ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — On the other end of a March 31 phone call, the university's head baseball coach Larry Sudbrook’s voice was filled with enthusiasm.
A day earlier, the NCAA voted to grant an extra year of eligibility to student-athletes in spring sports whose seasons were cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic.
However, the NCAA left the decision up to the institutions on whether or not they would grant that extra year of eligibility.
St. Bonaventure, according to SBU Director Athletic Communications Scott Eddy, has decided to grant spring student-athletes an extra season.
“Our seniors can return so long as they make it work academically and financially,” Eddy wrote in an email. “Their amount of athletic scholarship aid would remain the same as it would have for this year in the event they decided to return.”
Around 30 athletes who would have been competing this year have already decided to graduate and move on, according to Eddy. About eight to 10 athletes are expected to return.
Sudbrook said all of his six seniors would like to come back for an extra year, but realistically, four of them will.
“We have two guys who have faint chances of coming back,” Sudbrook said. “But it’s always hard to not get that last chance to play. There was never any doubt that all six of our seniors want to come back.”
While Sudbrook applauded the NCAA’s decision, the details of it pose some serious complications. Student-athletes who choose to take the extra year will still need to be full-time students.
“We have one young man, that in four years, he graduated with his bachelor’s degree and his master's,” Sudbrook said. “There is really nothing he can take here full time. He’s a young man that may end up losing that last year, even though he wants to come back.”
Sudbrook continued, “The other guys, the majority of them will be able to go on and take graduate classes and take another year.”
Another concern for the veteran manager who has spent 33 seasons at St. Bonaventure is scholarships. As part of the decision, the NCAA is allowing colleges and universities to decide whether to grant seniors in spring sports less or equal financial aid if they opt to take the extra year of eligibility.
“You can't give them any more scholarship aid than they were previously.” Sudbrook said. “You can give them less, or you can give them zero, but you can’t give them more. For some kids who maybe weren’t planning on getting a master’s degree, they may not be able to because of the financial part. Unlike in basketball or football, our guys, even the guys getting the most scholarship aid, nobody is on a full ride.”
On April 1, Mike Threehouse, head coach of the St. Bonaventure softball team, expressed similar sentiments.
“I am kind of disappointed that the NCAA passed the buck off to the schools,” Threehouse said. “St. Bonaventure is one of those smaller schools, so when you look at the numbers, you worry about being able to afford it. I am hoping that the vast majority of schools throughout the country decide to do the right thing. None of this is going to be perfect. We’re going through a really, really tough time.”
Unlike Sudbrook, however, Threehouse does not expect any of his five seniors to return for an extra year of eligibility. He does suspect, however, that some of his younger players will take the extra year.
Threehouse added he has the lowest scholarship budget in the Atlantic 10 Conference and budgets scholarship money three to four years in advance.
“Now, if five sophomores want to stay that extra year, that money has already basically been budgeted for recruits," he said.
He pointed out other colleges and universities could have issues akin to SBU's.
"The schools are going to have to determine three to four years out that they’re going to have to add some money to the scholarship fund. The numbers won't just impact one year,” he said.
Sudbrook explained baseball has a similar situation.
“We’re the only spring sport with a roster limit. Our limit is 35 players,” Sudbrook said. “When you’re recruiting for the next year — obviously we had no idea this virus thing was going to happen — you’ve already spent the seniors’ scholarship money.”
Sudbrook said, “You've brought in a group of freshmen, a group of junior college players, so we were already at the 35-man limit before this was announced. In some regards, we’d be over it a little bit, because we give some kids a half season to prove that they belong on the roster. Virtually every Division I program will be over the 35-man limit next season.”
Sudbrook also expects a good number of his younger players to take an extra year of eligibility and added that in some cases, it would have happened regardless of the NCAA’s decision.
“Our freshmen — 75 percent of them probably hadn’t pitched any inning or gotten an at-bat yet,” Sudbrook said. “They were basically going to end up being red-shirt players by choice because we felt that they were going to end up being good baseball players, but there was a guy ahead of them right now.”
Sudbrook said, “There’s no use of trying to be a nice guy and give a kid 13 at-bats in a college season, and then he turns into a stud for you when he’s a senior, and you’d love to have him back when he goes to graduate school. You look back to that freshman year as a wasted year, because you lose that year of eligibility.”
Sudbrook and Threehouse have coached at St. Bonaventure for a combined 53 seasons. Both coaches said they see differences in how male and female athletes choose where to continue their careers as student-athletes. Both also agreed that the extra season of eligibility carries more weight for a male athlete's professional aspirations.
“Some female athletes, not all of them, choose their institutions with a different priority,” Sudbrook said. “My guys choose to come to St. Bonaventure because they're pursuing a dream to get drafted. Baseball is extremely important to them. The baseball part is important.”
Threehouse, who once had big-league aspirations and played — and also coached for a handful of years — for St. Bonaventure under Sudbrook, agreed with the head baseball coach’s perspective.
“I've been recruited for baseball,” Threehouse said. “I think if I am just speaking for myself, I had a dream of playing Major League Baseball. The goal was to go to college, play really good baseball, get drafted and have the chance to play Major League Baseball. Women don’t have that, per se. There’s a professional softball league, but that is very limited to a number of teams and very limited to where those players get pulled from.”
Threehouse concluded, “From my end a coach, being a women's coach for the last 23 to 24 years, they’re coming here to go to class first. Their next step is a job, a career. That’s not going to be the case in baseball. For 99 percent of us baseball players, we all have that dream until the last day. Until someone says, ‘hey, you’re all done.’ ”
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