As college athletes around the country struggle with the absence of the games and activities that once consumed their lives, head coaches like Mark Kingston try to keep things in perspective and look for silver linings in a world suddenly turned upside-down by the spread of the coronavirus.
“At all times, you need to try to turn negatives into positives when you can,” Kingston says.
College baseball and all spring sports got a bit of good news this week when the NCAA announced that spring sports athletes would gain an extra year of eligibility after having their 2020 seasons interrupted and wiped out by the spread of COVID-19. Though there are still plenty of details and repercussions to work out, the move was widely applauded by college coaches.
“It was the right thing to do,” Kingston said Thursday on 107.5 The Game in Columbia. “These student-athletes deserve the opportunity to play four years of collegiate athletics. They worked their whole lives to get to this point and I think the NCAA did the right thing in still providing that opportunity.”
Kingston and other college coaches had lobbied their athletic directors to work with league commissioners and the NCAA to grant the waiver and alter the rules for things like scholarship and roster limits to allow players to return to their teams next year or gain an extra year of eligibility.
“I think as coaches we all wanted the opportunity to provide a fourth year for all of our guys, not just the seniors, because if you don’t grant a freshman or sophomore that extra year that they lost this year then they could conceivably have had only two- or three-year careers,” Kingston said. “I think the NCAA did the right thing.”
The challenge for Kingston and other springs sports coaches now is to figure out how the ruling will impact their program. Each team could have multiple players who were expected to graduate or use up their eligibility return, while having a whole new recruiting class scheduled to join the program. Balancing those numbers in terms of roster size and scholarships will be a challenge for each school and program.
Baseball is further complicated by the annual MLB Draft, which determines which players return to school and which ones move on to professional baseball. The draft, which is expected to be delayed from June to July this year, will also have some significant changes that will impact college teams. Major League Baseball is considering shrinking the draft from 40 rounds to just five, which means more than 1,100 players won’t get drafted. There are also expected to be changes in how signing bonuses are paid out, including a potential cap of $20,000 for free agents and undrafted players.
Kingston says those changes could lead to a “golden age” for college baseball, with more and more players deciding to play collegiately instead of turning pro straight out of high school and more players electing to stay in college instead of entering the draft after their second or third year.
Kingston has two seniors (George Callil and Graham Lawson) and two grad transfers (Dallas Beaver and Bryant Bowen) who could use the NCAA waiver to return next year and several draft-eligible sophomores and juniors who may not get drafted now and could also return to school for one or two more years. He also has a strong recruiting class coming in, which could lead to a large roster and a complicated numbers game, but should also make his team stronger.
“The draft really will have the biggest impact on our roster moving forward,” he said. “Who gets drafted, who does not, who’s coming back, who’s not. At the end of the day, we all feel very, very optimistic about the future of our program and this team. We started to see glimpses of what it can be. We have a top-five recruiting class in the country signed up right now. When all is said and done, I feel very, very optimistic about our future.”