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NCAA finalizes sweeping changes for baseball programs: scholarship changes, squad sizes and academic expectations

Baseball season start dates and student eligibility rules for NCAA Division I colleges and universities will undergo a major transformation next spring and the following year.By Jim Robins


Baseball season start dates and student eligibility rules for NCAA Division I colleges and universities will undergo a major transformation next spring and the following year.

Next year, the move to uniform start dates for baseball practice and games will concentrate the season in a tighter span with a much later start for many schools, narrowing the traditional advantage given to programs located in warmer climates.

Lackluster NCAA Academic Performance Rates (APR) for numerous baseball programs are triggering vast regulatory changes, all taking effect Aug. 1, 2008. Sweeping NCAA legislative changes passed this year will tighten standards, discourage transfers, limit the number of players who receive scholarships, and reduce the maximum squad size. In addition, the second of a two-step upgrade in Division I eligibility requirements for all sports, passed several years ago, also will take effect for the 2008-09 academic year.

The uniform spring practice and season opening-game dates take effect in 2008. Practices cannot start before Feb. 1, and no opening games can be scheduled earlier than 13th Friday prior to Memorial Day (next season – Feb. 22, 2008). With college seasons remaining at the 56-game limit, the uniform season rule changes will result in a higher concentration of games — especially in southern climates where season openers in recent years typically have been scheduled in late January or early February. 

Three major baseball rule changes passed this year by the NCAA Division I Board of Directors, taking effect Aug. 1, 2008, are aimed at enhancing academic performance:

  • Student-athletes must achieve eligibility certification entering fall term in order to compete in the spring;
  • Players who transfer from one Division I school to another must sit out a full year (similar to football, basketball and hockey); and
  • Team roster size is limited to 35, with a maximum of 30 players sharing up to 11.7 total full scholarships in 2008-09, and a reduced max of 27 players in 2009-10 and beyond; and total financial aid packages (athletic and all other aid) to players must add up to no less than 25 percent of a full scholarship. (On Aug. 9, the Board substantially trimmed the minimum scholarship portion of the originally proposed financial aid rule change.)

While the NCAA’s rule changes are not only intended to raise academic performance, the organization also is aiming to curb player’s aspirations to professional baseball. Lamenting the lack of summer-school participation by Division I ballplayers (17 percent, compared to 45 percent in football, and 49 percent in basketball), the NCAA’s Baseball Academic Working Group has not shied away from taking direct aim at the summer collegiate league participation.

Driving home this point, the concluding comment contained in the working group’s final report released earlier this year, stated:

"Operating as a subtext to most, if not all, of the aforementioned issues and findings are the professional aspirations of baseball student-athletes. For example, in a given year, over 600 Division I baseball student-athletes are drafted or signed as free agents by Major League Baseball (MLB) clubs. This culture, possibly unique to baseball because of the MLB amateur draft, appears to impact the college-choice decisions of high school students, the academic performance of enrolled student-athletes, and the transfer decisions of student-athletes."

Beyond the specific changes directed at baseball, all-sports Division I athletes will encounter higher initial eligibility standards, effective Aug. 1, 2008:

  • A minimum of 16 full-year equivalent core courses (up from 14);
  • A minimum of three years of mathematics (up from two years); and
  • A minimum of four years additional courses from the other required array of core curriculum (up from three years).

These elevated Division I academic standards for athletes establish higher initial requirements compared to minimum high-school coursework required for initial eligibility at Division II schools.