BOISE — Michael Hicks wasn’t sure he’d ever play another competitive baseball game again.
When the Boise State fifth-year senior got news that the rest of the season as being canceled due to the COVOD-19 pandemic, Hicks starting thinking about a possible professional career or moving on with the next stage of his life.
“I had kind of put it in my head that coming back for another year wasn’t going to be a possibility,” Hicks told the Idaho Press. “I said, ‘wow, that was our last game. I’m done. That might be the last game I ever play.’”
Things soon changed. The NCAA ruled to grant an extra year of eligibility for spring athletes that had their season cut short due to the coronavirus, and Boise State baseball coach Gary Van Tol offered his four seniors all a chance to return next year.
Hicks and starting catcher Cory Meyer both took him up on it. The two are believed to be the first two Boise State athletes to publicly confirm their intentions to take advantage of the rule and use the extra year of eligibility next season.
“We’re very excited,” Van Tol told the Idaho Press. “If you had told me ‘hey I’ll send you your starting catcher and your three-hole hitter back to you for another year, are you OK with that?’ I would have been doing cartwheels.
“Cory and Mike are two important pieces in building this program, and we couldn’t be more thrilled. The team is fired up.”
The NCAA will allow teams to go over scholarship and roster limits next season to accommodate any spring athletes that want to come back. Some schools such as Wisconsin have said they won’t welcome any of the seniors back due to financial implications that would arise.
Boise State is letting those that want to use the extra year the chance to do so in all sports, given coaches can find a way to make it work without adding any financial obligation to the athletic department and as long as programs remain within scholarship budgets and roster limitations.
“Due to current losses in revenue and not knowing what lies ahead, we have told our coaches there will not be additional scholarshipS available,” athletic director Curt Apsey said. “Seniors who would like to return for another season will have to fit into the resources we already have. I don’t know that there is a one-size-fits-all solution, so we are allowing each of our head coaches to make decisions in the best interest of their programs.”
Two other seniors, Cameron Sommer and Jordan Britton, elected not to use the extra year, while reliever Daniel Ferrario decided to pursue non-baseball opportunities. That allows Van Tol to add Meyer and Hicks and still stay within the 11.7 scholarships and 32-man roster limits.
Meyer, a transfer from Washington State, had already decided to stay at Boise State for graduate school next year anyway. Given the chance to also play another year of baseball while doing so was an easy choice.
“It was a no-brainer decision for me,” said Meyer, who hit .381 in 21 at-bats. “I’ve been here three years, I was part of the Dirty Dozen, and from a personal standpoint I’ve developed and grown a lot and I love what this University has to offer. I was already preparing for Plan B with grad school, but now I get to put on a uniform again and play the game I love. I couldn’t be more grateful.”
Meyer truly is getting an unexpected chance. He injured his shoulder diving back into first base during the final homestand and likely wasn’t going to be able to return this year anyway.
“I felt something snap and didn’t feel good,” Meyer said. “It was like my whole college career flashed before my eyes right there diving back to first base and coming off the field.
“I’m doing pretty good now. It’s hard for me to talk about it that way because obviously the bigger picture is there’s a lot of bad stuff going on around the world but for me personally it worked out. Selfishly I get the opportunity to come back and play again, but it’s unfortunate what’s going on. I’m just grateful something worked out in my favor and I get to play baseball again.”
Adding Hicks back into the mix is a huge deal. He was named the best senior in the Mountain West from D1 Baseball after leading the team with a .386 average with eight doubles, a home run and 11 RBI while starting and batting third in all 14 games.
Hicks was weighing the possibility of getting drafted or signing a free agent contract to start his pro career, but the uncertainty about the Major League Baseball Draft led him to return to school. The draft is typically 50 rounds, but could be shortened to less than 10 rounds this year — if they even have it at all.
“It’s not really a bet that I’m willing to make right now,” Hicks said. “It’s just a much safer option coming back and taking another year to develop and improve. The draft is going to be crazy and a lot of guys won’t get drafted or get an opportunity. This was the best thing for me, and for the team.”
Baseball gets 11.7 scholarships to divide among the players. Those on scholarship must get at least 25% of a scholarship, but rarely in baseball do players get 100%.
Van Tol confirmed that he increased Hicks’ scholarship to the point where it was a better financial option for him to return to school than potentially sign a pro contract.
“It’s not about the money, but that was definitely a big part of the decision,” Hicks said. “Everybody in the program made it pretty clear they wanted me to be part of this again next year.”
Boise State had a 9-5 record and was in its first season since 1980 when the year was cut short. The Broncos had just gone 9-2 on an 11-game homestand and scored at least seven runs in eight of their final nine games.
Now they unexpectedly get two of their best players back for another year.
“We were really starting something this year,” Hicks said. “I would have been shocked if we weren’t in the Mountain West Tournament (top four teams qualify). We were playing that kind of ball and we were only getting better, too. That’s the type of ball you’ll be seeing from the Broncos for years to come. I’m beyond blessed that I still get to be part of it.”