Michael Hicks was enjoying the best start of his collegiate career on Idaho’s lone NCAA Division I baseball team.
Boise State’s return to baseball after a 40-year hiatus was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic, shelving the Broncos’ season after 14 games.
Hicks, a Coeur d’Alene High product, led Boise State in batting average (.386), hits (22), doubles (eight), RBIs (11) and was tied for first in runs (11) when the season was suspended in March.
Three months later, Boise State dropped its baseball program due to coronavirus-induced budget cuts.
“A shock,” said Hicks, an All-Mountain West Conference First-Team selection. “Not postponed, not take it year-by-year and see what happens, just cut right away. We were just getting started.”
Hicks is one of hundreds of NCAA Division I athletes to see their respective programs pay the ultimate price of belt-tightening measures compounded by the pandemic.
The list is growing.
Nineteen NCAA Division I schools collectively have dropped over 30 teams since the coronavirus shutdown, including Boise State’s baseball and women’s swimming and dive team and Stanford’s wrestling teams.
The loss of those of three programs has affected a half-dozen locals.
Hicks, former Mt. Spokane pitcher Stu Flesland and former Coeur d’Alene High outfielder Jayce Bailey were left without a program when Boise State baseball halted operations.
Boise State’s head swim coach is Post Falls High graduate Christine Mabile, whose roster included freshman and Mead High graduate Delaney Phillips.
Stanford wrestling, which will suspend school-sponsored operations after the 2020-2021 season, included former Lakeside sensation Dalton Young, who went 170-0 in his high school career.
Young, who battled injuries in his three years at Stanford and has two more years of eligibility, said he has wrestled his last wrestling match.
The coronavirus pandemic, injuries and Stanford’s decision to cut the program next year pushed him into early retirement, he said. He will earn a degree in communications and data studies this fall.
“I went through a gamut of emotions,” Young said. “Shock, disappointment, anger. We thought we were in a good spot. The program had been around since 1891 and survived a lot.”
Young went 6-9 as a redshirt freshman in 2019 at 133 and 141 pounds and 7-4 in 2020 at 133 pounds.
“I was going to finish (my wrestling career), then the COVID stuff happened,” Young said. “It made more financial sense to not be in the Bay Area and finish up (at home). It doesn’t make sense to go back from a nice secluded place in Nine Mile to a COVID hot spot.”
Young believes Stanford had been aiming to cut the program well before the pandemic to save on costs.
“Wrestling was the scapegoat. This felt like a crime of opportunity.”
Hicks was a senior on Boise State’s 2020 baseball team, but was granted an additional year of eligibility because of the coronavirus-shortened season. He won’t pursue it.
The 6-foot-7 outfielder started his college career at Yavapai Junior College and played two seasons at the University of Portland before transferring to Boise State, hoping to help jump start the new program.
Hicks was drafted in the 27th round of the 2015 MLB Draft by the New York Yankees before pursuing a college career.
This year the MLB cut its 40-round draft to five rounds as a cost-saving measure, so Hicks wasn’t drafted again.
“I had a wary feeling that when the season was suspended that I took my last college at-bat,” Hicks said. “There wasn’t a lot of support by the school, no effort on getting us a stadium built. I remember thinking ‘When are they going to commit to this?’ ”
Boise State, which last played baseball in 1980, finished its abbreviated 2020 season with a 9-5 record.
Broncos coach Gary Van Tol, who played and coached at Gonzaga, had a roster stocked with Northwest talent
“It would have been a great pipeline for guys in the Northwest,” said Hicks, who earned a degree in communications and is interning in Boise this summer. “It’s sad and embarrassing how it all ended, how (the administration) just threw us into the fire.”
Flesland, who has a 3.38 ERA as a freshman with 15 strikeouts in 102/3 innings, has transferred to Washington.
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