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Extra eligibility hurting recruits

The NCAA’s decision to give all spring athletes another year of eligibility was applauded by many people happy to see players at that level avoid being robbed of an opportunity.

But that same move may negatively impact younger players trying to get to the same stage.

“I have heard a lot of people say the NCAA made a hasty decision and didn’t think it all the way through,” U.S. Elite Baseball National Director Mark Helsel said. “It even impacts other classes. The decision they made was a monstrous one and, in many ways, not a good one for a lot of people. It’s obviously good if you are a senior and you get that year back, or a freshman that didn’t get their first year, but for these other players, it’s not so great.”

Helsel, an Altoona resident who had two sons play Division I baseball, is concerned about the players in his developmental program who are missing travel baseball this spring and facing long odds at landing on already full college rosters.

“It’s really scary,” Helsel said. “This was going to be a big summer for our uncommitted players from the Class of 2021. Obviously, with those players losing their high school and summer seasons, that plan has been completely disrupted. Add to that, the NCAA is giving kids more eligibility, so college freshmen are repeating, and you can have two different classes of freshmen in the same class.”

Helsel said players in his program have already felt the backlash of the decision.

“We had a kid committed to a Division I school, and when that rule was announced, three outfielders on that team decided to come back as repeating seniors,” Helsel said. “They called our guy and said, ‘sorry, we don’t have any money for you,’ which is understandable with all that is happening.”

Unfortunately, it seems some players will have their future plans altered.

“We’re going to have to work really hard for the 2021 class, and some will have to adjust their plans,” Helsel said. “They may have thought they were going to go play at a Division I four-year school, but now they are going to have to go the junior college route or Division II.”

Mike Connolly, the co-owner of ERA Sports and the Flood City Elite program, said the NCAA will have to make accommodations.

“I think the NCAA is going to have to come in and figure out something where for ‘X’ amount of years, they allow more scholarship money to help,” Connolly said. “(The pandemic) is not going to reduce the amount of kids that want to go and play.”

The coronavirus pandemic has put a damper on a time that is usually very busy for Connolly and his partners.

“The facility is shut down, and kids can’t meet in group settings to work out and practice,” Connolly said. “Tournaments have been pushed to later dates in the summer. As of now, a lot of stuff hasn’t really been canceled, but it has just been moved to the back end of the summer to try and get events in when things open back up.

“We’re still hoping to play somewhere this summer. I have been telling our parents I really don’t have an answer for them about when we will be able to play.”

Helsel said keeping in contact with his players and their parents has been his main focus as some travel baseball programs across the country struggle to stay in business.

“We decided we’re going to communicate a lot with our people at this time,” Helsel said. “Fortunately, we have a great software program that allows us to communicate a lot, so we’re reassuring people that everything is going to be OK. We’re fine. We’re trying to squelch any fears they might have, because some travel programs have gone under and others are in disarray.”

U.S. Elite Baseball has turned to technology to continue its players development.

“When we can play again, we will play,” Helsel said. “There will come a day when we can play again, and until that day comes, we need to stay active and stay productive. To do that, we have had a lot of webinars. We have about three or four a week ranging from hitting, sports nutrition, alumni talks and arm care webinars.”

Ohio released detailed plans to begin sports like baseball and softball recently, leading Connolly to look into the future with a positive outlook.

“Between Ohio and West Virginia getting close to playing baseball, hopefully it gets back soon,” Connolly said. “Hopefully with those states opening it up, it trickles into Pennsylvania. Even if it’s just Little League or whatever. Kids love this game and want to get out there sooner rather than later.”

Helsel also is hoping to get his players back on the field as soon as possible but was shocked by some of the suggested guidelines he’s come across.

“I have read some guidelines that are discouraging across the country,” Helsel said. “They would move us so far from the game of baseball that we love that I don’t think people would be willing to do it. It wouldn’t be any fun. Some of the ridiculous ones I have heard include an umpire behind a pitcher, not being allowed to throw over to first base and no plays at the plate. I saw another suggestion to disinfect the ball after every pitch.”

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