By Jordan Moore
Collegiate Baseball and softball world has been faced with immense challenges because of the coronavirus, but none being more challenging than a full-fledge roster overload.
The COVID-19 pandemic across the nation has impacted the college athletic world in many ways. However, there is a situation in which many collegiate coaches, administrators and players are faced with that many did not realize. The pure roster overload at many universities around the country is concerning. With only a few 11 scholarships for a 60-player roster in Division 1, and no scholarships for the rosters at the Division 3 level, roster abundance is at an all-time high.
In March of 2020, the NCAA Division 1 council voted to grant spring sport athletes an extra year of eligibility. Most division 1 team had only played about eight to nine games of their respective city, depending upon where the school was located. Northern teams played less games that the southern teams. At the division 3 level, around 10 to 15 games were played but a third of their season had still not yet been completed. In March, the NCAA also granted an extra year of eligibility to spring sport athletes.
The difference between the Division 1 and the Division 3 level is that the Division 3 level already has no scholarships. With only the ability to put a student athlete on medical red-shirt (meaning the athlete would need to have a pre-existing injury before playing a third of the season to gain back that year of eligibility), the Division 3 athletes are limited even more. But take no concern away from the Division 1 level. At most Division 1 schools, the sport of baseball is only allowed to give 11 scholarships for an entire team. This number is more than 15 percent of other male sports that make at least 20 percent of all revenue (for male athletics), per Next College Student Athlete.
This overload on the roster front is causing many student athletes to reconsider their lifelong dream of playing in college. With freshman becoming sophomores, incoming high school students trying to find a spot on the team, and seniors that are just trying to finish their last season playing the sport they love, roster overload is the biggest concern for most spring sports.
Softball at Division 3 Stevenson University is quite competitive. Making the conference tournament in three of the last four seasons and knocking off some big time ranked opponents, the program is drawing much interest from prospective college student athletes. With more than 35 women on the roster, none are on scholarship. However, all are competing for a spot to play. Morgan Thayer, a rising senior that transferred to Stevenson just to play softball says she is disappointed that she did not get to play out her junior year of softball with a starting spot looming in the distance. “This was my season. I was right behind a senior for a starting role and I was going to get a lot of playing time.” Thayer says that she spent all summer long in 2019, and all fall of 2019 preparing for the upcoming season as most student athletes have.
“It just really sucks to be honest with you. I was planning on at least getting the opportunity at a starting spot this season but now the senior was granted another year of eligibility and I know for a fact that there are at least two more girls coming in that play the same position as me,” said Thayer. But Morgan isn’t the only athlete that feels the pressure of possibly having more competition next summer. Brady Helsinki of Stevenson University baseball felt the same way.
Helsinki was also a transfer that came to the university just to play baseball. A senior, Helsinki was luckily granted an extra year of eligibility, and being behind in a few classes because of transferring, the pitcher didn’t feel as bad to gain an extra year of eligibility. “I already know my role on the team and I think I am looked upon as a leader but I just feel extremely grateful that we were even given an extra year of eligibility. Helsinki says that some of his other teammates aren’t that fortunate. “I know at least two guys on the team that were on pace to graduate and they do not want to pay the extra money to get their master’s degree so their baseball career is all of a sudden over.”
Helsinki also brings to the forefront his nervousness to have his spot taken from him because of a roster overload. “I know our coach likes to load up with a lot of pitchers to be able to with stain a season. My arm isn’t getting any younger so I’m not sure if I’ll be better than a younger guy next season.” Helsinki said he hopes that his veteran leadership and his experience will outweigh any of his nervous expectations.
Brady isn’t the only senior that is impacted by this type of roster overload. All Division 3 and most Division 1 spring sports, including baseball and softball, will have to restructure their rosters and give red-shirts (only at the Division 1 level) in order to maintain roster regulations for just a limited number of spots.
At the Division 1 level, there is a huge caveat to how the eleven scholarships are given out. The scholarship aid that is provided to returning senior student-athletes will be determined by the university themselves. This leaves many players worried if they will get their full offered scholarship or not. Just a true mess of sorts. West Virginia baseball, Miami baseball, Oregon baseball, and Oregon State baseball, all at the Division 1 level have all came out and announced that they will be living up to each student-athletes scholarship in full. The right thing to do of course, but how many other schools will do this? Only time will tell. Here’s a look at an interview with WVU head coach Randy Mazey about the hardships when dealing with a roster limit.
In a zoom conference call, West Virginia head baseball manager Randy Mazey broke down most of his roster. With 17 incoming freshmen, nine sophomores, four juniors, and three seniors, the coach says that he could expect all of those three seniors to move on after graduation and not take that extra given year. “We had to project whether or not those guys were going to be gone, so you can’t get caught holding the bag by thinking they’re going to come back and they actually leave,” said Mazey, explaining that he has six to 10 incoming freshmen that are expected to be drafted, so the Mountaineers will have more than five players not even on the team.
Mazey said that West Virginia will have 25 to 30 sophomores in one class on a 35-player roster, and that can’t work. West Virginia is just one of more than 150 Division one schools with a baseball program that will have to deal with these roster limitations. From men to women’s sports, the pandemic is affecting everyone. Spring sports aren’t an exception as many student-athletes have seen their careers cut short and most teams will not recover.