My Two Cents: Mercer is Right That Spring Athletes Deserve Another Year

Tom Brew

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — When people are dying of COVID-19, every minute of every day, it almost seems wrong to talk about what's fair for college baseball players who had their season taken away from them this spring.

It was a tough and abrupt ending, especially for the seniors, who now don't have any more college games to play. 

So what's fair? What could be done? What should be done?

Indiana coach Jeff Mercer has an idea. It's a good one, but it would also be very difficult to pull off, for several reasons.

“My personal opinion, I’d like to see all of the athletes receive an additional year of eligibility,” Mercer said during a teleconference. “I realize the ramifications, and that makes it a very difficult process. There are unintended consequences that carry on four or five years into the future. 

"But it just wasn’t that long ago I was playing, and to think about one of my years of eligibility taken away ... that's hard. To not have that year of eligibility restored, when it could be, would be real difficult to endure. You just only get so many years to play sports and the vast majority of our players are not going to make their living playing professional baseball.”

Granting everyone another year of eligibility would cost money and change the way baseball — and all of the spring sports, for that matter — operate on the college level. Let's be honest right from the get-go here. This is not football or men's basketball, where the revenue exceeds the expenses and there's wiggle room when things change on the fly.

It's different with baseball, and all the spring sports. They are non-revenue sports, to put it softly, and they don't pay for themselves. So they also couldn't afford to add a handful of scholarships every year with their own money.

So someone else would need to pay. And where does that money come from these days? especially when the NCAA just lost several hundred million dollars by canceling the NCAAA basketball tournament.

There is also the other approach, of course. Millions of people have lost their jobs during this pandemic, and the college baseball seniors could just be added to the group of coronavirus casualties. The others, the juniors on down, could be granted redshirt years as need be, and the number of scholarships could be adjusted over a three- or four-year period.

Mercer will worry about all the recruiting changes later. Right now, he's most interested in taking care of his own current players.

“We’re making sure that we’re taking care of our current players and our committed recruits, touching base with some young players once they start playing again,” Mercer said. “Once we find out what’s gonna happen here in the next week or two … we’ll get everybody on a conference call, or I’ll have my wife teach me how to use Zoom or Skype or some kind of technology.

“We’ll talk to the kids and outline the shortened season, what the season was like for them, and where they need to go next and what they need to work on. It will be individualized, and it will be kind of on their own pace.”

For several of Mercer's players, the next step is lining up summer league opportunities. Then, of course, there's always next season, and the process, which Mercer often refers to, must go on. He still hasn't been told by the NCAA what his coaching staff can and cannot do right now with the players.

“My job is to come in and outline the plan. This is what we are going to do to achieve the goal we have for ourselves and for this team,'' Mercer said. "So the expectation is that stays the same.

“I’m a creature of habit, and most people are — especially kids,” Mercer said. “The sooner that we can help them to get back to the standard operating procedure and to just get back to the normalcy of what they know and can control, the better they’ll be.”

Normalcy is a great goal to have in these trying times. The cost of a couple of scholarships every year? It's worth it to find a way, to try to find a solution for a handful of kids who proudly wear Indiana across the front of their jersey.

There is no overnight solution, to be sure, nor does there need to be. But if we can take care of a few kids along the way, that's certainly a good thing.

Miss baseball? Of course. Lots to figure out? Sure. And in time, we'll get it all worked out.