The National Collegiate Athletic Association has decided to grant a universal extra year of eligibility to all spring sports athletics, Nicole Auerback of The Athletic reports on Twitter. Designed to deal with the cancellation of baseball and other spring seasons, the decision has major implications for the MLB amateur draft this year and beyond.
You may recall that the recent MLB-MLBPA agreement to deal with the coronavirus included provisions involving the draft. Commissioner Rob Manfred now has authority to limit the 2020 draft to as few as five rounds, with $20K bonus caps on undrafted players. That’s far less in cash and opportunity than is typically handed out in a given year for amateur intake.
The NCAA decision provides an important counterweight to the huge loss of player leverage that comes with MLB’s crisis-driven modification of the typical draft. Having the ability to return to school and reenter the ensuing year’s draft may not be the preferred option for all players, but at least there’s now a realistic choice. Were it not for the grant of additional eligibility, college juniors would’ve faced an unenviable, binary choice: take what a MLB team offers now or enter the 2021 draft as a senior without any leverage to speak of. The best senior players now have newfound leverage they never would’ve had otherwise.
This decision was anticipated in advance of the MLB-MLBPA agreement; no doubt those negotiations took it into account. At the time the spring sports eligibility expansion was first floated, though, it wasn’t clear whether it would apply automatically to all players.
With far less money being spent in the 2020 draft, and the cash that is promised deferred, we’re likely to see quite a different outcome than would’ve taken place otherwise. Many collegians that would’ve ended up in the professional ranks will now stick with their universities — potentially taking spots on the depth charts from incoming freshmen. Perhaps some graduating high schoolers will be more apt to turn pro, though they’ll also be presented with the same limited earning opportunities.