The baseball season is different from any other sport in college athletics. Roughly 300 teams play a maximum of 56 games on a 132-day schedule beginning in February and ending in springtime. Teams can hold up to 35 players, but they have, at most, the monetary equivalent of 11.7 scholarships to hand out to their athletes. Recruiting and commitments happen in the fall, meaning kids have to commit to schools before their senior season in order to ensure playing at the next level.
It forces coaches to recruit well into the future in order to build their program. If a prospect is graduating in the class of 2016, his first year in college is the 2017 season. Because baseball is played opposite the graduation season, when high school students have already made their college choice, NCAA coaches need to evaluate prospects before that ever comes. Commitments need to come by the winter or fall, meaning that class of 2016 recruit picks his school in the summer or fall of 2015.
As a result, recruiting is, for the most part, done by the time a high school student completes his junior year. It forces college coaches to evaluate talent at times when the player still has one full season left before he matriculates to their school. It also means that success isn't immediately felt on the recruiting cycle.
In football, if a team has a highly successful fall, a player is able to commit in the spring to that team. It can lead to immediate impact recruiting where a team can use immediate success in order to pick up senior undecided recruits. In baseball, since recruiting is often done one or two seasons out, the pressure isn't necessarily felt in that first year. That also means the pressure is on to produce back-to-back successful seasons in order to build that one strong recruiting class.
Constructing a roster then becomes something like alchemy for coaches. Between 1981 and 2003, Vanderbilt failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. In 2004, however, they were one of nine SEC teams to make the tournament. They earned a #2 seed in a regional alongside #1 Virginia, #3 George Mason, and #4 Princeton. In that regional, hosted in Charlottesville by Virginia, the Cavaliers inexplicably lost to Princeton in the first round while Vanderbilt beat George Mason. That allowed the Commodores to beat Princeton in the Second Round before facing a one-loss Virginia team in the Regional Finals. Needing only one win, they won and advanced to the Super Regionals. where they were summarily creamed by Texas.
It took Vanderbilt, however, two more years to return to the NCAA Tournament, which they did in 2006. But with the Super Regionals appearance behind them, they never had the chance to really capitalize until 2007, when they were the #1 overall seed. Finally built into a national powerhouse, they made the College World Series in 2011, winning it all in 2014 and early defending their crown this past season before they were ousted in the National Championship by Virginia.
Because of limited scholarships, athletes receive only percentages of tuition coverages with limited athletes receiving full benefits. That gives players slightly more flexibility in their choices. That's not to say it isn't a factor, but it just means baseball is completely different from other sports, such as basketball or football, where a scholarship automatically means a free ride.
Given those conditions and further given Vanderbilt's recent ultimate success, the Commodores' recent recruiting classes are stacked to the gills. Their 2015 class is rated as one of the best in the nation with 13 players, and their 2016 and 2017 are the best according to Perfect Game USA with 16 players apiece.
This is where the alchemy comes into play. Vanderbilt's three recruiting classes ('15, '16, and '17) amount to 45 players, not including all of the players who are still on the roster. That means at least 10 players automatically have to be trimmed, and that's if there's nobody else left on the team. With a roster size at 35, kids are committing to play for a top program because scholarships aren't factoring as much into the equation. But before they ever set foot on the field, coaches could cut them and send them looking for a new home.
That forces a building program like Boston College to be extremely creative. Because of the scholarship structure and inability to compete with other schools' faciliites (along with Boston College's academic requirements), the Eagles can't touch the recruiting levels of places like Florida State, Louisville, Virginia, or North Carolina. They can't just sit, wait for 18 of the nation's best high school baseball players to commit, then pick and choose who they want. They can't march down into the same locations as these teams, slap a hat on a kid, and then cut him when he's no longer useful. They have to get much more creative and go about constructing a roster with balance. They have to find the right guys for the program, then wait for those guys to develop.
As a result, the Eagles sometimes appear further down the list of the top 100 college recruitment lists. Perfect Game ranks its classes based on cumulative points, with points assigned to players based on how they rank and how they perform. But if you have eight players with an average of 3.5 points, your total value is automatically going to be shredded by a school who is simply amassing talent. Additionally, players who attend PG camps typically can sometimes be rated higher because it's still a business, and the PG camps are going to have more PG evaluators.
That doesn't mean the Eagles can't compete; it just means it's substantially harder for them to get to the next level. Mike Gambino's roster construction, as we'll discuss, is evident based on the team performance. While he has always had one or two superstar type players (like Chris Shaw or Andrew Chin), this year's BC team may be one of its top-to-bottom complete with a number of players capable of playing the game he'll want them to play.