Commentary

Major League Baseball's new pro-signing date changes way college recruit

Originally Published: December 28, 2007
By Curt McKeever | Special to ESPN.com

Texas A&M baseball coach Rob Childress woke up on Aug. 15 feeling lucky that seven of the 11 underclassmen and incoming recruits who had been selected in June's major league draft were still on board with the Aggies.

But by the time he was ready for bed that evening, his mood had taken a turn. Before the final day for pro organizations to sign their picks could pass, A&M lost three more players.

[+] EnlargeRob Childress
AP PhotoTexas A&M head coach Rob Childress is adjusting to the NCAA's rules changes.

"Every one of those [pro] teams tried to stay in slot until Aug 15, and then it was like fireworks going off," said Childress, who wasn't completely caught off guard by the developments. Nevertheless, "it kind of hurt us, because we don't have a chance to go sign somebody else."

Or at least much of a chance.

This summer's new deadline for professional teams to sign draft picks did provide NCAA Division I college coaches a small window to replenish their rosters. Previously, major league clubs had until the first day of classes to sign a player they had drafted.

But Childress doesn't believe the change has had any impact in regard to late-summer recruiting.

Not that he's completely upset by that, either.

"If [the deadline] was July 15," he said, "I think it'd give us all an opportunity to go find a suitable replacement. [But] we're coaching whoever shows up to school. You want to go sign the best players that you can [who want] to go to school. You can sign eight first-rounders, and the likelihood that you're going to get any of them is slim and none."

UCLA's John Savage can relate.

The Bruins' recruiting class for the 2007-08 academic calendar included a player who ended up being a first-round pick in June's draft, and another who was a supplemental first-rounder. Not surprisingly, neither ended up at UCLA.

"You can see things coming most of the time," said Savage, noting that he's experienced only a few instances of being "up against that clock and not knowing whether the guy's coming or not."

UCLA did manage to retain five other recruits who were drafted, so Savage and his staff didn't have to go on a late talent search.

"I think you hold your breath on that eighth- to 20th-rounder who could get out-of-the-slot money," Savage acknowledged. "Those are the ones that hurt.

"But I like the deadline. It's good for Major League Baseball. It's good for the players. It's good for the agents. It's good for the universities. We can still have an August 15th, and it's still kind of a scramble, but we can [still] get somebody into school."

Nebraska was one of those schools that had little choice but to make some late additions.

Before the end of June, the Huskers lost two recruits -- drafted in the 20th and 30th rounds, respectively -- to pro ball, and also five of seven underclassmen pitchers who had been selected from the fifth to 16th rounds.

Then, a couple of days before the signing deadline, Nebraska lost a 23rd-round pitcher who the Huskers had expected to be a weekend starter.

Coach Mike Anderson ended up finding three more pitchers before school started, but his 2008 club will still have just one who's had any significant starting experience for the Huskers.

"The hit that our program took … we anticipated some of these guys signing, but that's why [our] roster size is down to what it is," said Anderson, noting that Nebraska's fall list of 32 players was the smallest of any Big 12 team.

Anderson doesn't believe pushing the professional signing deadline up a month to July would matter now, either, since the new NCAA rule that will require transfers to sit out a year before becoming eligible will be in place by this summer.

"I don't think [Charlie Shirek] signed because there was a [new] rule," Anderson said of the player Nebraska lost to the pros a few days before Aug. 15. "But I do think the deadline created other opportunities. First of all, you lose him for the full year. And, junior college kids you're losing. There was a different environment with the signing procedure this year."

And that even carried over to how Anderson went about his business this fall.

"I feel very good about our freshmen, [but] it's the first time I grabbed a group of freshmen [and said] 'Step up and speak up,'" he said. "We've got a good corps of older guys that I really like. But if we're going to have success, from the very beginning, our freshmen are going to have to do some things. So, yeah, it did change some of that part of it."

An issue that's raising more concern among college coaches is the coming changes in scholarship allocation and roster limits.

In 2009, teams cannot carry more than 35 players once competition begins. Only 30 of those can receive aid, but all 30 must receive at least 25 percent of a full scholarship. In 2010, the same roster limit and 25 percent requirement will exist, but 27 players will split the money.

In light of the fact that college baseball programs have a limit of 11.7 scholarships, Michigan's Rich Maloney thinks the 25 percent rule will create some awkward situations for schools that regularly produce pro-caliber talent.

"I have five juniors projected to be good draft picks. I have 3.75 [scholarships invested] in that," Maloney said. "I can't use it [until after they sign]. I could give it to older players, but it wouldn't help my team [develop]. And if those kids come back, I have to take walk-on kids."

Childress agreed the 25 percent rule will change "everything" in regard to recruiting. He claims coaches now will be more hesitant to go after a player who might not immediately project as highly but could still develop into a prime-time talent.

Maloney, who steered his 2007 team to a Super Regional, pointed out several Wolverines starters who were receiving less than 25 percent of a scholarship.

With college ball growing in popularity under the previous arrangements, it's no wonder many coaches are uneasy about having new parameters -- even if it's something like adjusting to a new pro-signing deadline.

"Baseball is the hardest thing to evaluate," Childress said. "Major League Baseball is not sure, either. That's why they have 50 rounds [in the draft]."

Curt McKeever is a reporter for the Lincoln Journal Star.

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