NCAA throws baseball coaches a curve with added eligibility
Widely hailed as the right thing to do for student-athlete welfare, the NCAA’s decision to extend spring sports athletes’ eligibility a year because of the coronavirus pandemic is causing consternation for baseball coaches.
Ohio State’s Greg Beals said Tuesday he isn’t worried about 2021, when the 35-man roster limit will be relaxed to accommodate seniors choosing to return for another season.
The problem comes in 2022, when the limit is back in force. Beals has 11 freshmen coming in this fall, and they will join nine players who will be reclassified as freshmen because the 2021 season ended abruptly March 12.
“So I have a freshman class of 20, and that class is going to stay with me for the next four years,” Beals said. “So there’s some challenge there. We’re going to be able to work through it. There’s going to be some tough conversations while the roster is thick and strong. The lineup card still only has nine slots on it.”
The NCAA allows a total of 11.7 scholarships per team in Division I baseball, and it’s required they be divided among 27 players. Eight walk-ons are permitted, taking the roster maximum to 35. Baseball is the only spring sport with a roster limit.
Seniors who choose to return in 2021 will be allowed to have the same scholarship amount they had this year, less or none at all. Returning seniors’ scholarships won’t count against the 11.7 limit.
Looming logjams because of the extended eligibility could force coaches to sign smaller recruiting classes and nudge underperforming players to transfer or quit.
“The greater effect might be two or three years from now,” LSU’s Paul Mainieri said. “Most schools in the SEC have their 2021 recruiting classes for high school players already done. So now you’re bunching a lot of kids together, and we’ll see how it plays out.
“As far as this year, the impact is minimal. What is of greater impact is what Major League Baseball does with their draft.”
The draft always plays a role in roster management, but there’s additional stress for coaches and players this year. Because of the pandemic, MLB might not hold the draft until late July, and there’s no clarity about number of rounds.
The renewal date for scholarships is July 1, and coaches might not know which players are staying or going by then. If there are five or 10 rounds instead of the usual 40, juniors and seniors who aren’t projected to go in the early rounds would be apt to return to school. The more rounds there are, the more likely there’ll be fewer junior and seniors returning. The fall semester could be drawing close before the numbers are known.