The time period from mid-July to mid-August proved to be a volatile few weeks for college baseball coaches across the country.
When the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft moved to mid-July, it changed the calculus for coaches trying to determine which players would be selected, which ones would sign and leave, which ones would sign free-agent contracts and which players from incoming draft classes would make it to campus. Drafted players had a deadline of Aug. 1 to sign with the team that chose them or return to campus, just a couple weeks before most college players begin arriving on campus.
Add into the equation the ever-burgeoning transfer portal and the introduction of name, image and likeness (NIL) money, and college athletics in general is experiencing a period akin to free agency. College players had until July 1, which also coincides with the deadline to renew scholarships, to enter the transfer portal to avoid having to sit out the next season, further complicating the situation.
The NCAA transformation committee recently adopted measures aimed at giving coaches more clarity when trying to build rosters for the upcoming fall and spring. Now, players wishing to enter the transfer portal will have a 45-day window to enter, starting the day after the NCAA championship tournament field is announced. That would put the transfer portal deadline for 2023 on July 13. While closer to the MLB draft dates, it still doesn’t go quite far enough to help close the gap that makes it difficult for coaches to formulate rosters.
The transformation committee did help coaches by nixing the proposal for unlimited transfers for college players. The committee also provided exceptions for players whose coaches leave for another team, and guaranteed financial aid for college players who do transfer.
While there’s still more to be done that can help coaches in this regard, there are some things that seem to be gaining momentum. Adjustments to scholarship rules that would provide more money for programs to give to student-athletes and increasing the number of paid college baseball coaches are two areas that could find themselves being approved in the near future as the popularity of the game continues to grow.
College Diamonds caught up with Craig Keilitz, the executive director of the American Baseball Coaches Association, to get his thoughts on the recent changes made by the transformation committee and where the NCAA needs to focus in the near future to continue to improve the college game.
College Baseball Foundation: Let’s start with the most recent news out of the NCAA from August. College baseball will now have a 45-day notification-of-transfer window beginning the day after the NCAA Tournament selections are made. What are your thoughts and thoughts of the coaches?
Craig Keilitz: Well, it's not easy, because coaches would want like a five-day window so they can figure out what their team looks like. But in fairness, a student athlete has to have some time to finish up the season, talk with friends and family, [and] make a decision. I personally wish it were a tad bit shorter, but our coaches will make that work. But it does put a lot of added pressure on coaches trying to figure out what the roster is between incoming freshmen that could go to the Major League draft, returning student-athletes and then student-athletes on the team that could go pro. Now, throw this on top, the transfer portal that lasts 45 days after that selection show where there’s a lot of uncertainty all the way through, this close to August.
CBF: So, do the new changes provide relief from the way the rules were before?
CK: Yes, because there are some definitive dates on it. So, I think it really helps for quite a few reasons. One, in particular, is during the year, if you're having kids transfer and go into the portal when you're trying to conduct business. That can be very disruptive. But I think we are all adults, and kids need to understand that we’ve got commitments and need to uphold those commitments through at least the end of the school year, or when that transfer portal will happen at the end of the sports season. So, I think that's important that we all recognize that and uphold our commitments.
CBF: Will this adoption alleviate any of the issues coaches have between the transfer portal and the late date of the MLB Draft in terms of being able to formulate rosters for the fall and spring?
CK: We'll find out. I don't know the answer to that. The transfer portal is, and we’ve seen this, really bloated right now. I think it'll alleviate itself over time because of the COVID situation, giving the kids a year back. So, we still have five classes right now when it's normally four. We had the waivers that went through that allowed us to carry more student-athletes on a baseball team, up to 40. Then, before we had the waiver, it was unlimited. So, some of the teams had even more than that. We have so many more kids in the system than we ever have, then you put in a new transfer portal, that sounds attractive, and kids are excited by it until they figure out reality in many cases. So, I think over the next couple of years, it'll sort of regulate itself and that it may be a little less desirable to go to the transfer portal because it's tough to figure out chemistry within your own team and bringing in kids that have played under a different system. I think student-athletes have figured out it's not always great to leave the situation you have and it's not always better to go to a new situation.
CBF: This next season will be three years past the COVID year when everything was shut down. How close are we to maybe getting back to “normal,” or whatever normal is going to look like, post COVID?
CK: Well, if we didn't have the changes that are going on with the transformation committee and the modernization committee, I would think we're right there. However, those two factors on top of finishing up has delayed that. So, coaches really don't have a choice. You know, we're getting back to 35 student-athletes plus those kids that were in your system during that COVID time, so it could be 35 plus those kids. So, I think we're getting closer. But these other two factors with all these changes on maybe the number of student-athletes that could be on your team could change. We have the number of coaches that may change, the number of scholarships, how the transfers work the windows. There’s so many different pieces that are coming in now that could muddy up the waters for a little bit.
CBF: Between NIL and the transfer portal, college athletics as a whole is experiencing a form of free agency. How will these new measures help regulate or enhance the state of the game today?
CK: It's hard to say. I don't personally like the way it’s gone, and I don't know anybody who does. I think the transfer situation on its own would have been good for student-athletes and good for programs in the vast majority of the cases. Now, with kids having an opportunity to go to a school because it's better for them financially with the NIL, I think that's unfortunate because it was not meant to be for inducement and recruiting purposes. And for some reason, it's been allowed to happen with that, which was supposed to be illegal. So, I hope we get our hands around that. I think there's some smart people working on it. We'll see if we can get that genie back in the bottle, because it's messy right now. I think the transfer portal, for most coaches, was a good thing. Coaches that communicate well, do a great job teaching, and the way they instruct their student athletes, bringing passion and parenting and all those great things that coaches do: Those coaches have kids who don't want to leave those programs. But when there's an inducement, NIL money and possibly more scholarships, with the increase of scholarships that some schools may have over others, that's going to throw a different element in the in the situation.
CBF: The NCAA rejected the proposal for unlimited transfers for student-athletes, guaranteed aid for transferring student-athletes and made exceptions to the window for student-athletes who experience coaching changes or have aid eliminated/reduced. Will this help curtail the transfer trend or embolden it?
CK: Well, I think it protects a student-athlete. Kids who want to transfer four times over four years, I don't know how you could possibly be successful as a student if you do that. I do think, not to sound like an old guy, but you got to make a decision and then live with your decision sometime in life. So, if we're not learning those lessons at 18, 19, 20, 21 years old, when will you ever learn that? So, I think that is good for now. I hope that remains that way. It’s a one-time transfer and not a transfer every year. But that’s yet to be seen as well.
CBF: There seems to be renewed interest in adding additional paid coaches, a measure that failed previously, and potentially increasing scholarships. Where do things stand with those two issues?
CK: Well, nothing happens until it happens. But that is the talk right now. They’ve asked for our input on what we feel is the appropriate number of coaches and the rationale. I’m working with our coaches to develop that, both the number and the reasons or rationale, why we would need more coaches. And there’s plenty of those. So, I think that’s going to happen, I feel confident that’s going to happen. But again, nothing happens until it happens. We won’t know about that until probably, I’ve been told, October, November, December, on additional coaches. But that’s one of our missions, to increase amateur baseball and opportunities for coaches. So, I think that's one of the best moves that's coming out of this is the additional coaches for the benefit of our student-athletes.
CBF: How will the potential college realignments and grant-of-rights deals being discussed or agreed to affect college baseball, which seems to be experiencing its highest level of popularity to date?
CK: Boy, it would just be speculation on the different moves that are going to be made with either the Big 10 or SEC or the Big 12 or the Pac-12. You know, time will tell on those, but it is unsettling. I don't know what to think about that right now and how it affects baseball. I don't know, I really don't know. It's impossible to really tell. But I do think the more leagues that we have, like Power Fives and the other mid-majors, we have something really going on right now with baseball, I think we're in our golden age of college baseball, in particular, with the emphasis on facilities, salaries, operating budgets, recruiting budgets and so forth. Schools have really done a nice job. And we see that in the quality of play. Then with reduced number of rounds with Major League Baseball [draft], we're seeing better and better players going to college. So, we're in a really good time, and I hope that some of these realignment issues and new additions in the conferences won't mess it up. I don't foresee that happening.
CBF: Are there issues on the horizon outside of what has been discussed that coaches are interested in bringing to the forefront?
CK: You know, I think things are being thrown at coaches so fast and so different than it ever has before. I think we're just we're seeing what's going to happen over these next couple of months. It's a very reactive approach, but really, it is just like wait-and-see on all these changes. What we're doing, hopefully, we'll know quite a bit, in November, December, January, so then we can start planning for the stuff that's coming down the pipe. But it’s a crazy time. But our coaches are excited about the future. If they can get more coaches and more student-athletes on scholarship, well, that's fantastic.