Mississippi State's Jake Mangum (MSU photo)

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New Legislative Proposal Aims To Ease Seniors’ Burden

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Could relief be on the way for college baseball players who return for their senior campaigns?

If at least a few prominent athletic directors have their way, that could be the case in the near future as some administrators are circulating a legislative proposal that would change the landscape of the sport for seniors.

Under current NCAA bylaws, student athletes on athletic aid who return for their senior seasons are still required to get at least 25 percent of a scholarship. However, with many programs having year-to-year deals on aid, these seniors are returning to campus for another year with the realization there’s a great chance their scholarship amount will get reduced to make room for prospective student athletes who otherwise weren’t expected to show up to campus because of the draft or other reasons.

Some administrators believe those situations are unhealthy for the sport. Some players depart programs after being told they’re receiving less scholarship money, while from a coaching standpoint, some are forced to run players off to make room for not only the returning senior, but also some incoming players who previously weren’t expected to show up to campus.

Under the legislation provided to D1Baseball — bylaw 15.5.4.1.3 — a senior who was on athletic financial aid one of the previous three seasons, could return to a Division I Baseball program for his final season of eligibility and would subsequently be given full institutional aid by the school. The institutional aid would not count against a program’s 11.7 equivalencies or 27 roster counters but would count against the 35-man roster. Giving full scholarships to seniors would not be mandatory, but optional for those programs looking to improve the student welfare of baseball players.

The addition of this legislation and bylaw seems like a no brainer for much of baseball, but perhaps not so much for others. The sport is much different than others, especially in the timing that rosters are set. It’s the only sport where a junior, third-year student athlete, 21-year-old student athlete or incoming freshman or junior college transfer is confronted with a situation where they must decide whether to attend college or not a month before the fall semester begins for many institutions. This situation, administrators argue, puts college baseball coaches in an awkward position of having to essentially make educated guesses on whether or not a prospective student athlete is going to college, or if they’re signing a professional contract, while also trying to keep control of 11.7 scholarships dispersed throughout 27 players.

“The harsh reality is that seniors are asked to make the ultimate sacrifice to their teams … they are asked to give back their aid to make 11.7 scholarships work in these unpredictable circumstances,” the legislation says. “Offering senior baseball student-athletes, many of whom have accumulated sizable student loans, opportunity for a full scholarship, could make a sizable retention/graduate rate different at member institutions around the country. The senior baseball player might be the most underserved student-athlete in all of NCAA athletics.”

John McMillon’s unexpected return to Lubbock likely caused some tough decisions for the Tech staff. (Aaron Fitt)

While the addition of this proposal seems obvious to college baseball fans, coaches and players, administrators look at it from a financial perspective as well. Full scholarships for senior players mean more money coming out of the bottom line. The costs across the country would be different. Those programs with more seniors returning would have a heavier burden than those with few returning. But upon our research, an example of how few players in some conferences return to campus for their senior years — the Southeastern Conference, the nation’s No. 1 RPI conference — totaled around 10 percent seniors on 2019 rosters. Power conference rosters on the whole averaged 4.67 seniors in 2019, with 13 percent of rosters from these conferences including seniors. The mid-majors and low-mid majors would have a heavier financial burden, but the percentage differences aren’t drastic. For instance, 21 percent of mid-major rosters in 2019 were seniors, while 28 percent of those rosters were freshmen.

The other prong to consider against the proposal are the Title IX implications. Administrators told me that baseball is much different than softball in this regard. Softball, they said, doesn’t have a senior retention issue that decreases student welfare — baseball does. This is a specific issue. So, again, while that sounds great to folks throughout college baseball, this would be an obstacle to overcome.

Baseball is in an interesting time. Though it’s like pulling teeth to pass no-brainer legislation such as the ability/option to pay a third assistant coach, there does appear to be a window to approach the subject of student welfare as it pertains to baseball players.

After all, when the Big 12 Conference voted against the third assistant legislation the last go round, both Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt — now on the Division I Selection Committee — and Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione, steered away from the third assistant debate, and instead, said they’d be willing to work hard to improve the student athlete experience in baseball. Perhaps this is legislation they could not only get behind, but help drive moving forward.

This legislation, which would help seniors and college baseball a great deal, is in the infancy stage, and there’s a long way to go. But you have to start somewhere.

But if a few big-time athletic directors and conferences get their way, seniors could soon see some relief.

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