With the COVID-19 outbreak, college baseball has experienced several changes that have never been seen before. Texas Tech baseball head coach Tim Tadlock expressed his opinions and concerns regarding the effects via a remote press conference Friday afternoon.
After posting a 16-3 overall record, being ranked a top-five team in the nation for the entire start of the season, Tadlock did not get discouraged about what this year’s team could have been.
“You gotta go earn the right to win each day,” Tadlock said. “It’s easy to sit here and say we could have done that. We without a doubt had a good team on paper, had a good team for the 20 games we played. We had growing to do between now and the end of the season. It wasn’t harder because I think our team understood the landscape of what was going on.”
As Tadlock and the Red Raiders were preparing to host their first Big 12 series of the season against West Virginia, the team prepared for the worst in the week leading to the game. After the cancellation of the NBA season, Tadlock said the team realized that something serious was going on. Then when Tech’s men’s basketball team was pulled off of the court 20 minutes before the start of the Big 12 Championships, he knew what was coming.
Despite the unprecedented end to the Red Raiders’ season, the NCAA agreed to grant the spring sport student-athletes affected by the repercussions of COVID-19 an additional season of college eligibility. While student-athletes were restricted to four seasons of competition in a five-year time frame, the NCAA Division I Council voted to do what was right and extending both the seasons of eligibility and the five-year clock by one year.
“I thought it was the right decision,” Tadlock said. “I was really excited for the guys. You could tell immediately just from hearing from guys how excited they were. The only way to get experience is to play games in any sport and most of the time within those games you need to fail to learn. The ones that learn from those failures are the ones that have experience. Baseball is a game that’s built around that.”
Along with granting the effected players an extra season of competition, the NCAA increased the roster limit for the baseball team’s as the previous cap was set to 35 players. Baseball was the only spring sport to experience this change.
With the rosters expanding, Tadlock said he could see this being a problem for him and his team. In previous years, he said he has never started a season with 35 student-athletes on a roster, ranging from 36-42 players some seasons. After watching the guys play, Tadlock has made adjustments to find the perfect fit of around 25 players to compete with. Although this new change could bring complications, Tadlock said it could also bring out the good in the players.
Aside from the NCAA changes with the sport, Tadlock recognized the problems that might emerge due to baseball not being played.
“Right now, there’s a lot of time not being played and anytime you’re dealing with a sport that’s as hard as baseball and guys are going a long amount of time without competition, without live reps, you’re gonna lose some skill,” Tadlock said. “Baseball’s a skill sport you have to do each day.”
As one may argue that since the players are older they would be better, Tadlock said without the normal experience and reps of playing live baseball, it will depend on what the individuals are doing while they are at home.
Another thing that will affect college baseball is the changes to the 2020 MLB Draft. As the draft normally consists of 40 rounds, due to COVID-19, this year’s draft is intended to have five to 10 rounds.
“You would think that with the draft only being five to 10 rounds, there’s going to be more good players in college,” Tadlock said. “At the same time, usually they find a way to get them. They can still sign free agents and it seems like under the current, what they put out last week, with them only being able to give $20,000 to a free agent and with them only getting 10 percent of their bonus their first year… we got an opportunity to win some more of those battles. At the same time, we’ve been winning some.”
With fewer student-athletes being taken in the draft, Tadlock said he thinks fans will see the players develop more at the collegiate level. Along with their development, he added that this time will help him emphasize the importance of getting an education to his players and their families.
Despite the shorter draft, Tadlock said he liked the decision the MLB made.
“I like the idea of that if they draft them, they sign them,” Tadlock said. “To me, it’s always been a false sense for kids what they really are about putting a major league organization’s name next to a kid and giving them a false sense of what reality is. To me, in this world, you earn what you get. You gotta go earn the right to be a big leaguer if you’re gonna do that. Just because you got drafted doesn’t mean you’re a big leaguer.”
While this may be good news for college baseball teams, seniors such as John McMillon, Brian Klein and Connor Queen may have to wait another year to get a chance to play at the professional level. Tadlock said he has talked to the trio of seniors about the future.
Although the three seniors were looking to play their last season at Tech, Tadlock said college baseball is more about its juniors as that is when most athletes become eligible for the draft. Despite wanting to keep talent on his roster, Tadlock and his staff encourage the athletes to do what is best for their careers.
“We’ve encouraged guys to take that opportunity if it is a fair opportunity,” Tadlock said. “Interesting now, I don’t know if it’s always going to be fair.”
One of the final effects Tadlock spoke about was the impact the pandemic will have on recruiting and high school baseball players.
Thinking ahead, Tadlock said the draft should go back to normal in 2022, teams will lose more players. Along with the draft affecting recruiting, he said the extra year of eligibility being granted will also take away from high school baseball players, including the current freshmen. With several players on Tech’s roster being freshmen or redshirt freshmen, Tadlock said the experience those student-athletes will have will be unmatched.
“It’s gonna affect recruiting because it’s going to be hard to ignore the experience, the maturity that those guys will have,” Tadlock said.
At the same time, it could cut current student-athletes’ playing time as well as Tadlock said impact players will still arrive in Lubbock. With Tech having a history with impact players such as Josh Jung, Gabe Holt, Grant Little and Dylan Neuse, Tadlock said there will be some players that will play from day one despite the circumstances.
“We will always be on the aggressive side of recruiting,” Tadlock said. “We’re always gonna try to be in front of it and try to commit guys on if we can develop them and take care of them and all those things. It’s something we talk about daily, how it affects it.”
With several complications following the repercussions of the COVID-19 outbreak, Tadlock said these unprecedented times should have taught everyone a valuable life lesson.
“Things can be taken away from you, and we need to be grateful for what we have,” Tadlock said.