Paul-Mainieri2017-03-07T09-49-01

LSU head baseball coach Paul Mainieri. (Associated Press)

Paul Mainieri better be careful.

Better remember he's a college baseball coach.

The NCAA never has seemed to care for baseball too much, no matter the leaps in popularity the college game makes, even with greater and greater potential to make money at the top end.

The NCAA did the right thing in granting college baseball players (along with all spring sports) an extra year of eligibility, with any seniors who come back not counting against the roster limit or whatever fraction of the team's scholarship limit he was on.

Sounds good.

Mainieri wants a little more.

Careful there, coach.

The ruling body might tell you that you'll eat the crumbs they throw you and enjoy it.

But Mainieri is absolutely right.

Logic is on his side.

And maybe, just maybe, the NCAA will acknowledge that baseball is different.

It just is. That's the gist. It's unique.

It's the only college sport that recruits against the pros for high school talent. It's the only college sport where its players can be drafted after their juniors seasons without requesting it.

Beach volleyball, for instance, doesn't deal with that. Neither does softball, for that matter.

Baseball is different.

Hopefully the NCAA will take another look at the reality and admit that.

As a quick refresher course, baseball gets 11.7 scholarships to fill up 27 roster spots, with up to eight walk-ons allowing for a full 35-man roster.

Those numbers will be adjusted for next season as any returning seniors won't count against any of those numbers.

Sounds good. On paper.

But take LSU, for example, as Mainieri did Thursday.

The Tigers have exactly two (2) seniors on this year's team that just had its season wiped out.

Mainieri said only one, relief pitcher Matt Beck, is on scholarship, a half scholarship at that, which is typical. The other is a walk-on, pitcher Aaron George.

So, in reality, if both come back (as Mainieri expects) LSU gets an extra half-scholarship to the 11.7, one extra player to the 27 on some scholarship and an extra walk-on to make the full roster 37.

But here's the rub.

"A mid-major team in the north or whatever, they might have many seniors on their team because they don't necessarily have a lot of pro prospects in their program," Mainieri said. "Whereas the schools in the SEC (and others), LSU being one of those schools, we don't often have many seniors because your better players are signing after their junior year."

Like most of the upper echelon of college baseball, LSU has a boat load of juniors, a total of 10, plus one very prominent draft-eligible sophomore (due to his age) in pitcher Cole Henry.

The upper-tier programs, not just the SEC, build their rosters with that in mind.

"Really, if the NCAA wants to do college baseball right, they need to look at our junior classes as if that's our senior class," Mainieri said.

Mainieri said he went into this season figuring he'd lose seven or eight of those 10 juniors, plus Henry, to the major league draft. He's also got an incoming recruiting class that typically he loses three to five who opt to go pro right out of high school.

Now it gets complicated. Mainieri said last Friday's decision by Major League Baseball to go ahead with some form of a draft at some undetermined date meant more to college baseball than the NCAA letting seniors come back next year.

As of today, the pros are committed to at least five rounds. They might go up to 10 rounds in what is usually a marathon of 40 or more. Undrafted players can still go as free agents, but that signing bonus is a paltry $20,000 across the board.

"The difference between five rounds and 10 rounds is very significant," Mainieri said.

With five rounds he said he figures to lose at most two juniors, Daniel Cabrera and Henry, and maybe one or two recruits.

The good news is that's a lot of good college players coming back who'd ordinarily be gone, plus some freshmen who'd otherwise would never have seen campus. The bad news is he's got to find roster space for them way beyond what the NCAA would allow with only current seniors being exempt from roster space.

Do the math: Mainieri could have as many as a dozen players coming back who he didn't figure on — with only two roster spots and a half scholarship opening up.

Again, those numbers are just LSU's situation. But they're probably typical of schools that take baseball seriously.

"I'm not the only coach that's dealing with this," Mainieri said. "There's going to be a lot that are dealing with this."

The oddity is that the ruling would theoretically be more help to those mid-majors (with more seniors) than the traditional baseball powers. But many of those schools, Mainieri said, don't even fund all of the 11.7 scholarships that are available now.

"It doesn't mean a school has to give them the money (for the extra year)," Mainieri said. "A lot of schools won't be able to afford to pay for seniors again. We will."

If the Tigers have the roster space.

"I'm still holding out hope," Mainieri said, "that maybe the NCAA will look at baseball specifically and give us a little bit more relief when it comes to scholarships numbers and roster sizes besides the seniors."

l

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU

athletics. Email him at

shobbs@americanpress.com

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