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One prominent agent said it best when he stated the new Major League Baseball Collective Bargaining Agreement was a huge plus for college baseball.
For years, college baseball coaches have endured a world of hurt near the MLB draft-signing deadline, which until now, was always in mid-August leading up to the start of the fall semester. In short, almost every college coach, at some point, had been sent scrambling for another player with little time to do so because another recruit signed at the zero hour on the signing deadline with no notice.
The stress of the situation was undeniable. In an instant, college-recruiting coordinators could go from thinking they had a stacked recruiting class that would make an immediate impact, to wondering how they were to replace such gaping holes.
The days of waiting by the phone on the August signing deadline are over. College coaches can breathe a sigh of relief, as the new Collective Bargaining Agreement will change the MLB draft-signing deadline from mid-August to some date between July 12-18, depending on the date of the MLB All-Star Game.
“The release of the new CBA, no doubt, was a big day for college baseball,” an agent said. “I absolutely think college coaches benefit a great deal. The new CBA ends the confusion of trying to figure out if a player is showing up to campus in August. In turn, MLB teams will be forced to pick their spots in the draft a little better. I think the new CBA definitely will lead to more kids deciding to go to college.”
There are other pieces to the CBA college coaches love, such as the new draft tax, which we’ll get to later. But the new signing deadline is music to the ears of several coaches, especially Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan and LSU’s Paul Mainieri, both head coaches of programs that recruit a huge crop of highly-drafted prospects each year.
Mainieri is extremely pleased with the new signing deadline. Two summers ago, he and the Tigers were left at the alter at the signing deadline by talented prospects such as Zach Lee and Garin Cecchini. Meanwhile, right-hander Kevin Gausman opted to attend LSU despite some intense moments leading up to the deadline.
“Any signing deadline that was pushed earlier than where it was would be looked upon favorably by all college coaches. I wish they would’ve gone all the way up to July 1, but it’s better than August 15,” Mainieri said. “The old rules just put college coaches in such a difficult position leading up to the deadline. This gives coaches a much better idea of what they’re working with when the fall semester begins.”
O’Sullivan has been on both ends of the emotional roller coaster surrounding the deadline. He was ecstatic two summers ago when Padres first-round pick, right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson, decided to attend college at the midnight deadline. But he didn’t have as much luck this past August when several recruits signed near the deadline.
“The new deadline takes out a month of trying to figure out how to fill your roster with talented players, while also helping the professional folks by getting kids into their farm systems quicker,” O’Sullivan said. “I think this is a great thing for everyone involved.”
The most important change
While the new signing deadline was the most pleasing aspect of the CBA to college coaches, the aggregate Signing Bonus Pool and draft tax likely will have the most positive ramifications on college baseball in the long run.
Both additions to the CBA are favorable toward college baseball.
Though there’s no hard slot – which was rumored at one point – in the CBA, MLB has its way of controlling signing bonuses via the aggregate Signing Bonus Pool. Under the rule, every pick in the first 10 rounds of the MLB draft will be assigned a value (which will increase as industry revenues increase). The MLB organization’s Signing Bonus Pool equals the sum of the values of its selections in the first 10 rounds of the draft.
Interestingly, and perhaps most positive for college baseball, the rule also says players selected after the 10th round do not count against a team’s Signing Bonus Pool if they receive bonuses of $100K or less. Should they receive bonuses of more than $100K, that monetary amount would count against the Signing Bonus Pool.
“I’m very interested to see what the financial threshold of each team will be once the draft arrives. I want to know how much teams will be able to spend,” O’Sullivan said. “To me, that’s the most important piece to all of this stuff.”
MLB hasn’t released what the financial thresholds will be for the 2012 MLB draft, but industry sources foresee a situation where most draft picks after the 10th round, for financial reasons, choose to attend college over signing professional contracts.
“It kind of depends on the numbers, but I think this type of situation is bad for high school prospects and kind of bad for college prospects. No team is going to give up first or second round picks to go way over slot with picks that late,” an agent said. “I think ultra high bonuses in the latter rounds, for the most part, are done with. Some teams will be creative, but this will certainly push a lot more talented players to college.”
Penalties for going over the Signing Bonus Pool are harsh. For instance, teams that go 0-5 percent over the pool amount must pay a 75 percent tax on the overage. Teams that go 5-10 percent over must pay a 75 percent tax plus the loss of a first-round pick. Teams that go 10-15 percent over must pay 100 percent tax on overage and lose a first and second round pick, while teams that go 15 percent or more over must pay 100 percent tax on the overage plus they lose a first round pick in two-straight drafts.
“Under this new rule, you wonder why a team would risk a lot by throwing $500K or so at a 15th rounder at the zero hour,” the agent said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen much anymore.”
Several players in latter rounds signed for big money in 2011. Texas signee and 13th rounder Matt Dean inked for $737,500, North Carolina signee and 14th rounder Dillon Maples signed for an amazing $2.5 million, East Carolina signee and 14th rounder Rookie Davis signed for $550K, Georgia Tech signee and 15th rounder Tyler Gibson signed for $525K, San Diego State signee and 15th rounder Phillip Evans signed for $650K and Miami signee and 16th rounder Jack Lopez inked for $750K.
Under the new rules, there’s a good chance they’re playing college baseball.
Any concerns about the CBA?
Collective Bargaining Agreement detractors believe the sweeping changes will force some baseball players who are playing other sports such as football to opt out of baseball for financial reasons.
Football at the Division I level is a full-scholarship sport with 85 scholarships, while college baseball only has 11.7 scholarships with many programs in the northern half of the country – even some name programs – still not fully funded.
The NCAA isn’t expected to increase college baseball scholarships anytime soon, and that’s something that concerns some baseball purists and college coaches.
“I don’t subscribe to the theory the new CBA will drive kids to other sports. There are plenty of other factors besides money that are encouraging kids to play baseball,” Mainieri said. “With that said, the CBA isn’t going to be a potential problem here. What continues to be a concern is the fact college baseball only has 11.7 scholarships. If we offer better scholarships, we’ll see even more kids than now focus on baseball as opposed to other sports.”
“The more kids that go to college – both athletically and educationally – the better, in my eyes.”
Even with this risk, college coaches are ecstatic.
They finally have something to smile about. At least for now.
Kendall Rogers is the college baseball managing editor for Perfect Game USA and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org