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College Baseball Braces For Votes On 2 Key Pieces Of NCAA Legislation

College baseball over the next few months faces a series of votes on critical NCAA legislation that have the potential to dramatically change the sport’s recruiting schedule and the makeup of coaching staffs. At the American Baseball Coaches Association’s annual convention last weekend in Dallas, coaches received an update on the status of that legislation and were asked to consider another significant proposal aimed at slowing the recruiting process.

The convention, which brought more than 6,700 coaches to Dallas, was also highlighted by the first meeting of the ABCA’s diversity committee, which is tasked with improving diversity both on the field and in the coaching ranks. The committee, chaired by Southern coach Kerrick Jackson, met for more than two hours as it worked through various ideas and issues.

Two pieces of pending legislation, which the ABCA has long been lobbying for through the long process to change NCAA rules, will soon come up for a vote.

A proposed recruiting calendar, the result of a panel convened by the ABCA last fall, will be voted on later this month at the NCAA Convention. It decreases the amount of time coaches are allowed to be on the road recruiting by creating a few new dead periods and extending existing quiet periods. While data collected by the ABCA shows more than two-thirds of all Division I head coaches support it, many coaches feel it goes too far and are not eager to give up time they are allowed to be on the road.

The new calendar is expected to be approved and would then go into effect on Aug. 1, 2019.

Less clear, however, is the fate of the proposal to convert the volunteer assistant coach position into a third full-time assistant coach. The measure is supported by 93 percent of Division I head coaches, according to an ABCA survey. But it has not found widespread support among athletic directors, even among Power Five conference schools, and it is expected to be a close vote when it comes before the Division I Council in April.

Baseball has one of the worst player-to-coach ratios in the NCAA at 12-to-1. Baseball is also eager to move on from the volunteer model, which has warped the developmental path of young coaches. The volunteer position is considered entry-level, but coaches in that role are not allowed to go on the road to recruit, limiting their opportunities to move up in the business.

If those two coming pieces of legislation aren’t significant enough, baseball now must also contend with a coming NCAA plan to rewrite the timeline for when the recruiting process begins. With the Student-Athlete Experience Committee leading the way, the NCAA wants to eliminate all communication between coaches and potential recruits until June 15 before a player’s junior year of high school. Visits and scholarship offers would be allowed to begin Aug. 1 of that same year. Football, basketball and men’s hockey would be exempt from this rule.

Baseball is also seeking to be exempt from those restrictive rules, largely because it must contend with the MLB draft. With MLB organizations starting to scout high school underclassmen and agents getting involved as well, many college coaches are wary of being late to the party. They also want to avoid shrinking the recruiting process to the fall of a player’s junior year, which would likely lead to hasty decisions, bidding wars and more pressure on the players.

The ABCA’s panel, which was responsible for rewriting the recruiting calendar, reconvened in Dallas to come up with an alternative, which remains just a draft at this stage. Under this proposal, on Aug. 1 after a player’s freshman year, communication would open with college coaches and both unofficial visits and scholarship offers would be allowed. Official visits would begin the next year on Aug. 1, as they currently are.

Ball State’s Rich Maloney, Louisville’s Dan McDonnell, Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan and Texas Christian Jim Schlossnagle all made pitches at the convention, urging coaches to examine the new proposal and help the ABCA demonstrate to the NCAA why baseball needs a different model than the Olympic sports.

Nick Gonzales Billmitchell

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Dialogue around that proposal continues, but the ABCA must move quickly to put it before the Student-Athlete Experience Committee and make its case for why baseball should join the list of exempted sports.

The ABCA’s diversity committee held its initial meeting in Dallas with more than 40 people working on a series of complicated issues. Jackson believes the change must start at the grassroots level and called on several coaches working in youth ball to share their grassroots experience. MLB representatives Tyrone Brooks, Tony Reagans and Dusty Baker explained some of their initiatives and promised support from the commissioner’s office. The committee also talked about ways to increase the number of minority coaches, especially in college baseball.

The diversity committee’s next steps are to form working groups around some of the key issues and develop some actionable items. The work won’t be easy, but with MLB and the ABCA expressing their full support for the committee and so many passionate people working on the issues, some positive change seems likely to come in time.

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