignment.

Here’s the most up-to-date information about the current affiliation status.

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