Mark Wasikowski felt “numb” when his first season as Oregon baseball coach ended on the eve of a Pac-12 opener at UCLA.
“You don’t know what to do because nobody has ever been in this situation before,” he added during an interview this week. “This is a serious deal affecting people throughout the world so I am most concerned about what is going on nationally and in our world. Baseball seems small at this point in time, but it is devastating for our guys.”
As the days have gone by since COVID-19 stopped sports across the country on March 12, Wasikowski has become curious to see how the NCAA will address some circumstances unique to college baseball. The sport splits 11.7 scholarships throughout a 35-man roster with a coaching staff that features more volunteer and graduate assistants than full-time coaches. The 2020 season ended after more than one-fourth of the games had been played, leaving players uncertain if they can seek a redshirt season or appeal for an additional year of eligibility.
Add in the uncertainty of the Major League Baseball draft — where college juniors, seniors and some sophomores can be selected along with high school seniors — and Wasikowski has a warning for the NCAA as it sorts out its options:
“I hope they do a real thorough job of understanding the impact these decisions will have on young people as they have a chance to make it right or as right as they can,” he said. “There is a good chance if they don’t think this through on a lot of levels, that it becomes a bigger nightmare than it is now. … Baseball is going to give them the most problems out of any sport. Nobody has an amateur draft like baseball where kids are eligible out of high school, after three years of college, or when they turn 21. This isn’t just going to have an impact on seniors or next year, but four or five years of implications. If the NCAA does not think this stuff through, we are going to have a mess.”
The NCAA has announced “eligibility relief is appropriate for all Division I student-athletes who participated in spring sports,” but has not finalized the details of that plan. Despite that wording, there has been concern that only seniors will be guaranteed an extra year of eligibility.
“What I want to see is for this year to not count for anybody,” Wasikowski said. “The next piece is that we’ve got a 35-man roster and now you are adding your recruiting class for next year and potentially keeping players from this year and equaling 35 players. How do you balance the books with 11.7 scholarships when you are trying to keep the scholarships of players still in the program? If there are some sort of exemptions then that opens another problem of ‘Who is going to pay for that?’ If each school is on the hook to pay for up to 10 more scholarships, that is a lot of money. Do schools have that in the budget? Do mid-majors has that in the budget? It is a mess.”
Giving all players an extra year of eligibility and expanding rosters for next season would also present concerns for incoming recruits who would be joining a bigger roster than anticipated when they signed with a school.
“You could sign a junior-college transfer who is wondering what happens to him if there are 45 players on the roster,” Wasikowski noted. “Would that be a good time to come to a school or not?”
The MLB Draft is scheduled for June 10-12, but could be delayed along with the regular season after the league announced it was prohibiting all domestic and international scouting until further notice. Many scouts met with the draft-eligible Ducks prior to the season, but saw a small sample size of their play on the field.
“How do these guys showcase themselves?” Wasikowski asked. “Playing 15 games is not enough time to make thorough decisions on how the draft stacks up. The showcase circuit last summer takes care of the high school players, but for the college guys there are still a lot of issues out there.”
Wasikowski’s concerns also went toward the uncertain months ahead for members of his program’s support staff including maintenance employees who work on the field and other hourly workers at the university. His volunteer assistant, Marcus Hinkle, makes most of his money running baseball camps that must now be canceled. UO has three undergraduate assistants who have limited years in that role and won’t get a full season of work this year to put on their resume as they seek full-time jobs.
The Pac-12 has announced that all spring sports are canceled through the end of the academic year, including those that compete beyond the academic year. The NCAA canceled all NCAA Championships for the spring, including the College World Series.
Wasikowski would prefer to wait on those decisions to see if it was possible to suspend the season until summer. There has been talk for the past few years in college baseball about pushing the annual start date in February into March and extending the season into the summer.
Oregon finished the season at 8-7 following a 13-2 win at Hawaii on March 8. The Ducks were preparing to start a three-game series at UCLA when the season abruptly ended.
“I look at this year and say ‘What did we get out of it?’ ” Wasikowski said. “Well, one thing we got out of the 2020 Ducks is that these kids were fighting like crazy. They didn’t belly up in games, there was no quit. This club wasn’t perfect through 15 games, but we progressed from fall ball and a lot of people didn’t think we could do what we showed we could do. For me, it was huge progress in terms of culture. I’m just disappointed because I wanted at least 56 games to see how good they could have gotten throughout the season.”