College Baseball

Seniors facing tough decision on returning for additional season

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 22, 2020 12:01 am Updated: May. 12, 2020 8:29 am

QUINCY -- Some see it as an easy decision. It isn't.

Nolan Snyder and Riley Martin can tell you why.

The starting center fielder on the Quincy University baseball team, Snyder is a fifth-year senior who will complete his master's degree in business administration with one final class this summer. His job hunt began last December, and he already was making plans for his post-graduate and post-baseball life.

Meanwhile, the left-handed senior ace of the Hawks' pitching staff, Martin will graduate with a bachelor's degree in May and has been accepted to pharmacy school at SIU-Edwardsville. He planned to start there in the fall if a professional baseball opportunity didn't materialize.

That was before either was hit by the coronavirus curveball.

The NCAA canceled all spring sports championships nine days ago as the country began combatting the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This week, the Great Lakes Valley Conference canceled spring sports seasons all together, and QU will begin online-only classes Monday after an extended spring break.

It's a difficult situation for the entire student body and heart-wrenching for the senior athletes whose final season ended so abruptly.

"The entire time I was at Quincy, the whole goal was to bring back a national championship," said Snyder, who started in left field as a sophomore on the 2017 team that reached the Division II national championships. "That got taken away this year. It hurts, especially with the team we had. We felt we were about to take off.

"That part has been tough when you think you have a little bit left, and you're coming back for that last year for that purpose."

Snyder and others could give it one more shot.

The NCAA and the GLVC announced all spring sports student-athletes would retain their year of eligibility, and the NCAA provided a waiver for seniors to extend their eligibility clock beyond the five-year window.

Like the rest of QU's seniors, Snyder and Martin have decisions to make. Play baseball one more year or move on with life like they had planned.

"I've been thinking a lot about it," said Martin, who owns a 21-8 career record and could challenge the program record for all-time victories of 27 shared by Ryan Dowd and Larry Franzoi. "I think I'm going to come back. I've got pharmacy school set up and could delay that a year.

"I don't know if I could live with knowing my baseball career ended like that. I'd rather have my baseball career at Quincy end either getting my heart broken in a regional or going to the world series."

Such a decision isn't easy when academics, finances and future plans all are impacted.

"If I were to come back, I'd have to figure something out with possibly getting a second master's," Snyder said. "That would be interesting. I've been pretty heavy on the job search, too.

"That's all part of the process, figuring out where I would go in terms of that. It's a big part of the decision, too."

It's a challenging situation for everyone.

Should Snyder, Martin or catcher Jacob Kalusniak return, does it take away a potential spot from a transfer or an incoming freshman? Does it change recruiting plans? Does it impact a younger player's decision to stay or transfer?

Coaches at all levels are attempting to help their student-athletes weigh the pros and cons of these decisions.

"It's 100 percent their choice," said John Wood Community College baseball coach Adam Hightower, whose sophomores have the choice to return for an extra season. "I want them to do what's best for them and their family. The four-year school factors into that, too. If they had seniors graduating at their position and now they're coming back, that could change the player's decision. It could change the four-year coach's decision.

"There are a lot of factors yet to be determined with that. With this being so fresh and so new, we have to learn what those types of possibilities are before any decision can be made. At the same time, most of sophomores are going to graduate this year with their associate's degree. Does it make sense for them to come back and work toward another associate's degree? There's a lot of unknown factors."

Scholarship money plays a part in these decisions as well.

The NJCAA allows spring sports teams to sign 24 student-athletes, a number likely to go up. The GLVC hasn't addressed how scholarships can be doled out, but with QU using an equivalency rate to determine how much scholarship money a program can use, keeping another class on scholarship skews the numbers.

Balancing that will be another hurdle to clear. It's just one of many.

The bottom line is the opportunity to return is there if seniors want it.

"It's so case-by-case," QU baseball coach Josh Rabe said. "As much as we want to make it a blanket thing for everybody, it isn't applicable to some guys. That's a personal choice they are going to make.

"I told every one of them, I understand. Just make sure you're OK with this decision. Listen, if you don't want to come back and play, that's fine. We're going to have the same relationship we had before. But I'm telling you I want you all back.'"

It's the open-armed sentiment most coaches share.

QU softball coach Carla Passini had only one senior on her roster in outfielder Megan Sharpshair, and keeping her informed and engaged is part of the process.

"I've been trying to support her, talking to her every day," Passini said. "The first part of the conversation is telling her, I feel sorry for you. My heart hurts for you. And I support you.' It's about dealing with the reality of today."

A decision on Sharpshair's future can wait until tomorrow, but the window to decide will get smaller as the semester moves forward.

"I told Megan, If you need to play worst case scenario and rattle everything off, we will,'" Passini said. "It's something we do for mental training. Worst case scenario is where we throw out our biggest fears at the moment and work through them.

"I told her, If you need to play worst case scenario, I'll listen.' That's all I can do is listen and let her know she's supported."

Snyder knows he is getting that from Rabe, the coaching staff, the school and most importantly his family. It's going to allow him to make the decision possible.

"It's an unprecedented event that has happened," Snyder said. "It's a challenge for us all."