Covich’s Roster Strategy Provides Room For 2020 Do-Over
Head college coaches in spring sports across the nation were pleased when the NCAA ruled that the 2019-20 season would not count against the four years of athletic eligibility for their student-athletes. Once that hurdle was cleared, though, a look into the future revealed several more which could provide sizable barriers to a wholesale return.
Cost, of course, was one. At WVU, the bill will be something on the order of a half-million dollars should all 18 seniors in spring sports decide to return. Another, likely even more challenging, is one of roster management. How to fit in the seniors that would like to return along with an incoming recruiting class, many of which were designated to fill the departees’ spots?
The NCAA removed the rules barriers to that, at least for one year, allowing each school to exceed the maximum scholarship allotment by the amount that each student-athlete was granted in 2019-20. Still, the roster numbers, playing time and more are all issues in building 2020-21 teams.
WVU head coach Sean Covich has bit of an ace up his sleeve in that regard. While many college teams have rosters of 10-12 players (the NCAA average in 2019 was 10), Covich has kept his roster numbers lower.
“We’ve found that our formula works best here if we have eight or nine guys,” said Covich, who has worked an outstanding building job in his five years at WVU. “The facilities we travel to and practice at works better if we have eight or nine as opposed to 11 or 12. When I was at Mississippi State we had 12, but we had our own practice facility. It gives us some flexibility.”
The men’s golf scholarship limit is set at 4.5, which can be spread among some or all of the players on the roster. The lower roster number Covich works with allows a bit more money availability for each athlete, and also makes playing time more realistic for everyone on the team.
So, while WVU isn’t as deep as some of the schools against which it is competing, it does have the room to welcome back both Philipp Matlari and Etienne Papineau from this year’s team.
“Whether they come back or not yet, I don’t know. There’s still a lot to be determined,” Covich said, echoing the statements of baseball’s Randy Mazey on the scholarship and roster management process. “But I would love for those two guys to come back. Philipp Matlari is playing the best golf of his life. He just finished in third place in the Seminole Collegiate Invitational down in Florida. Etienne Papineau has played pretty much every tournament for us his whole career.
“You talk about two great guys, as far as student-athetes, leaders, golfers, human beings, they are awesome. I would love to have them back.”
Like many seniors, Matlari and Papineau had already been laying plans for the next stages of their lives, be they professional golf or entry into the workforce. Add in the fact that both are from other countries, and it only gets more difficult.
“Whether or not that works out, I don’t know. We are still working through that. They have made life plans based on [the fact that] they were going to graduate in May. Phillip lives in Germany, and Etienne in Montreal,” Covich explained. “It’s just not as easy as saying ‘Yeah, they get another year, just come on down.’ But we talk every day about how it’s going to play out.”
While the issue of bringing seniors back is first on the agenda, roster management down the road might be even more difficult. The scholarship exemption for returning seniors does not extend to the rest of the roster, even though they too get an extra year of eligibility. Therefore, in the 2021-22 season and beyond, the 298 Division I golf schools will be back to the 4.5 scholarship limit.
“Everybody gets another year, juniors, sophomores and freshmen. You start to have to juggle what it will look like with the 2021 class, the 2022 class,” Covich detailed. “The juniors now, are they going to stay two more years or just one more year? There are a lot of moving pieces.
“If we had 12 (on the roster) and had three guys committed coming in, and commits in 20201, we’d be in a lot of trouble. I have talked to some other coaches and they are in that boat. So, that’s an advantage that we only have eight on the roster, because we can absorb some guys staying around. We want them to stay around.”