NCAA Ruling Gives Baseball Teams More Flexibility In Roster Construction

The NCAA’s Division I Committee for Legislative Relief on Wednesday approved rule changes for the 2020-21 school year designed to ease college baseball’s coming roster crunch. The changes were approved just hours before the start of the draft, giving college coaches and players some last-minute clarity on roster construction rules for the 2021 season.

The rule changes were championed by the American Baseball Coaches Association and will give teams a little bit more flexibility for their rosters next year. The three-pronged changes are

  • to eliminate the 35-man cap on rosters
  • to allow partial scholarships of less than 25 percent
  • to raise the maximum number of players who can be on scholarship from 27 to 32.

The SEC also offered up a proposal to increase the number of scholarships for next season from 11.7 to 13.7, but it was not approved by the committee.

After the decision from the NCAA’s Division I Council to grant all spring sports athletes an extra year of eligibility to make up for the lost 2020 season, it exempted returning seniors from all roster caps. But when MLB followed with its own decision to shorten the draft from 40 rounds to five, college baseball coaches appealed to the NCAA that they needed further relief from their existing roster construction rules.

More than 1,100 fewer players will be drafted this year, meaning there will be significantly more players in college baseball next year. The sport already deals with among the most restrictive roster construction rules in the NCAA—11.7 scholarships, 35-man roster limits, a maximum of 27 players on scholarship and all scholarships must be worth at least 25 percent—and effectively jamming an extra class of players into the system was going to be challenging.

Now, it will be slightly more manageable for coaches, though they still only have 11.7 scholarships to spread around. While these rules are designed just for the 2021 season, the subject could be revisited in the future. With every spring sports athlete getting an extra year of eligibility, the roster crunch won’t be fully alleviated for the next couple years, although if the MLB draft is 20 rounds next year as is currently planned, this year’s perfect storm would not be repeated.

Wednesday’s decision was an important one for college baseball, if for no other reason than everyone finally has the rules for roster construction for next season. The rules came just in time for players and coaches to make fully informed decisions during the draft and nondrafted free agent signing window.

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