NCAA D1 Council To Meet Monday to Discuss Spring Sports: A look at possible solutions
The amateur baseball world is certainly not immune to this, with college baseball at all levels canceled for 2020, and high school baseball on hiatus indefinitely and likely to also be canceled for the 2020 season.
The NCAA Division 1 council is scheduled to meet on Monday March 30 to discuss items related to the spring and winter seasons of sports.
One of the many topics to be discussed involves the possibility of adding another year of eligibility to all spring athletes, which has already been approved by the NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) and the D2 and D3 councils as well as the NAIA.
The decision is much more complicated for the D1 council, however. After reading opinion after opinion on social media regarding this topic, I want to try to explain the realities facing the council and their vote on Monday.
For starters, any change to the eligibility status of college baseball players at the D1 level carries challenges that are less likely to be experienced at the D2/D3/NAIA levels. Roster limits, minimum scholarship amounts, and the MLB draft are just a few issues that will impact the D1 decision.
I have no inside information available to me other than the opinions of current college coaches, but I do know one thing for certain: whatever policy changes come out in the D1 council meeting, there are going to be some very upset people. This isn’t going to be a win-win situation.
Here is a rundown on some issues and popular proposed solutions and why they may or may not be adopted or feasible.
Opinion 1: Extend an additional year of eligibility to seniors only.
On the surface, this seems to be the solution that would create the least upheaval, if you are extending additional eligibility to anyone. The number of seniors who would opt to return would depend in large part on their academic status. Many (if not most) college students take 5 years to complete a degree, and if they are attending school anyway, taking advantage of the additional year would perhaps be likely.
Opinion #2: Extend an additional year of eligibility to all spring collegiate athletes.
Touted as the fairest solution to the greatest number of collegiate athletes, there are many problems to consider here related to rosters sizes, scholarships etc. D1 baseball programs have a 35 man roster limit (there is no roster limit at D2/D3 or NAIA schools). D1 programs are only allowed to give athletic aid to 27 players. Adding an additional year of eligibility to anyone makes this an issue. Raising the roster sizes sounds like an easy fix, but this money doesn’t just appear out of nowhere. Obtaining these funds may be a challenge.
This option would potentially create a player log jam that could take several years to sort out.
Opinion #3: Raise scholarship limits temporarily.
Division 1 baseball programs have a maximum of 11.7 scholarships to spread out to 27 players of their 35-man roster. However, it is important to remember that a significant number of D1 baseball programs are not 100% fully funded by their schools. In other words, they do not have a full compliment of 11.7 scholarships to work with. Raising the scholarship limit to, let’s say hypothetically 15, would require schools to get funding for the additional money required. It would no doubt be easier at the Power 5 conference level, but I see this as creating a big competitive advantage for the schools that are able to fund the additional scholarships.
With baseball not a revenue sport at most schools, and with the distinct possibility of the college football season (THE cash cow) being disrupted, convincing the budgetary powers to fund these additional moneys would seem to be a challenge.
In addition, any changes to roster sizes and/or scholarship amounts could also create Title IX issues.
Opinion # 4: Eliminate the 25% Scholarship minimum and/or the 27 player maximum scholarship recipients.
Division 1 baseball programs that are fully funded have 11.7 scholarships, and the minimum athletic scholarship is 25%. Eliminating this minimum percentage would allow scholarship dollars to be spread out amongst more players, whether the roster maximums change or not. Prior to the adoption of the 25% minimum about a decade ago, many D1 players were receiving “books scholarships” of a few hundred dollars a year to offset the cost of books. This is still commonplace in D2 baseball.
Changing the scholarship numbers for high school or junior college players signing letters of intent this fall and winter would be difficult. The LOI is a binding financial agreement between the college and the student-athlete that is renewable annually. Voiding the LOIs signed this year would open another can of worms.
The 25% minimum was instituted initially as part of a plan to help curtail player transfers as part of a bigger academic reform movement. Its effectiveness can certainly be debated but eliminating the minimum would appear to be a step backwards for academic reform.
This week MLB provided a bit of clarity in regards to the MLB draft. The 2020 draft will be moved back to at least July (possibly later) and the number of rounds will be decreased from 40 to no less than 5 rounds. There is some push back to get this number to 10 rounds, but there is no guarantee.
The other big changes are related to signing bonuses and undrafted free agents.
Any undrafted players could now receive a maximum signing bonus of $20,000. Under prior rules, teams could offer players picked outside of the top 10 rounds significantly higher signing bonuses. For example, in 2019 28 of the 30 round 12 draftees signed for over $100,000. The DBacks signed round 12 selection Avery Short for $922,500 out of high school.
This $20,000 maximum will no doubt send more draft eligible college juniors and high school/JUCO players to college, making the inevitable roster log jam even worse.
In addition, these draft rules will also apply to the 2021 draft.
According to Kendall Rogers of D1baseball.com, there is talk of moving Monday’s D1 council decision to June, presumably to have a clearer picture of the football situation.
I certainly hope this doesn’t happen, as the sooner college programs know what they are dealing with going forward, the sooner we can begin navigating this new world.
The Monday decision has the potential to impact virtually every college and high school player in the country. Even those who are not D1 players could potentially feel the domino affect that is likely to occur.
My opinion? There is no fair decision here. If you want to insure the least amount of disruption to amateur baseball, no eligibility relief should be granted for anyone. It would be a bitter pill to swallow for college seniors and for players who basically lose a year, but it would create a much easier path to a return to normalcy.