Baseball Coaches Face Difficult Decisions

Ole Miss must trim its roster to 35 players due to new NCAA rules. Go inside to see how the process is changing things.

Thanks to the NCAA's new roster limitations, college baseball coaches are still struggling to reach that top number of 35 total players. Mike Bianco is no exception, and four current Rebels will not be allowed to continue when practice resumes after the new year.

Ole Miss went into the fall with 40 players, and only Nick Sneeberger is no longer on the roster. The hope is to have the final cuts made before Christmas.

"The fall gave some of the kids an opportunity to prove themselves," Bianco said. "We have some very tough decisions, because the last thing you want to do is have to cut kids. The rule makes absolutely no sense because it has nothing to do with scholarship limitations. But it is the way it is, and we have to ask four guys to not be a part of it anymore."

Players in danger were aware of the situation before practices began, but Bianco didn't see it affect their games. Some of the cuts are necessary solely because of performance, while others are part performance and part being at the wrong position.

The head coach didn't give any clues, but the Rebels are currently carrying five catchers – a number that appears to be high considering the circumstances. Brett Basham returns as an All-SEC candidate, while Kyle Henson had a solid fall in his senior season. Zach Rutland and Scott Haltom are other returners, and Taylor Hightower is in his first year at Oxford and is being billed at the catcher of the future.

"You have to have three catchers, anything under that is scary," Bianco said. "Our numbers for what we used to want to keep no longer work. Not to get into specifics, but that may end up being too high of a number."

The typical travel squad consists of a 25-man roster made up of 10 pitchers and 15 position players, give or take occasional different situations. Past that point, Bianco will need a balance of utility fielders and both left-handed and right-handed pitchers. With the tough situation, versatility may be the key for bubble players to retain a roster spot.

"I'm sure there were some guys that felt pressure, but I didn't see it," Bianco said. "I thought everyone responded and kept their composure. Some of the kids knew they were on the bubble. It has just become part of the game."

Recruiting class size to decrease

The current class of newcomers was the smallest number in signees of the Bianco era, and the committed class will contain even fewer players. Coaches will face the yearly challenge of balancing incoming players with transfers, seniors and drafted players.

Take the current team as an example. While 40 players entered the fall, that number could have been more manageable had the draft turned out differently. Brett Basham, Logan Power and Scott Bittle were all expected to be professionals right now, but the trio chose to return to Oxford. Had they accepted the draft offers, the Rebels would be at 36 players presently.

Although, you won't hear Bianco complaining over that scenario.

"We definitely thought Scott, Logan and Brett wouldn't be back," Bianco said. "You have to plan for talents like that to be gone, but we as a staff was of course ecstatic to have them back. Those three do so much for our team, and if you get guys like that returning, you will take the headache that follows with figuring out the roster."

Money affected as well

Before these new restrictions, roster sizes were not limited, and the meager 11.7 scholarships were the main barrier. But now, on top of the 11.7 schollies and max number of 35 players, no more than 30 of the 35 can be on scholarship, and each scholarship player must have at least 25 percent of a scholarship.

Fans won't be aware of the cuts, but it isn't uncommon for players to remain on the roster, although their money has been cut or eliminated. Next season, more players will need to be walk-ons, as the number of scholarship players will fall from 30 to 27. This won't possibly cause as much of a change for the Rebels.

Ole Miss and other schools may choose to have a couple players below the max number on scholarship so that larger amounts can be given to certain players. This method is the only way to have any creativity with the 11.7 scholarships.

"For those players who can afford it and accept to remain with the team without aid, it doesn't change anything but the money," Bianco said. "Nobody outside of the coaches will know who is on scholarship and who isn't, and nobody needs to know. If you are on the team, then you have every opportunity to log playing time."

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