Patrick Murphy has a roster sheet that he thinks must look like that of a Major League Baseball general manager. It lists players by position, handedness, speed and power through the next six to seven years, or as far in advance as their recruiting players. He cites it often, “so I don’t end up with four third basemen.”
That sheet is going to see a lot of changes. Murphy doesn’t mind.
The University of Alabama softball coach is joining the rest of UA’s spring coaches in welcoming their senior classes for a second year, plus keeping their additional athletes for an additional year. They got that luxury after the NCAA’s Division I Council voted in favor of granting all spring athletes an additional year of eligibility.
“It’s really good news for us and it’s really good for the student-athlete, because it’s supposed to be about them,” Murphy said. “The way they did it I think was very appropriate, it’s up to the individual school to what they want to do.”
That freedom in the schools comes in the scholarship management. Underclassmen will continue to receive the same scholarship aid they received in the previous season, but schools have the freedom to give less aid to seniors that are coming back for a second senior season. Schools can also get help from the NCAA’s Student Assistance Fund to pay for those scholarships if they need to.
UA baseball coach Brad Bohannon has a different limit to worry about: roster size. UA signed 10 players in its 2020 class and has nine seniors on this year’s team that now have the choice to return. The NCAA said their action expanded the baseball roster size limit, previously 35, but did not specify the new limit.
“I read the release and that’s all the information I have,” Bohannon said. “There was that little nugget at the end that said they’re expanding the rosters, but I don’t know what that means.
“I’ve never been a guy that liked a big roster; I can’t imagine having more than 40 kids in fall camp. That’s not the way I like to run our program.”
Kendall Rogers of D1baseball reported later Monday evening that there is no set roster restriction, but simply that seniors will not count against the existing restrictions.
Neither Murphy nor Bohannon is concerned for the equal nature of the playing field in 2024, when the freshman of 2020 would normally be gone but instead could play that season in full. Murphy believes it will even out, while Bohannon points to the MLB Draft as a way of leveling out the sport of its most influential talent before that 2024 season comes.
“Kids are still eligible based on their age,” Bohannon said. “This just means two years from now, a lot of these kids who are freshmen this year are going to be draft-eligible sophomores.”
The sport of track and field is affected in a unique way, in that it is both a winter sport and spring sport. Indoor track and field is a winter sport and outdoor track and field is a spring sport; the Division I council gave the extra year of eligibility to spring athletes, but not winter athletes.
For that reason, as it stands right now, the track and field seniors that return for a second senior year will only be able to compete in outdoor events.
“They can go for the indoor world championships and different things like that, but they won’t be able to go for it at the NCAAs,” UA track and field coach Dan Waters said. “They’ll have to use that portion to hone up for the outdoor season. Those six, seven meets indoors, they won’t get to run.”
Granted, it is also no guarantee that all seniors return. Murphy already knows his well, but Bohannon, Waters and other coaches of spring sports that are equivalency sports — sports that award partial scholarships — will have to work with seniors to determine how many of them can afford to return for 2021.
“I’m not in a hurry. I’m was expecting to have end-of-the-year conversations in June this year,” Bohannon said. “I’d still like to get some more clarity on the specifics of today’s decision and specifics on the MLB Draft before I get specific with our kids.”