How the NCAA eligibility vote & potentially reduced MLB Draft affects Louisville Baseball

Matthew McGavic

In a somewhat surprising move given the organization's track record, the NCAA Division I Council voted to allow schools to provide spring sport student-athletes an extra year of eligibility after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of remaining winter & spring sport championships.

In summary, the NCAA handed the decision directly to the universities. Instead of an over-arcing blanket waiver, it will now be a school-by-school scenario. While this has the potential to create inequity amongst programs, in the end, at least granting the opportunity was the right thing to do.

The University of Louisville's spring sports consist of baseball, men's & women's golf, lacrosse, rowing, softball, men's & women's tennis and track & field. While the university has not yet announced if they will grant these student-athletes an additional year, such a decision will have a profound effect on baseball given the sport's various complexities.

As a rules refresher, the scholarship limit for college baseball is currently set at 11.7, which can be divided up among a maximum of 27 players. The full roster has a limit of 35 players.

For any senior that chooses to return, they will not be counted as part of the 11.7 scholarships. They will also not be counted as part of the 27 & 35 man roster limits. But there's a slight catch. The school reserves the right to pay that senior any amount they want, so long as it doesn’t exceed the scholarship amount they had in 2020. In theory, seniors could get zero scholarship money for next season even if they received financial aid this year.

The alternate for the seniors would be for them to move on from college and pursue a professional career. However that might be up in the air as well, as the COVID-19 pandemic could drastically alter the 2020 Draft. Because of budget shortfalls created by the coronavirus, Major League Baseball and MLB Players Association have agreed upon a deal that could reduce this year's draft to just five or ten rounds as opposed to the normal forty.

This season, Louisville has four seniors on the roster in LHP Adam Elliott, OF Danny Oriente, INF Justin Lavey and RHP Luke Smith. Out of these four, only Smith is among the the Top 250 college prospects according to D1Baseball, coming in at 130th which would put him in the sixth round. 

Speaking of the draft, the seniors aren't the only ones who are affected by the likelihood of a reduced draft. Five Louisville juniors are currently among D1Baseball's Top 250 College draft prospects, with two in the top 100. LHP Reid Detmers is ranked as No. 8 and RHP Bobby Miller lands at No. 54, the latter of which qualifies as a second round pick.

Depending on if the draft goes to five or ten rounds, it could also have a significant impact on three other juniors. INF/OF Lucas Dunn comes in as the 144th overall college prospect to place him in the sixth round, with OF/C Zach Britton & LHP Michael Kiran ranked No. 185 & No. 190 respectively for the eighth round. 

Lack of a meaningful amount of exposure due to a shortened season also hurts everyone's overall draft stock. This is especially true for the six juniors and three seniors who are not currently projected to go in the first ten rounds, and were planning on utilizing the remainder of the now-cancelled 2020 season to get exposure to scouts and other team personnel.

This also has an effect on the incoming freshman class. Who inevitably chooses to come back next season for Louisville will affect the roster management. Because of the roster limits set in place, not everyone from a recruiting class actually gets to play when the regular season starts. 

For example, Louisville's 2019 recruiting class consisted of 16 prospects. Two were drafted out of high school with one opting to go the professional route, resulting in 15 making it to fall practice. But when it was time to trim down the overall roster to 35, five of the freshman did not make the cut. Depending on who decides to come back next season, who decides to go pro after being drafted, and what roster holes remain, this number has the potential to be larger.

There are near-countless moving parts when you combine all these factors, and roster management is sure to be the biggest issue that head coach Dan McDonnell will confront over the next few months. While some questions have been answered over the past week, many more remain that hope to be answered as time goes on.

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