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Etheridge: College Baseball Will Look Different After COVID

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The calendar says it is mid-May. I’m not going to argue with it. It can’t be true though because we aren’t talking about a soft bubble or stolen bids or asking if Mississippi State is going to host.

Some of us are kind of lost. However, the eternal optimist inside me reminds that there have been a few upsides to having a spring without baseball. My yard has never looked better. I’ve replaced my fence, my deck and even laid new tile in the bathroom. I made plans for a Memorial Day weekend party, which in normal years is not happening due to conference tournaments.

But I do miss the pop of the mitt and the coach giving the signal as the runner rounds third. I miss the smells and sounds of the ballpark. I miss hitting refresh on the scoreboard page or watching a livestats feed from some random game because of how it impacts the regional picture. I miss the conference races, the emerging stars and (most of) the people inside the sport.

At some point, our game will return. But like the kid who goes off to college, the sport will look different when it returns.

Financially, some programs are in trouble. Athletic department budgets are tighter. Will every baseball program survive? There are 301 Division I programs in 2020. What will that number look like moving forward? And if programs do continue, will they still operate at their current scholarship levels. As a reminder, while the power programs gripe about being limited to 11.7 scholarships, many programs outside the spotlight cannot afford to offer all that is allowed. More than 40% of programs are still under the 11.7 threshold.

Now, with seniors being granted an extra year and the draft whittled away to five rounds, there will be extra competition for however many scholarships are awarded.

You could also see significant changes in scheduling. Will we have more games versus local opponents? More doubleheaders to save hotel costs? Midweek rainouts not made up because teams can’t travel twice for one game? The MAC and SoCon have already announced changes to their scheduling tactics, along with either a canceled or reduced conference tournament.

A reduction in cross-sectional play may be necessary but it will impact how programs are evaluated for the postseason. The sport, while regional in many aspects, has sprawled into more of a national landscape recently. There’s a risk that changes.

I would expect to see more scheduling alliances among geographic boundaries like the one discussed here. Just because football lost its realignment mind and has West Virginia playing conference games nearly 1,500 miles away in Lubbock, doesn’t mean the rest of us have to. This could, and frankly should, be the beginning of discussions to change the scheduling model. There are many ways to do it – perhaps future column material – but now there is a downhill rolling boulder to seriously pursue a common-sense approach to baseball schedules.


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