It’s been a whirlwind for everyone involved with spring college athletics.
Seasons went from full swing to canceled in a matter of hours last month, and many are still picking up the pieces.
Aside from losing the games, the pandemic has also dramatically changed recruiting for spring sports, and those changes are likely to be felt long after the games return.
“It’s a puzzle each day,” Minnesota State softball coach Lori Meyer said. “Everything is fluid.”
It starts with figuring out who’s returning from your roster, which has gotten much more difficult.
MSU baseball coach Matt Magers has a combination of nine seniors and redshirt seniors that could have moved on following the 2020 season. However, the NCAA has granted spring athletes an extra season of eligibility, giving each of these nine, along with everyone else, an extra year if they want it.
With five incoming freshman already committed, Magers was hoping to add at least four more players later this spring. That may have changed now, as a few of the seniors have indicated they might be interested in coming back.
Meyer’s 2020 roster only had a combination of three seniors and redshirt seniors, and she already has signed seven incoming freshman. This is an advantage, as Meyer was comfortable with her incoming recruiting class as currently constructed prior to the outbreak.
But imagine if Meyer had more seniors in this class, or if none of Magers’ seniors were interested in returning? Also, consider programs that may have been relying on bringing in transfers this spring, or signing high school players late.
They’ll no longer get a chance to watch those players in games because of COVID-19.
While those are the potential short-term issues, long-term problems loom with future recruiting classes. For instance, Meyer has an extremely talented junior class, many of whom have indicated they want to come back for a fifth year in 2022. Those decisions will have major ramifications either way.
“We’re okay now in the 2021 class if all our juniors come back for that fifth year. We maybe only need two more 2021s, and then we move on to 2022.” Meyer said.
It’s easy to see how these types of situations could come up over the next four years, with the impact being felt most by the incoming high school classes, and those looking to transfer. However, it could also go the other the way. It’s likely there will be instances where upperclassmen want to return, but are told they aren’t wanted in favor of a younger player.
“Every school is dealing with it. It’s not just an MSU thing or a Minnesota thing. It’s a national thing,” Magers said of various roster issues.
Beyond roster issues, there’s also budget issues. The scholarship pool differs year-to-year for each program at MSU, and it’s easy to see a scenario where spring programs end up needing some extra financial assistance to accommodate agreements with all the players on their rosters, especially teams that have a lot of seniors who want to return.
“That’s part of the uncertainty ... is the NCAA going to grant us some additional financial assistance, or at MSU, are they going to give us additional money?” Magers said. “At this time, we haven’t heard that they are.”
The incoming freshman in the softball program are Carly Briggs of Warrenville, Illinois; Emma Dennsion of Bettendorf, Iowa; Kacy Nickerson of Ottumwa, Iowa; Carlie Sammon of Davenport, Iowa; Brianne Stone of Valencia, California; Kylie Sullivan of Momence, Illinois; and Ellie Tallman of Martelle, Iowa.
The baseball program’s five incoming freshman include Ryan Bachman of Rapid City, South Dakota; Aidan Byrne of Eagan; Nathan Culley of Anoka; Mitch Gutknecht of Stillwater; and Derek Lilledahl of Dodge Center.
Follow Kevin Dudley on Twitter @Dudley7Kevin.