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Division I Council Adopts Baseball Changes

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MORE: Who are the Division I Council Members?

The NCAA Division I Council on Wednesday announced it has adopted some sweeping legislative proposals, ranging from changes to the recruiting calendar to finally allowing teams the ability to play fall exhibition games without them counting against the 56-game spring schedule.

At least for coaches, the biggest story stemming from the vote involves the recruiting calendar. Currently, prospective recruits can take unofficial visits anytime they want. Are you a 12-year-old who wants to take an unofficial visit to Texas? No problem. Furthermore, currently, a high school prospect can’t take an official visit to a school until the beginning of classes their senior year.

Those two rules are changing, effective the next academic year. How so, you ask? With the adopted legislation, prospects may now take official visits as early as September 1 of their junior season. Several coaches and baseball administrators I’ve spoken with over the past few months preferred the date stay during a prospect’s senior season.

The more radical change from Wednesday deals the early recruiting calendar, which has become a topic of contention in college baseball over the past couple of seasons as players continue to commit at an earlier age. Also beginning with the next academic year, a school or their staff members may not participate in an unofficial visit before Sept. 1 of a prospect’s junior year. That means that prospects who are younger than juniors can’t have contact with players and coaches, by design, on campus, and they can’t take tours of the facilities. Coaches also won’t be allowed to leave tickets for prospective recruits who aren’t juniors or seniors in high school. Additionally, recruiting conversations will not be allowed at clinics or camps until that same Sept. 1 date. Coaches I’ve spoken with this afternoon say the latter will be almost impossible to monitor or enforce.

“I do like that the recruiting calendar for official visits is moving back,” ABCA executive director Craig Keilitz said. “I’m encouraged that we’re moving the right direction on starting the recruiting process a little later. So, that’s a step in the right direction.

“But, there are some concerns. For instance, if you can’t contact a prospect until a certain date, there aren’t conversations on campus leading up to that, and then offers are made on September 1 of their junior year, it’s almost like asking someone to marry you without going on a date,” he continued. “Hopefully, things will be governed and parents and student-athletes will wait and not verbally commit without seeing what different programs have to offer. I think it needs to be an informed decision. I think the biggest thing is just making sure kids aren’t just taking the first offer they get.”

The adopted legislation regarding unofficial visits already has coaches talking. Before the ABCA Convention in January, 16 coaches met in Charlotte to discuss a wide range of recruiting issues, while they also voted on some potential proposals. One of those proposals was the date that a prospect can take unofficial visits, and the 16-member committee voted and agreed on that date being Sept. 1 of a prospect’s sophomore high school year, not the junior year as the Council actually adopted.

ABCA Executive Director Craig Keilitz is in wait and see mode. (High Point)

With that said, the decisions made by that coaching committee in Charlotte shouldn’t be considered the gospel. As a matter of fact, Loyola Marymount head coach Jason Gill and others made impassioned statements at the ABCA Convention in Indianapolis about how they thought the sport as a whole should weigh in on the issue — not just 16 coaches — and how the ABCA needed to tap the brakes on any sweeping changes before hearing the nation’s coaches out.

So, the end result is that the 16-coach committee didn’t get what it wanted for the unofficial visit start date, and coaches as a whole didn’t truly have their voices heard on the issue before the Division I Council adopted the legislation.

Getting more strict recruiting rules to help curtail early recruiting and commitments could be much tougher to accomplish than people think. The NCAA has recently made it crystal clear that it would like to avoid adopting sport-specific rules, which obviously isn’t optimal for baseball considering the sport’s unique set of circumstances.

“We’re going to see how it works itself out, we’ll see how it all shakes out. Time will tell,” Keilitz said. “Every piece of legislation is never as good as people think it is, or as bad as people think it is. I’ve learned to kind of analyze it and let it play out — and then judge its merits. A lot of times, it turns out to be worse than thought, and sometimes, it also turns out to be better.”

In more news, the Division I Council adopted legislation to allow two fall exhibitions, beginning this fall, that don’t count against your 56-game spring schedule. Previously, you were allowed to play games in the fall, but they counted against your 56-game slate. The NCAA informed me that there will be no mileage limit on the exhibition games, though rules regarding missed class time will remain in place. The only bad news is that coaches thought they’d get four games. The Big South Conference put forth two proposals — one that included two games, and another that included four games. And the D1 Council adopted the first option. It’s worth noting that Division I Softball programs are allowed to play eight exhibition games in the fall.

Last but not least, the Division I Council also lifted the ban on selling alcoholic beverages to the public at NCAA Championship events. The SEC and others have rules against selling alcohol to the general public at athletic venues, but sources have told me over the past year that rule is expected to change sooner rather than later. Plenty of schools, including a few SEC schools, have already created “pay to drink” areas in their respective ballparks.

Stay tuned as we stay on top of the always evolving world of college baseball.

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