Mike Martin Jr. said it was the most difficult thing he has had to do in decades of coaching.
When Florida State and the ACC announced last week that games would be halted due to the threat of COVID-19, Martin gathered the Seminoles in the clubhouse in Dick Howser Stadium for what was an incredibly emotional conversation.
“Some guys were bawling their eyes out in the clubhouse because they thought they weren’t going to put the uniform on again,” Martin Jr. said on a teleconference with the media on Wednesday. “That’s the first thing that I said when I walked in – I feel certain that they are going to give everyone another year of eligibility and we’ll get the band back together and crank this thing back up when we can. That was hard on some guys.”
Martin Jr. was right. By Friday, the NCAA had agreed to allow seniors to return in 2021. And he’s hopeful that all players across the spring sports will not have 2020 count as a full year. In the case of FSU baseball, he stated “17 games is not a season.”
The Seminoles had their ups and downs, but the pieces were there for a successful season. FSU (12-5) often struggled in the field, but battled early as the Seminoles suffered one-run losses to a top-5 Texas Tech team at home. The Seminoles also built some momentum with a home victory over previously unbeaten Mercer before knocking off No. 1 Florida 2-0 on March 10.
Confidence is a big deal in athletics and there’s none bigger than taking down a rival and an unbeaten Gators squad on the road. A day later, FSU defeated Illinois State in what was the final game of the season.
Now, Martin Jr. and the staff have sent players back home for spring break with instructions on how to stay conditioned. Strength and conditioning coach Jamie Burleson gave players guidance on a full body weight workout that they could do on their own since gyms around the country have closed or are closing.
Martin Jr. emphasized that while nobody can forecast when players can return to practice, let alone play in a game, that they must do what they can to stay conditioned and he doesn’t want players to be injured by not being prepared.
The first-year head coach said he has kept in contact with players. He isn’t sure yet if FSU’s seniors will return to school, in part because there is uncertainty about when and if Major League Baseball will hold its amateur draft (tentatively scheduled to begin on June 10).
Seniors will of course be welcomed back. But it remains to be seen if the NCAA’s scholarship limitations (11.7 per Division I baseball team) will be raised.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Martin Jr. said. “I don’t know exactly the formula that they are going to come up with. We’ve got to get more scholarship money. There’s no way you can have a recruiting class of 15 or so come in and stay under 11.7 (scholarships). That’s impossible. I don’t know exactly what the answer is.”
Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control have indicated that no more than 10 people should gather until July or August. If the coronavirus curve is under control by then, it leaves open the potential for college baseball to be played in the fall.
One proposal detailed by Wofford coach Todd Interdonato to D1baseball.com outlined a fall season that would begin on Aug. 28 and play a 10-week schedule through September and October with an NCAA postseason. While not familiar with the proposal, Martin Jr. said he would be interested.
“Our game is meant to be played a lot,” Martin Jr. said. “That’s the only way kids are going to develop – if they play over and over and over. I’m all for playing in the fall. Football season, that’s probably not great for fans and everybody else. But for development, yes.”