After learning that his seniors will get another shot on the baseball diamond for West Virginia, Randy Mazey said the sport “just got better” — but the recent ruling by the NCAA will not come without its shortcomings.
Mazey’s Mountaineers were off to another hot start for 2020, with an 11-5 record going into the first weekend of Big 12 play. Senior Braden Zarbnisky was a major piece in their puzzle, with a .431 batting average and 13 steals — the second-highest mark in the nation. Now he and seniors like him around the country get the chance to pick up right where he left off in another senior season without taking up a roster spot.
“College baseball just got a lot better because the seniors get to stay and come back for another year, you get to add better players to…your freshman class,” Mazey said on this week’s episode of the WVU Coaches Show. “College baseball’s talent level is going to be at an all-time high, and the Mountaineers are going to be super excited to get out here and take the field again.”
Specifically, the NCAA’s ruling states that universities will have the discretion to grant scholarship exceptions to its student-athletes, but that decision has raised additional questions among institutions.
“It seems on the surface that it was an easy answer, but the ramifications — where does this impact?” said WVU Athletic Director Shane Lyons. “You have the returning seniors coming back, you have the incoming student-athletes, then ultimately your prospective student-athletes, so your roster size — who does that impact?”
Lyons says that WVU will meet with each of its senior student-athletes in spring sports to get a feeling for where they stand at this point, but with nearly a full calendar year between now and next season, it’s difficult to tell how attitudes will change. Still, it’s important to them that they begin those conversations as soon as possible.
Baseball is a bit of a unique sport in this issue. While senior athletes will be able to return without taking either a scholarship or a roster spot, all other players will have to adhere to the normal 35-man roster rules. On top of that, the MLB announced that this year’s draft would be shortened from its typical 40 rounds to just five this year — which means hundreds of ballplayers will be playing college ball rather than in the minors.
This creates issues for coaches like Mazey, a proponent of reform in the sport who says this conversation is long overdue.
“With the seniors coming back now, with the incoming freshmen coming in, we’re jamming five classes of kids into four years so it’s gonna create some challenges down the road that people don’t really know about,” he explained. “You know, not having roster limits for this year is good, but what’s gonna happen next year?”
Issues won’t necessarily arise this season, but as time goes on, some teams will have to deal with a bottleneck on their rosters when two consecutive classes of student-athletes will compete as eventual sophomores. With 17 freshmen on this year’s squad, West Virginia may be one of them.
“When all of those incoming freshmen are now sophomores and the returning freshmen are now sophomores, there [are] going to be some teams out there that have 30 sophomores in one class,” Mazey explained. “If we have a roster limit of 35 people, that’s going to create some real, real challenges.”
Ultimately, though, Mazey says that this is good news for his seniors, but there is still a lot more of this issue that needs to be discussed. Until then, he’s excited to get back in front of the fans at Monongalia County Ballpark.
“I can’t wait for these empty seats to be filled with people again and be cheering for the Mountaineers and singing Country Roads again,” he said. “I think about it every day and that’s the reason I’m out here [at the ballpark] hitting ground balls today.”
You can catch the full chat with Coach Mazey on this week’s episode of the WVU Coaches Show, which airs on AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh and Nexstar stations across West Virginia. Check your local listings for air times.