Because of its status as a non-revenue sport, college baseball often has found the task of changing the NCAA regulations governing the sport difficult, if not almost impossible, for the betterment of the game and the student-athletes.
Case in point, the recently failed proposal to have a third paid assistant added to the coaching staff. Despite widespread support from the coaching ranks, the motion failed when it came up for a vote recently, mainly along the lines of schools not wanting to add the extra expense to their already stretched budgets.
But while the COVID-19 pandemic killed the 2020 season about a quarter of the way in, the pandemic did allow for some rule changes for the 2021 season that could become permanent going forward if a recent survey conduced by the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) is any indication.
For the purposes of this survey, the ABCA tackled two issues related to roster management – adjusting redshirt rules for student-athletes that more closely align with those governing college football and allowing for permanently increased roster limits and either increasing or eliminating the 27-counter limit and the 25 percent athletic aid minimum.
The ABCA will delve further into these issues and have further debate followed by a vote when they hold their Division I meeting in January, ABCA executive director Craig Keilitz told D1Baseball.com.
As it stands for the 2022 season, college baseball teams will play under a 40-man roster limit, which pares back from the unlimited roster limit teams operated under for the 2021 season in order to accommodate as many players as possible who lost the previous season due to the COVID shutdown.
For this month, we’ll take a look at the redshirt rule change proposal and what it could mean for the game. In December we’ll analyze the roster management proposals.
As it currently stands, any freshman who plays one inning in a regular-season college baseball game officially burns his redshirt. By comparison, a freshman football player can participate in up to four games in the regular season and still retain his redshirt status. Football is the only NCAA sport to have a specific redshirt rule different from the other sports.
For this survey, the ABCA queried coaches not only as to whether they would be in favor of having a redshirt rule in baseball similar to football, but also whether they favored stipulations as to how much of the season a player could play and still redshirt, and what part or parts of the season those games could come and still uphold redshirt eligibility.
Several factors influenced this rule change question. According to the survey, adjusting redshirt rules for baseball would allow players and coaches to better evaluate the player’s ability to contribute to the program and how much playing time is possible. It also would keep a student-athlete involved in a program and reduce the likelihood of transferring and would come at no additional cost to the school. Also, the medical hardship waiver potentially could eliminate the practice of some schools of taking advantage of current gray areas and exaggerating medical issues.
Overwhelmingly, of the 181 responses received from 225 member coaches (a 77 percent response rate), 88 percent favored adjusting redshirt rules. No surprise there. When it comes to how to adjust those rules, however, a wide variety of opinions exists.
In the survey, the ABCA proposed three different models. The first model mirrors the football model, where student-athletes could participate in up to 25 percent of games and still be eligible to redshirt. For college baseball, with a 64-game maximum schedule, that equates to 16 games – about the amount most teams play during the non-conference portion of the schedule.
The second model is what is called a hardship waiver model, or a medical hardship rule where players could participate in 30 percent of games, or 16 total, if an injury or illness limits their capability to play. The third model varies the percentage of games student-athletes can play in and still retain their redshirt, anywhere from 10 percent to 20 percent.
From the survey results, the overwhelmingly popular choice is to adopt the football rule of 25 percent. The medical hardship waiver rule received the least support at 10 percent, while the percentage options were about equal – 18 percent favored a 20 percent (11 games) limit, 17 percent favored at 10 percent (five games) rule and 14 percent favored a 15 percent rule (eight games).
One factor to take into consideration from the survey is the disparity in games played between pitchers and position players. Most starting pitchers wouldn’t hit the 25 percent mark.
Regarding when the games must be played, there was more disparity, but two options finished virtually tied. Most coaches – 36 percent – favored the games that count toward a redshirt being played in the first half of the regular season, while 35 percent favored those games being played at any point within the regular season.
Two other options received lesser support. Nineteen percent of coaches favored those games redshirt players could play in being played at any point of the season, including the conference or NCAA tournaments. The remaining 12 percent favored those games being limited to the first quarter of the season.
What the ABCA comes up with out of the annual conference in January – slated for Jan. 6-9 in Chicago – will be interesting to see.