Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Van Horn: Roster is in need of relief
TD Ameritrade Park, home of the College World Series, is reflected in the sunglasses of Arkansas NCAA college baseball coach Dave Van Horn during team practice in Omaha, Neb., Friday, June 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
FAYETTEVILLE -- The NCAA was universally lauded for allowing seniors in spring sports such as baseball, softball, golf, tennis and track and field to get that year back in the 2020-21 academic year because of the shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Now the other shoe is dropping.
The NCAA caps "counters" in baseball at 27, meaning the 11.7 scholarships allowed for Division I baseball programs can be spread among that number of players. It also caps roster sizes at 35.
The double whammy of seniors being allowed back and the Major League Baseball Draft being shortened to five rounds will mean more would-be drafted juniors will remain in school for the upcoming season.
That's going to create a glut of players on college rosters, which should heighten the skill level in college baseball but also create difficult number crunching for coaching staffs.
"We need relief, and we should know here shortly," Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said of possible tweaks to NCAA rules for this year. "To only have 27 counters ... we're asking if they could raise that to around 32 for one year.
"So at least we could, kids that maybe we thought were going to sign, at least we could give them something. They might not be on as much [aid] as they were."
The addition of signing classes to rosters, with experts expecting as many as 300 juniors who would have been drafted and signed into professional baseball remaining on campus, is creating a type of musical chairs for some schools.
"What's going to happen is we're going to get more quality players coming to school, which is good for college baseball," Florida Coach Kevin O'Sullivan told the Jacksonville Times-Union. "But the NCAA needs to give us some relief so we can manage our rosters. With the draft shrinking and more high school kids going to college and more juniors returning, the NCAA has to help us out.
"There's going to be a logjam with the roster. It's been weighing on my mind for two months."
Craig Kelitz, executive director of the American Baseball Coaches Association, told SI.com that every school is going to have more players than available spots on the roster.
"Power conference schools might think they'd lose eight [signees] to the draft in a 20-person class, and they know they're losing, say, eight juniors to the draft," Kelitz told SI.com. "All the sudden, they are a plus-16. They're sitting back going, 'Oh my gosh. What are we going to do now?' "
Van Horn is acutely aware.
"Everybody's in the same boat in our league," he said. "Possibly give us an increase of scholarships for one year and the schools that are serious about it, they're OK with it for a year.
"Even though it would cost a little bit of money, it would make sense and help the student-athlete out. And then there's some schools across the country that don't want any part of it. Well, I get it. This is the issue we have with Division I baseball. There probably should be two divisions. But that's another long story. And then the roster issue. I think they're going to expand our roster a little bit."
Van Horn said he is expecting some kind of answer from the NCAA in mid-June, shortly after the MLB Draft scheduled for June 10.
In the meantime, his roster already has gone through spasms, which are typical for any year but likely to be more significant this season. On Thursday, catcher Dominic Tamez became the seventh Razorback to enter the transfer portal.
On the incoming side, Arkansas has added two transfer catchers in Robert Emery (San Francisco) and A.J. Lewis (Eastern Kentucky), and two pitchers in Lael Lockhart (Houston) and Isaac Bracken (Northern Colorado).
Sports on 05/30/2020
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.