CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Last Monday the NCAA officially decided to grant all spring sport athletes an additional year of eligibility after the spread of COVID-19 led to the cancelation of all spring sports.
“I like that eligibility is restored,” said Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb in a teleconference Friday.
That, in essence, means that the Illini will have five recruiting classes on the same roster for 2021 and beyond — all the way until the spring of 2025.
“Yesterday I had a chance to talk with our seniors,” Hartleb said. “I do think we will have a few seniors coming back.
“The thing that I’m most excited about is the leadership that they gave us this past year.”
But rosters and scholarship limitations are built for four classes at a time. Part of the NCAA’s agreement is to give teams exemptions from those strict roster limits in the 2021 season, but beyond that, there is not much relief for college programs.
“As you look at rosters and roster limitations and scholarship limitations,” Hartleb said, “we will have some issues with getting [our] rosters down to 35 men.”
In order to better explain the situations the Illini will be faced with in the future, Hartleb described a hypothetical during his call.
“What you start looking at after that, we have a number of commitments in the future classes — and you look at the fact that a number of guys can play another season. And if you thought a guy would graduate or go to the draft and you protected yourself by recruiting that position, now you have a problem.”
And the biggest question mark that looms over college programs and the future of baseball at both an amateur and professional level is how the MLB decides to handle its draft.
Last month, Major League Baseball and the MLB’s Players’ Association met and reached an agreement on how to handle the 2020 season — whether or not games get played. However, some of the widest reaching stipulations affect amateur players.
In a give-and-take type of meeting, the players were granted a full year of service time regardless of if a season takes place. The one thing they had to sacrifice to achieve that is the draft, which does not affect any of those players already in the pros.
The issue is those meetings can not have a representative from the NCAA because there is no players’ union for them, so they were easily taken advantage of.
The MLB has permission now to move the draft earlier in the year, amid the COVID-19 crisis. That would give draftees a full summer and fall league to get acclimated to their new organizations.
But the MLB also can keep the draft as is in June or push it deeper into the year.
Beyond that, the MLBPA granted the MLB the ability to cut the draft down, potentially all the way down to 10 or even five rounds (from its traditional 40 rounds).
Because of that rule, MLB teams have also cut down their spending for signing bonuses for their new draftees.
So not only are far fewer players going to get drafted in 2020, but the ones who do are making less money upon signing than in years past. To illustrate that with numbers, instead of 1,200 players getting drafted, potentially only 150 will.
Here is another way to look at it.
Last year, former Illini Michael Massey, Jack Yalowitz, Ben Troike, Cyrillo Watson, Quentin Sefcik and Zac Taylor were all drafted. If MLB’s draft plan was in place a year ago, only Massey (round 4) would have been drafted. If the draft was 10 rounds, only Yalowitz (round 10) would have been added to that list.
Which would mean the other four players would be allowed to return to the University to continue their athletic and academic careers at Illinois.
Due to all of this uncertainty, Hartleb summed it up in a brief but effective way.
“Roster management over the next five years is gonna be cloudy.”