As college baseball sits out the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic, a new model for the future of the sport is being proposed by coaches.
It would push back the start of the season from mid-February to the third weekend of March, with the NCAA Tournament starting in early July and the College World Series in mid-July. Michigan coach Eric Bakich is on a five-coach panel of Power 5 conference coaches who put together the proposal as a way to put the sport on sounder financial footing and better protect the health of players.
But the proposal could be problematic for smaller NCAA Division I schools such as The Citadel, Bulldogs coach Tony Skole said last week. For one thing, it could lead to a “scheduling nightmare” with the Charleston RiverDogs, the minor league team that shares Riley Park with The Citadel.
“I think the (new model) is gaining some momentum right now,” Skole said on a Zoom call with Citadel supporters. “For us, from a selfish standpoint, it really would affect us. It would push us into a scheduling nightmare with the RiverDogs.
“College baseball is at the highest level its ever been. The players are better, the coaching, the facilities, everyone is making more money. We really have to be careful with what will happen if we keep pushing, and this is a drastic proposal.”
One of the new model’s goals is to cut down on travel costs early in the season, as cold-weather schools are forced to hit the road to warmer climes to play games in February.
“Regardless of geography, playing college baseball in February and early March does not make sense financially, academically and certainly not medically speaking,” Michigan’s Bakick told DIbaseball.com. “If college baseball realistically wants to increase scholarships or add another full-time coach at some point in the future, improving our fiscal bottom line is the next step. If we do nothing, we may not like the decisions that will be made for us.”
The coronavirus pandemic and the shutdown of college sports in
mid-March already has claimed the baseball program at Furman, a Southern Conference rival of The Citadel that announced it is dropping the sport. Another DI school, Bowling Green, cut its baseball program in May before
reversing course this week after a fundraising effort saved the program.
But the idea of extending the season for weeks beyond graduation is a financially forbidding prospect for mid-major schools such as The Citadel.
“The Power 5 schools can handle anything financially,” Skole said. “But when you are a mid-major, Southern Conference program, or even College of Charleston or Coastal Carolina, there’s no way we can handle some of these changes. If you are keeping kids for seven or eight weeks after graduation, that’s 40 kids and $35 a day for meal money, plus housing them.
“You are looking at $75,000 to $80,000 after graduation to keep the kids living here.”
Skole said more modest proposals might work for a wider variety of programs.
“I think we can handle pushing it back two weeks, maybe cut out some midweek games,” he said. “Shorten the season that way and everything will be fine.”
Skole pointed to the push to increase the number of baseball scholarships, currently limited to 11.7 for DI teams.
“There’s a huge push to increase scholarships, and everyone gets upset because there are only 11.7,” he said. “And that’s tough to distribute among 27 players, it really is. But if they want to give 27 scholarships, once again the only teams in America that can do that are the Power 5 schools. None of the rest of us can do that.”
Skole said it takes $1.8 million from The Citadel Brigadier Foundation to fund The Citadel’s 11.7 baseball scholarships.
“You are just not going to have (money for 27 scholarships) at the mid-major level,” he said.
The growing gap between Power 5 schools and the rest of Division I could lead to a split in college baseball, similar to the FBS (formerly Division I-A) and FCS (Division I-AA) split that’s been in place in college football since 1978.
“They designed this model with Power 5 schools in mind, not taking into account the other 200 schools that will struggle if they do this,” Skole said.
“… If we’re not careful, if Power 5 schools keep pushing, we might end up with an FBS/FCS situation like they have in football, because the gap just keeps getting wider and wider.”
Skole also addressed some other issues:
• On Furman dropping baseball: “I hate it for (coach) Brett Harker and his staff. They didn’t see it coming, didn’t know it was coming. To have to get on a Zoom call to let your players know that the program will be dropped, I don’t know that he’ll have any more difficult thing to do in his career. I feel so bad for their coaches and players.”
• On the SoCon limiting three-game series in league play to two days instead of three for the 2021 season: “That’s one of the changes that disappointed me. Anybody who has been around college baseball knows doubleheader days are miserable. It’s a 12-14 hour day for those kids, and you are playing three games in under 24 hours. That’s probably not the best thing for the kids from an injury standpoint.”
• On the SoCon limiting the 2021 tournament to the top four teams: “I don’t have too much of a problem with it. You’ll still get the best four teams in our league competing … In a four-team tournament, you can win it with three pitchers. In an eight-team tournament, your depth is challenged a little more. But it will be fine. We plan on being one of those four.”
• On the logjam on college baseball rosters caused by the coronavirus shutdown: “Everyone was granted another year of eligibility, and that’s what the NCAA needed to do. But it’s also going to create a logjam on rosters throughout college baseball. I think the NCAA will give us some leeway, maybe to expand the rosters from 35 to 45. But even then, you are not going to be able to play 10 more players, so it will make the situation difficult.”