Michigan's Erik Bakich has some big ideas. (Shotgun Spratling)

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Rogers: Where Will College Baseball Go Next?

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Sometimes you’re forced to hit the reset button.

That’s precisely what has happened to college baseball over the past two weeks.

Back in April, the NCAA’s Division I Council voted on legislation to convert the volunteer assistant position to a paid, full-time coach that would in turn start to receive benefits. That legislation was shot down at April’s D1 Council meeting, but received new, and temporary, life earlier this month as we reported the D1 Council would be reviewing the vote on the legislation.

A procedural issue involving the Atlantic Coast Conference was the reason for the review. And while it made a ton of sense to revote based on what we know, the Council, as expected, decided not to revote on the legislation.

Sources with knowledge of the D1 Council meetings said the group did not want to set a precedent to where every time a legislative item failed someone would call a procedural issue and the legislation would then be voted on again.

But this approach goes against the integrity of the D1 Council. There were leagues that voted in lockstep with the ACC and others that ultimately would’ve changed their vote this go-round. The American Athletic Conference, for instance, held a vote back in April with the league’s athletic directors, and the legislation overwhelming passed the vote. However, Cincinnati’s Maggie McKinley voted against the league’s wishes. We were told before last week’s meeting that if a new vote was held, the American could be counted on as an absolute ‘yes’ vote. We were given indications that the West Coast Conference also would review its decision. Like the American, WCC athletic directors and coaches voted in favor of the third assistant legislation back in April, only to have Santa Clara athletic director Renee Baumgartner vote against the league’s wishes at the D1 Council meeting. Multiple emails and phone calls were made to Baumgartner to explain the rationale of her decision. However, contact was never made, leading me to believe she wasn’t exactly confident in her vote, or that she simply didn’t care what others thought about going rogue on her league.

If those two situations occurred to our knowledge, imagine what things happened behind the scenes not to our knowledge.

There’s a such thing as accountability, and while some athletic directors reached out to me and were perturbed their votes were revealed, I approach this topic and any other with the same approach. If you’re confident in your vote and feel good about it, you shouldn’t care if people know, right? This is also only the beginning. Moving forward, we will make sure to tally votes on any other piece of legislation regarding college baseball. Transparency is needed.

That’s why I have a great deal of respect for Texas Tech’s Kirby Hocutt, Oklahoma’s Joe Castiglione and Texas’ Chris Del Conte. Those athletic directors said they were ‘No’ votes from the start, and while I disagreed with all their rationales, I respected not only their transparency, but the fact they stuck to their guns. In an era where some hide behind votes without rationale, that’s at least somewhat refreshing. I also think Del Conte, Hocutt and Castiglione will come to the aid of college baseball on potential scholarship legislation that could be up for a vote in the next year or so.

American Baseball Coaches Association executive director Craig Keilitz had this to say about the D1 Council choosing not to revote on the legislation, which now is tabled until 2021.

“It goes without saying that I’m disappointed that the NCAA Div. I Council didn’t act on the Third Paid Assistant Coach proposal last week. I’m most disappointed for our coaches and our student-athletes, but I’m equally disappointed that two of the Power Five conferences couldn’t find a way to make it work. It was an opportunity to directly impact student-athletes in a positive way and to improve the overall student-athlete experience, which has been a driver and a justification of many decisions across all sports in recent years.

With the incredible investments that schools have made in operating budgets, facility upgrades and support staff for baseball, it would make all the sense in the world that Athletic Directors would find a way to get this done on their campuses and within their conferences.

For many schools, this would be a relatively small investment with an extremely high impact. Many schools around the country have multiple support staff members for baseball, which could have been converted into an assistant coach. For schools that wouldn’t be able to budget a new position, it was well documented that the assistant coach position could be full-time, part-time, graduate assistant, or remain unpaid.

I look forward to working with coaches and Athletic Directors on a new assistant coach proposal for 2021 that will get passed. We also have several other legislative issues that are being explored which would have positive impacts on the game of baseball. Overall, the game is in great shape with increased attendance, more TV games and media coverage than ever, and the incredible investments in baseball that are being made across the country.”

While the paid third assistant legislation made total sense to most of us, it’s also worth looking at it from the other side.

Plenty of athletic directors I spoke to throughout the process were worried about having to potentially fit the bill for other volunteers across various other sports. That was especially problematic in the Big Ten Conference, where many schools play 30 or more sports. They also were confused as to why softball was the female sport added to the legislation. Many believe women’s soccer, and to a greater extent, women’s track and field, made more sense. Lastly, some athletic directors pointed out that paying a third assistant didn’t solve the ratio issue in college baseball. Some said they would be in favor of simply adding a coach or adding another volunteer/graduate position. But in their eyes, why pay a coach from school funds when it doesn’t solve the coach-to-player ratio issue? Fans, coaches and players will likely shake their head in disgust with those answers, but some of them make some sense. Perhaps the next wave is making it where volunteer coaches can recruit. However, that would be a strange flex by the college baseball community. It wouldn’t solve the ratio problem and would continue the practice of volunteers not getting full benefits and/or salaries from the institution.

In the end, a third assistant won’t be paid by the school until at least 2021. So, college baseball has a choice. It can either sit back, moan and complain about this vote for another few months, or we can get cranking on other legislative issues that have support from several athletic directors who were unequivocal no votes on the third assistant legislation.

So, what will be the new legislative items to keep an eye on between now and 2021?

Here’s a breakdown:

1. Changing the postseason format

One of the legislative ideas gaining some serious steam around the sport is the format of the postseason. Currently, as you well know, you have 16 four-team regionals, eight two-team super regionals and then eight teams head to the College World Series.

 

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