Titan Baseball Season Canceled Amidst COVID-19 Fears

In three days, Titan Baseball and the entirety of college baseball went from business as usual to completely shut down.

As of Thursday, March 12, 2020, the NCAA announced the College World Series is canceled, signalling the end of the 2020 college baseball season. The cancellation of the CWS attributed to “an abundance of caution” surrounding the potential spread of COVID-19, commonly known as Coronavirus.

The ripple effect from this decision is immeasurable at this time and probably will never be completely understood. To understand how we got here, we need to understand the timeline leading up to Thursday’s announcement. Some highlights are below primarily focusing on the impact within the United States. To see the complete timeline, visit Wikipedia’s Timeline of the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic in November 2019 – March 2020.

Timeline

November 17, 2019 – Original case of the novel coronavirus emerged according to official Chinese government sources.

December 1, 2019 – The first known patient started experiencing symptoms. The patient had not been to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market of Wuhan. No epidemiological link could be found between this case and later cases.

December 8-18, 2019 – Seven cases later diagnosed with Wuhan coronavirus were documented; two of them were linked with the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market; five were not.

December 26, 2019 – A laboratory identified the coronavirus from the sample collected on December 24, 2019 as to be most closely related to a bat SARS-like coronavirus.

January 6, 2020 – The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (USCDC) issued a travel watch at Level 1 (“Practice usual precautions”), with recommendations on washing hands and more specifically advising avoiding animals, animal markets, and contact with unwell people if traveling to Wuhan.

January 6, 2020 – The first death from the virus occurred in a 61-year-old man who was a regular customer at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. He had several significant medical conditions, including chronic liver disease, and died from heart failure and pneumonia.

January 21, 2020 – New cases reported outside of mainland China. The United States reported its first laboratory-confirmed case in the state of Washington, the first in North America.

January 22, 2020 – Chinese government announces a quarantine until further notice, cancelling outgoing flights and trains from Wuhan, and suspending public transportation in Wuhan effective the following day.

January 25, 2020 – Hong Kong declared a state of emergency and announced it would close schools until 17 February. Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park are closed until further notice.

January 27, 2020 – The USCDC expands travel advisory from Wuhan to the whole of Hubei Province.Later that day, the US State Department raised the travel advisory for China to Level 3 (“Reconsider Travel: Avoid travel due to serious risks to safety and security.”) due to the coronavirus. The same day, the USCDC again updates its travel health notice to Warning – Level 3, Avoid All Nonessential Travel to China.

February 1, 2020 – The United States of America reported its eighth case, a man from Boston who recently returned to college after traveling to Wuhan.

February 13, 2020 – The CDC confirmed the 15th US coronavirus case, a Wuhan evacuee quarantined at a military base in Texas.

February 29, 2020 – The United States confirmed its first death, a man living at the Life Care Center nursing facility in Kirkland, Wash.

March 1, 2020 – The United States reported the second confirmed death in Washington state. The first cases in Rhode Island, Florida, and New York were confirmed. The authorities confirmed 21 more cases in total, bringing the number to 89.

March 4, 2020 – The United States confirmed 11 total deaths, with the first death outside of Washington state in California. 159 total reported cases in the United States.

March 10, 2020 – The United States confirmed 283 additional cases, bringing the total number to over 1,000. Five more deaths were reported, bringing the total number to 31. Cal State Fullerton encourages Titan Athletics fans at high risk of contracting Coronavirus (Ages 60+, weakened immune systems, underlying health conditions, etc.) to abstain from attending events and avoid large groups.

March 11, 2020 – The Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert and Emmanuel Mudiay were diagnosed with the illness. As a result, the NBA suspended the entire season after the night’s games. The Utah Jazz vs Oklahoma City Thunder game was postponed after doctors reported Gobert had the illness. Actor Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson were diagnosed with the illness during the filming of the Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming-biographical film Elvis in Australia. The NCAA announced that both its Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament and Women’s Basketball Tournament will be held without any spectators in attendance. The NBA announced that it will suspend the remainder of its 2020 season after players tested positive for COVID-19. Cal State Fullerton announces all home sporting event will be “Fan-less” and held without spectators.

March 12, 2020 – The United States confirmed 373 additional cases, bringing the total number to over 1,645. Three more deaths were reported, bringing the total number to 41. The Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell tested positive for the virus. The NHL indefinitely pauses the remainder of its 2020 season while Major League Soccer imposes a 30-day suspension on its 2020 season. Major League Baseball cancels its spring training and delays the start of its 2020 season for at least two weeks. The NCAA cancels all championship events until the 2020–21 season. The Professional Golfers’ Association of America cancels the Players Championship and other upcoming golf events. The Big West Conference announces that it is indefinitely suspending all spring conference and non-conference competition. All Cal State Fullerton athletic competition is suspended indefinitely.

March 13, 2020 – The NCAA Division I Coordination Committee agreed that eligibility relief is appropriate for all Division I student-athletes who participated in spring sports. Any player who participated in a spring sport would be granted an additional year of eligibility.  The Big West Board of Directors moved from indefinitely suspending to canceling all spring conference and non-conference competition and championship events for the 2020 season.

That escalated quickly

How did a new virus, a virus that has a lower mortality rate than the “seasonal flu” we all experience year in and year out, shut down the NBA, NHL, MLS and all college spring sports? That answer is a few years in the making and we may never know. What we do know is there is a lot more uncertainty with the far reaching ripple effect of the NCAA’s decision than we can predict. We’ll touch on those soon enough. But first, it is our official opinion that this drastic of a measure was not needed to be taken by the NCAA.

Canceling the College World Series, an event that was scheduled to take place June 13-24, 2020, a full three months away, was grossly overeactive and done out of pure panic. We also blame the media for drumming this COVID-19 pandemic into such a fever pitch so as to scare the public. We understand wanting to protect the public health from COVID-19 infection but the infection rate and death rate so far, even in China, do not come close to a seasonal cold and flu season.

We can not compare this year’s regular cold and flu season because it normally lasts until May, so we will need to provide facts on last year’s totals. In total, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that up to 42.9 million people got sick during the 2018-2019 flu season, 647,000 people were hospitalized and 61,200 died. That’s fairly on par with a typical season and well below the CDC’s 2017-2018 estimates of 48.8 million illnesses, 959,000 hospitalizations and 79,400 deaths.

Did you read that correctly? The seasonal flu killed over 61,000 people last year and nearly 80,000 the year before. Why weren’t people panic buying toilet paper, hand sanitizer and bleach wipes all while wearing medical face masks last year? The college baseball season and every other sports season went off without a hitch. So what is so different about COVID-19 that has made the world lose its collective mind?

Most everyone can remember back to 2009. That was the year that H1N1, better known as the Swine Flu, was a worldwide pandemic. In total an estimated 11–21% of the then global population (of about 6.8 billion), or around 700 million–1.4 billion people contracted H1N1. It is safe to assume that one in five people reading this right now contracted H1N1 from early 2009 to August 2010. H1N1 claimed an estimated 150,000–575,000 lives. A follow-up study done in September 2010 showed that the 2009 H1N1 flu was no more severe than the yearly seasonal flu.

Many are saying comparing COVID-19 to H1N1 is an unfair comparison. Comparing it to Severe Acute Respiratory Disease (SARS), is better because they are both respiratory diseases caused by a Coronavirus, albeit different strands. H1N1, though also a respiratory illness, was a strain of influenza. They also share similar flu-like symptoms: fever, cough, shortness of breath for COVID-19; fever, headache, fatigue for H1N1; and fever, headache, shakes for SARS.

More than 8,000 people in 29 countries were infected with SARS during the 2003 outbreak and 774 people died. That’s a mortality rate of 9.6%. As of Thursday, there were more than 127,000 cases globally and 4,718 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. The mortality rate for COVID-19 when it is all said and done, will probably be between three and four percent.

Also of note, the lion’s share of the fatalities attributed to COVID-19 have occurred within the high risk group comprised of the elderly with compromised immune systems or underlying medical conditions. For fear of sounding terribly insensitive but this at-risk group historically dies from the seasonal flu or some other disease that is lumped into the “natural causes” category. On March 13, 2020 the total United States death toll attributed to COVID-19 stood at 41. Multiple reports stated that at least 13 (32%) of the 41 deaths occurred in a single nursing home, The Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington.

Questions abound

So how did a novel (new) virus that originated in China and attacks mostly elderly and infirm people shut down an entire college baseball season? What are the implications moving forward for players, coaches and fans in general and specifically for those impacted within the Titan Baseball family?

When the NCAA announced it was canceling the College World Series a full three months ahead of the scheduled first game in Omaha, many assumed that was the first of many nails in the college baseball season’s coffin. Once conferences started announcing the full cancellations of the entire spring sports season, that was the final nail. Numerous Titan Baseball fans were left with questions about season ticket refunds, what will happen with student-athlete eligibility, is the 4-12 season washed away like it never happened? What will be the further reaching implications regarding the Major League Baseball draft and the draft eligible players? Will players get their eligibility back? What about scholarship limits and rosters expansions?

The good news is the NCAA did the right thing by granting all spring student-athletes an additional year of eligibility. That means a freshman this year like JJ Cruz and Cameron Repetti will be a freshman next season. Isaiah Garcia, a fifth year senior because he reshirted while at Sierra College, will be a sixth year senior. Now that the eligibility question was answered, what about scholarships and roster limits?

We all know that college baseball is limited to 11.7 scholarships allotted to a roster of 35 players coached by three full-time paid coaches. (We will save our opinion on how the ratio of coaches to student-athletes is lowest of all D1 sports and how the scholarship limits are confusing at best.) We’ll tackle the scholarship issue first:

Scholarships

JJ Cruz

College baseball coaches divvy up scholarship money based on financial needs, seniority and honestly, how badly they want a player to come to campus. A lot of times, during the recruitment process, coaches may promise a certain percentage of a scholarship to an incoming player and that number is reevaluated every year based on the player’s performance and his family’s financial viability. A lot of times, seniors are walk-ons because scholarships are divided among the underclassmen. At a program like Cal State Fullerton, you have to expect a player will be on campus for three years and then leave via the draft. Scholarship budgeting reflects that assumption. If a player is not drafted and returns for his senior year, many times that player is a walk-on and is receiving no scholarship relief from the university’s athletic department.

If the NCAA raises the scholarship number, how will that affect all the D1 baseball programs? The juggernauts of college baseball, the SEC colleges, Texas Tech, Louisville and the like, all have football money they can dip into and fund those scholarships. What about a program like Cal State Fullerton whose athletic budget is small and may not have the budget for additional scholarships? Keep in mind, if the NCAA raises scholarship limits, it is obligated to do it for all spring sports for both men and women. That means baseball, men’s and women’s golf, women’s tennis, men’s and women’s track and field would receive a scholarship increase. Where will CSUF get the money to fully fund those sports? Will universities need to triage which mouths to feed based on the importance of that program if they can even shoulder the burden of increased scholarships?

The bigger universities would be able to swallow additional scholarships but smaller athletic departments with small budgets may not be able to keep up with big boys financially. Yet they would be expected to compete on a level playing field when actual on the field or court competition opens up. The right thing to do would be for the NCAA to supplement each athletic department with cold hard cash equivalent to the increased scholarship values. (If you believe they will do that, there is a bridge I’d like to sell you.)

Consider this, programs have incoming freshman and JC transfers already committed to play at all of these colleges and are expected to fill the spots of those expected to leave via the draft or graduation. Those scholarship commitments to incoming players were made expecting other players to be out of the program by their arrival. Which begs the question, will the NCAA raise the roster limits?

Roster Limits

Right now a Division 1 college baseball team roster is limited to 35 players. Now that everyone can return and there is an incoming crop of players arriving in the fall, if the roster limit is not raise, will that increase the number of players in the NCAA transfer portal? Makes sense that a player that barely made the 35 man roster this season would be encouraged to transfer out and try and catch on elsewhere at a lesser competitive program. The ripple effect for those players in the less regarded program would then start transferring.

The smart thing to do would be for the NCAA to raise the roster limit to 45 for the 2021 season. That means you could have something like 60 baseball players in the fall battling for 45 spots on a team. Unfortunately the NCAA will not change the rules of the game to allow more than nine players on the field at once so that means there will be a lot more guys sitting the bench and not playing. Or should the roster remain at 35 and thus raising the talent level across all of college baseball because bench warmers would normally be starters? The NCAA has yet to answer these questions but they are valid and need to be addressed.

Tanner Bibee

MLB Draft

Take into consideration that every player on the 2020 Titan Baseball team is eligible to return in 2021. Guys like Tanner Bibee were expected to leave via the MLB draft after this season but he is now in a unique situation. Bibee is draft eligible but now has two years of eligibility leverage when negotiating with an MLB club. Bibee can get drafted this year, not like the money being offered and return to Fullerton to try to improve on his draft position next year. He could get drafted again in 2021 and do the same thing all over again. Which begs the question, will the MLB move the draft to August in order to get more evaluation of the college crop of draftees? Did you forget that the MLB moved the draft to Omaha to coincide with the College World Series which is now canceled?

If the draft is moved to August, how will that affect summer wood bat leagues making room for college studs that need more innings or at-bats before the draft? You don’t think the Healdsburg Prune Packers of the California Collegiate League wouldn’t move mountains to convince a guy like Spencer Torkelson of Arizona State to play for them this summer? Torkelson is from nearby Petaluma, Calif. and is projected as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 MLB draft. He is probably uncommitted to a summer ball team because he is expected to go high in the draft. Torkelson may not need additional at-bats to improve his draft stock but someone like Tanner Bibee whose draft position is still fluid, could definitely use some good outings to impress the scouts. That is a lot of speculation as of now and the MLB has not made any announcements of how this will affect the draft.

Coaches

Many of the questions and scenarios raised previously have centered on the impact on the players. But how will the season cancellation affect coaches?

The three full-time paid coaches, Rick Vanderhook, Sergio Brown and Dan Ricabal are getting paid per their contract with the university. But what about volunteer assistant Andy Jenkins? How will this affect his ability to make money?

Normally volunteer assistants make the majority of their money by running summer and off-season youth camps through the university. If parents are afraid to let their kids attend camps and are practicing social distancing, how will volunteer assistants earn a living? I’m guessing these coaches could go out and get a regular job knowing their commitments on the field have been lifted? But who is hiring right now?

When it comes to the impact on college baseball volunteer assistant coaches, we have more questions than answers.

Goodwin Field

What happens now?

Players are left wondering what they can do now that the season is canceled. The answer is not much.

Players can work out on their own and are not allowed to receive instruction from their coaches. Titan Baseball players are not even allowed to use Goodwin Field to have individual work outs. They can’t use the batting cages or the Nick Hurtado Bullpen at Goodwin Field. If two players wanted to long toss or even play catch, they have to use the intramural fields near the Titan House where the ticket office is located. They are allowed to use the on-campus weight room… Yes, you read that correctly.

Student-athletes are allowed to use the weight room. An enclosed space with numerous machines and apparatuses shared by a number of other athletes is okay. A wide open space like a baseball field is not allowed. Are we the only ones that find this to be a bit ass-backwards?

Fans were also left wondering what they can do now that the season is canceled. Thankfully the Titan Athletics Department was proactive and was quick to contact season ticket holders via email informing them of the season cancellation. Because this is unprecedented, the CSUF Athletic Department assured season ticket holders they will be contacting them individually to go over refund options.

Only eight home games were played (nine if you count the Japan Federation exhibition) before the season was canceled. That leaves season ticket holders with 24 game tickets unused. Because the ticketing office has yet to reach out to season ticket holders, we do not know what the refund policy will entail. The most common would be a mailed check for the remainder of the unused tickets or a credit towards next year’s season tickets.

The big question will be the refund policy for those season ticket holders that pre-purchased parking passes for the mid-week games. Since those vouchers are still valid it may take a separate process to recover those parking passes and the money for them.

Our Opinion

Fear of the unknown always creates chaos and causes overreactions and people to panic. How else can you explain how a virus that causes fever and a dry cough creates a panic buy response to the point where toilet paper is rationed and is sold out? The actions taken by professional sports leagues and the NCAA did nothing to keep people calm but rather increased the panic.

We don’t claim to have all the answers nor do we have a crystal ball but canceling the College World Series three months out is a bit knee jerk and overreactive. Why not suggest that the college baseball season take a three week hiatus and resume play with or without fans in April?

Many Orange County high schools have postponed instruction for two weeks ahead of their scheduled Spring Breaks. This means students would be out of school and encouraged to self-quarantine or practice social distancing for more than the incubation period of COVID-19. A study by Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health estimates the incubation period for COVID-19 is 5.1 days. Median time from exposure to symptoms affirms earlier estimates and supports CDC’s current 14-day quarantine period. So about three weeks if you combine the incubation period and the time for symptoms to run their course.

We understand trying to get the spread of the virus under control but we’re predicting this will all blow over by May. Much like the seasonal flu, the contraction rate is expected to decrease as the temperature rises. Time will tell if that prediction comes true but it appears that the NCAA threw the baby out with the bathwater while trying to avoid potential lawsuits.

It’s our opinion that the NCAA is more interested in protecting it’s coffers from lawsuits all while hiding behind the fig leaf of public health and safety concerns. If they were really concerned about the public health, they would severely limit spectators and athlete contact during the seasonal flu season in 2019 or 2018.

Is there any good news coming out of this season cancellation? Yes. The Titans dismal 4-12 start to the season will be wiped out and essentially, never happened.

There will be no chance of a monumental push during Big West Conference play to see if the Titans could get back to the postseason. We’ll never know if the Titans would miss the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row.

The good news is that the current players can all come back if they so desire with an additional year of strength and conditioning and training table under their belt. Maybe some of that youth will turn to more experienced play after another year of summer ball. Maybe the overall talent level of the team will raise with highly regarded recruits joining an already talented group of young players.

We’ll never know what this season could have been and despite the fact the Titans were off to a poor start, the NCAA took away an entire season from players and fans in an overreaction to essentially protect their own interests.

2 thoughts to “Titan Baseball Season Canceled Amidst COVID-19 Fears”

  1. It’s fluid right now. The NCAA said all spring athletes would get a year of eligibility but we’re wearing they are reevaluating that. Sounds like a bait and switch but until there is an official announcement, we are going with their original statement of eligibility relief for all spring student-athletes.

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