The National Collegiate Athletic Association announced today that it intends to provide “eligibility relief” to Division I athletes whose spring seasons have been cancelled due to the spread of the coronavirus. Baseball teams are obviously included among the universal cancellations.
Details are yet to be finalized, with the expectation being that new one-off rules will be drafted in the “coming days and weeks.” It’s hard to know exactly how the system will work — both for those players who expected to exhaust their eligibility and those who’d stand to lose one year of it without playing. There’s also a potential impact to near-future collegians who had committed to schools based upon anticipated departures of certain fellow athletes.
There are obviously quite a few moving parts. For most of the players involved, it’s about pursuing their personal dreams of collegiate competition. But for others, there could be a real impact on their hopes for a professional future.
At present, the MLB Rule 4 amateur draft is scheduled for June 10-12 — just before the scheduled start of a College World Series that will no longer take place. That left quite a lot of time for draft-eligible players to showcase their talents for MLB teams. But with games cancelled and scouts currently held back from air travel, that’s all on pause.
Just how the NCAA cancellation will impact the draft is impossible to say now, and won’t ever be fully untied. It’ll do so in a multitude of subtle ways. Supposing the draft occurs at some point this summer, some diamonds in the rough will not have had a chance to show through. Seniors that now have a shot at returning to college ball could gain newfound draft leverage. If juniors are granted extra eligibility — and it isn’t even clear if that’s on the table — then they could conceivably have an extra bite at the draft apple.
MLB’s own draft eligibility rules may require some modification to accommodate the changes. No doubt there’ll be some amount of interaction between the league and the NCAA on the matter. In all likelihood, college eligibility relief will not factor as heavily at the very top of the draft. But it poses many potentially tricky issues. Sorting things out poses yet another challenge to the league.