Along with college baseball programs nationwide, the Southeastern Oklahoma State University baseball season came to a disappointing conclusion. Not because of a loss as the Savage Storm posted a 12-9 win over Northeastern in their final game of the year on March 10, but because of the abruptness.
Head coach Zach Crabtree gave his team the weekend off after a series in Arkansas had been canceled and they were to return the following Monday. Thanks to the coronavirus, that never happened as both the NCAA and Great American Conference shut down the remainder of the season.
“It was disappointing to say the least,” Crabtree stated. “You try to teach guys that we can only control the things we can control, but this is way out of our hands. It’s more than just baseball and really puts things into perspective. I tell these guys all the time that playing sports is a privilege and not a right.
“It’s disappointing because when you start something you want to finish it. The thing that bothered me the most was we didn’t get any finality out of it. We’d given our guys the weekend off because our series was canceled and that was before any of the NCAA or conference ruling. So, after Thursday’s practice, most all our guys left campus and we didn’t see them again after the campus was shut down. We’ve only been able to stay in contact with them through phone, text and Zoom meetings. That’s the most disappointing thing for me as a coach because I work with these guys every day. You always get a chance to talk to guys at the end of the season, whether that’s after a win or a loss. But not this year.”
The Savage Storm players, along with other college teams across the country, received a bit of a reprieve when they were all awarded a “redshirt” season and can return in their same classification category next year. That includes the seniors.
Universities aren’t required to provide the same scholarship funding to those seniors that choose to come back, but Southeastern’s administration did so.
The Savage Storm had eight seniors on the roster and six decided to return for another collegiate campaign, including outfielder Colton Buckner who was one of the conference hitting leaders with a .385 batting average.
“I feel for some of our guys that were off to really good starts like Buckner, who was having a great year, and I would have liked to see what kind of numbers he could have put up,” Crabtree added. “With the NCAA ruling, he is getting to comeback and most all these guys are getting basically a redshirt season. But I feel bad for a guy like Chris Eusay, who was a fifth-year senior and is going to move on with his life and not coming back. He didn’t know it was his last career at bat. Normally you have an idea when that’s coming and some guys like that didn’t have any idea.
“Thanks to our administration, our situation is playing out as good as could be. They have worked out a deal to give returning spring athletes the same scholarship they were getting this year. So that helps us because it doesn’t count against what we have given out to incoming recruits and have available for other prospects. That’s outstanding on our part.”
While on the surface it appears to be a great deal for the university to have those seniors regain that year of eligibility, it also presents a bit of a problem in recruiting for years ahead, without any allotted scholarship money definitely going out the door at the end of next year.
According to most coaches, it’s a multi-year situation and the NCAA also has yet to announce if it will waive the 35-player roster limits.
“My concern is how it affects next year and the 2021 class because there may not be any allotted money going out after this coming year because that group of seniors’ money won’t count,” the Southeastern head coach said.
“That creates a big log jam moving forward with shortage of scholarship money and hurts roster size. I think it’s at least a five-year cycle to weed out. It’s going to affect those borderline scholarship guys the most. Money and roster spots will be so slim moving forward for probably four years. You would think they need to expand roster limits, but the NCAA tabled that, and we don’t know how that is going to play out. It should be great competition for playing time in spots, but what are you going to do roster-wise with five classes in a four-class deal if they don’t increase roster size? We are all in the same spot though so we’ll just have to make the best of it.
“Recruiting is tough was well because we had signed some guys and the signing period opened back up, but this is still a dead period where we can’t have anyone on campus or go out and see anybody through May 31. It’s difficult to get guys because they want to go see places before they sign. It’s not just us though, it’s the entire country. You have to create some relationships over the phone. We are talking weekly and get some to commit and go from there.”
Crabtree, like most spring sports coaches, is at a loss with all the down time caused by the COVID-19 situation. He is trying to see some positives, however.
“I hadn’t had a true spring break since I was in eighth grade and that was probably 30 years ago,” he commented. “It’s not how I ever thought of my first spring break, being quarantined to the house. It was kind of depressing early on because I’m really routine oriented.
“When you really sit back, there is a silver lining though, family-wise. The past three weeks have been the most I have had to spend with my wife and kids than three or four seasons combined. When you’re used to playing, coaching, mowing, recruiting, traveling or whatever, that’s a lot of time you don’t normally get to spend family-wise. I have gotten to enjoy that, which has been a blessing. You have to stay positive and that’s definitely one of the positives I have found in all of this even though I miss all our guys and competitiveness in trying to figure out how to get better.”