Could A Marriage Of MLB Draft And Omaha Work?

OMAHA, Neb.—Pat Burrell was standing in the on-deck circle at the old Rosenblatt Stadium in 1998 when it happened—Miami head coach Jim Morris remembers the moment clearly.

Right then and there, Burrell, then with the Hurricanes, found out that he was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, taken by the Phillies. He was getting ready to step up to the plate in one of the biggest games of his life when he heard some of the biggest news of his life.

“I don’t know how Pat Burrell hit,” Morris said, laughing. “I wouldn’t be able to talk, let alone hit. Knowing Pat, he probably hit a home run. I can’t remember.”

Though the draft no longer overlaps with the College World Series, college coaches tell similar draft stories today, with the draft taking place during super regional play. Sometimes that timing produces storybook scenarios. Last season, Vanderbilt shortstop Dansby Swanson led a late rally that sent the Commodores back to Omaha; mere minutes later, the Diamondbacks drafted him with the first overall pick. But then there’s the flipside. On that same day last season, Louisville ace Kyle Funkhouser found out he was drafted 35th overall by the Dodgers after Cal State Fullerton ended his season with an extra-inning, heartbreaking home run.

Either way—whether dreamlike or bittersweet—the draft and college postseason clearly intersect and clearly cause some level of distraction for college prospects trying to divide their focus between their college team’s future and their own professional future.

As such, there’s been continuous discussion of moving the date of the draft. Last year, around this time, the idea of moving the draft to Omaha just before the College World Series started seemed to be gaining some traction. The move hasn’t occurred yet, but American Baseball Coaches Association executive director Craig Keilitz said Friday that talks are ongoing.

“We’ve talked about it for a couple years and talked to Major League Baseball about it. Major League Baseball would very much like to move their draft here,” Keilitz said at the “State of Collegiate Baseball” press conference in Omaha. “I personally think it could be a great move for us if we can do it the right way. So we’re going through the process right now, discussing how the best way to handle it for our championship.

“Certainly nothing is going to overshadow the College Baseball World Series, and we wanted to only enhance it. We’re working through the timeframe, the dates and times how it would work out. Certainly have to be over before the first pitch is thrown on that Saturday.”

Keilitz said the plan is to gauge interest in the proposal from coaches at the upcoming ABCA national convention in Anaheim and discuss how a change might impact that game. He said the ABCA wouldn’t want the draft hosted in Omaha if coaches weren’t interested in attending it.

“Having our coaches with first-, second-, third-round young men being drafted or projected to be drafted, be a part of that and really tie our games together, Major League Baseball, college baseball and all the way through down to Little League I think is very important,” Keilitz said.

Several head coaches in Omaha brought up the draft unprompted Friday and discussed how it impacted their respective teams’ super regionals. Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan, whose team lost its first super regional game to Florida State on the second day of the draft, said he thought the Gators’ mindset changed after the draft ended. All eight of the drafted Gators were taken on the draft’s first two days.

“I know they’re excited about the draft being behind them,” O’Sullivan said. “And I think ever since last Friday, second day of the draft, I know there was kind of a big sigh of relief, and I think everybody was excited to move forward.”

Jay Johnson, the first-year head coach of Arizona, talked about the challenges of navigating both the draft and a super regional for the first time as a head coach, and doing so in front of 14,000 boisterous fans at Mississippi State.

“I thought last weekend being in Starkville with the draft going on while we were trying to play, first time for me with that, too, and I thought about how to handle it,” Johnson said. “I said, ‘We’re just going to let it play out.’ If they need to talk to somebody on the phone, we’ll let them talk on the phone. (First baseman) Ryan Aguilar went like the (31st) round. We were actually taking batting practice while he got drafted.”

Morris, who spoke in the same press conference as Johnson, was a little more opinionated.

“Just like during the draft that Jay was talking about, which is crazy to me that it would be at that time—I’d like to say that—right in the middle of the (super) regionals,” Morris said.

“We had players finding out where they’re drafted right in the middle of the game. In the middle of the game, they’re finding out: I’m drafted in the 30th round by so- and-so. Geez.”

Of course, not every coach might share Morris’ opinion, and that’s something for which the ABCA and every party involved in the decision is still trying to get a feel.

“I think we take it through systematically what it would look like, what the time frames would be, the effect that it would have on that coach, and, quite frankly, the coach wouldn’t have to show up, if they chose not to,” Keilitz said. “But I think until we lay it all out and hear all discussions and all points of view, we just don’t know if it’s in our best interests.”

Odds and Ends

Super regional pairings such as Florida-Florida State or Clemson-South Carolina have become the norm in the NCAA tournament and are often repeated from year to year. Division I Baseball Committee chair Joel Erdmann said the committee tries to strike a balance between highlighting those rivalries while avoiding pairing those teams together too often.

“The committee is aware of those matchups, and there is the positive side of what I call regionality and those traditional rivals that are not too far from each other. It allows for a great crowd and energy-filled stadiums that draws national attention,” Erdmann said. “But that being said, we’re also sensitive to the redundancy of matchups over and over again. So we do follow general guidelines on once those pairs have seen each other in back-to-back years, we won’t do it for a third unless there’s extenuating circumstances out of our control.”

After the field of 64 was announced, some fans, school supporters and even coaches expressed concerned over the role of regional advisory committees in the decision process and the fairness of rival coaches on those committees determining the tournament fate of their respective programs. Erdmann said the committee hasn’t discussed making those regional advisory committee rankings public—though that could happen in the future. Ron Prettyman, in his first year as the NCAA’s managing director for championships and alliances, said the regional advisory committees are just one part of the process.

“The regional advisory committee and the representative of the region on our committee is not the end-all. It would be—I think you guys would be really interested in how deep we scrub, and we’ve had the opportunity to go in and realize when we go head to head and get down deep into the nitty-gritty that maybe the regional advisory committee didn’t have it in line, and we’ve reordered those things. We don’t just go in the room and say where did your region come in and plug people in. We really scrub it hard.”

At the ABCA convention in Nashville in January, Keilitz discussed legislation proposals that would eliminate the 25 percent financial aid minimum for players and also eliminate the rule that caps the number of scholarship players at 27 per team. The ABCA needs to have all of its pieces of legislation submitted to the NCAA by September 1, but Keilitz said those two proposals in particular might not come to fruition.

“We had four pieces of legislation. That was the dropping of the minimum 25 percent, which a very small percentage of coaches are in favor of that versus against. It’s about 54 percent of our coaches are in favor of that,” Keilitz said. “So that’s going to be very tough to move. Then the 27 (player cap) is slightly higher up, talking coaches that are interested in. So those are going to be two pieces of tough legislation to move just because the people that are for it and against it and so forth.”

Comments are closed.

Download our app

Read the newest magazine issue right on your phone