Oversigning, or rather lack of it, puts Big Ten at competitive disadvantage.
By Patrick Maks
Bob Todd says it’s not the snow that’s holding Big Ten baseball back.
Nor is it the cold weather or the dreary, dark winter months.
It’s not any of the excuses, he says, that have been thrown out to compensate for its lack of competitiveness on the national stage.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Instead, the former Buckeyes baseball coach of 23 years says the conference’s worst enemy is itself.
“The single biggest detriment that hinders Big Ten baseball is the fact that the Big Ten does not allow baseball to over-sign players to scholarships,” Todd says.
It’s what seems to be part of a two-fold problem for Todd’s former stomping grounds and current coach Greg Beals’ program.
The former of the two setbacks details the innate struggle of recruiting top-shelf talent to come to Ohio State despite the lucrative offers associated with playing the sport professionally.
The latter is the conference’s notoriously strict stance on over-signing players.
It’s a practice, Todd says, that is outdated.
“I’ve gone to so many national conventions where coaches from all the leagues laugh at me and they go ‘When is the Big Ten going to grow up? When are they going to start to figure out what’s going on,’” he says.
More so, Todd thinks the conference’s ability to effectively contend with the rest of nation is humiliating.
“The Big Ten swears it’s an academic issue, and it’s an ethics issue, and that’s fine,” he says. “But then I personally don’t think that any baseball coach—who already has one hand tied behind his back or has this huge anchor around his neck—should be held accountable for not being as competitive nationally as many of the other teams are.”
From power baseball conferences like the SEC all the way to the Mid-American Conference, Todd says that every league in the country allows their baseball coaches wiggle room.
“Every other league in the country gives their baseball coach that flexibility to over-sign,” Todd says. “It’s because of the way we tie an anchor around the coaches’ necks in the recruiting process and not allowing them to over-sign. You’ve got to have that ability if you want to compete.”
Beals says the conference’s unwavering policy on over-signing makes OSU’s ongoing clash against Major League Baseball for the best high school players in the country that much harder.
“The tricky part for Ohio State in that mix is with the scholarship limitations that we have in the Big Ten meaning that we’re not allowed to over-scholarship and the big baseball conferences are allowed,” Beals says.
Like Todd, the second-year coach is well aware that the Big Ten is the only remaining conference outlawing the practice.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“Every other conference in college baseball—they’re allowed to over-scholarship meaning you’re allowed to have more than your allotment knowing that you’re going to lose a couple of kids to the draft,” he says.
Over-signing, as Todd calls it, is a essentially a contingency plan to effectively deal with the inevitable reality that some incoming and current players will sign professional contracts.
Without it, the inability to over-sign baseball talent puts Beals and all the Big Ten coaches in a bind that leaves them down any number of scholarships depending on the draft, .
Within the conferences that condone the approach, however, a team’s method to overcoming that type of situation can be seen as both simple and effective.
It begins with the basic, but critical, NCAA rule that says schools must be at the 11.7 scholarship limitation by the first day of school—meaning that baseball teams have 11.7 scholarships to go around for the some-35 players on any given team.
After 27 years of coaching, though, Todd says “many, many, many” schools outside the Big Ten get around that regulation.
Teams know that out of their players with draft potential—including both the juniors already on the team and incoming high school seniors—some will sign professionally.
In turn, by the first day of school, that NCAA scholarship limitation of 11.7 is almost always met, despite that Todd says those same programs may be two-times over the 11.7 regulation throughout different parts of the year.
“If you took a look of the amount of scholarship money that’s being offered out there on the table, some of them might be at 25 or 28 scholarships,” he says.
For teams outside of the Big Ten, over-signing seems like a fallback.
“You have to have contingency plans,” Todd says.
But for coaches in the Big Ten like Beals, the lack of that luxury annually plagues efforts to compete with on a national stage.
It handicaps the conference, Todd says, into a preexisting disadvantage compared to everyone else.
“What (teams in other conferences) are able to do is stockpile better athletes?,” he asks.
While Todd says the Big Ten has recently begun to allow schools to “horse bend” one scholarship here and there, the policy continues to be a challenge for Beals and coaches in the conference.
“I really like what the Big Ten stands for,” he says regarding the conference’s ethical vantage point on over-signing. “I like that, I believe in it. I just wish it was an even playing field all the way around the horn in college baseball.”
Part One - Opportunity to Play for Pay Keeps Top Talent Out of College Baseball