Through the years, social media links have provided me so many great ideas for column material.
This week comes one such topic: Scholarships given to collegiate baseball players.
It’s a topic that Rick Cleveland of the Jackson, Mississippi-based Northside Sun brought up in a recent column: Fewer than half of the players on a Division I college baseball team — presuming 35 men on the roster — get full scholarships.
According to Cleveland, 11.7 scholarships, or fewer than 12 full ones, get shared by 27 players on the team. Eight others get nothing.
The idea of his column, he points out, is that college baseball has grown into a full-time business, much like college basketball and football have been for decades. Baseball players, after all, are training year-round to play somewhere around 50-55 games during the regular season, including a conference tournament and at least one playoff game. The off-season includes a summer league, fall practice and perhaps a few games, weightlifting and much more.
And these athletes also have full class schedules as well.
Cleveland also noted the disparity in scholarships for other sports. There are many, as he notes, but the main two that matter to most are basketball (13 per team) and football (85 scholarships). Think about it: Even the deep reserves for basketball and football, who’d only see the court or field in the final minutes of a one-sided game, get a full scholarship, while the starting pitcher, the star shortstop or .500 hitter is lucky to get the equivalent of half — often it’s far less, Cleveland notes — of what any football or basketball player will get.
The upshot of what I’m about to say is that Cleveland raises a lot of good points. Baseball is a big-time sport now. Part of it, I’m sure, is money and the opportunities for profit in many sectors.
But a lot of it, too, it’s because college baseball players, coaches and school athletic directors worked to raise the profile as well. They had talent and loved the sport, and saw it as the springboard to many bigger and better things, and not necessarily a ticket to the major leagues as well.
Years ago, this might not have been an issue. Games were rarely broadcast much less acknowledged, and may have seen just a bread-and-butter write-up in the newspaper if that. They most likely played in high school or city-owned ballparks rather than their own stadiums. The only games broadcast on TV were likely championship-level games, and that might have been on “ABC’s Wide World of Sports.” And on the list goes.
Today, things are different. The players have helped rally interest and helped draw fans to college games that, at one time, were played in podunk towns or high school baseball fields (of varying qualities) but now are played in bonafide stadiums. It also helps that ESPN and Fox saw opportunities to help increase exposure.
The more I think about this, and the more I write this, I’m really beginning to think college baseball players deserve a much fairer shake. Baseball is (or has been called) America’s Favorite Pastime, and college is often the springboard for some players to move on to much bigger things, even if just fewer than 1 percent of all players play professionally after college.
That is to say, the 99 percent of all players who hang up their cleats and bats after their last college game move on to real careers, and will — unless they’ve earned other academic scholarships and have gotten other aid — will have huge loans to repay. As Cleveland points out in his editorial, the workload between the regular and off-season (and, as I add, academics) leaves virtually no time for a job.
I suppose the number of players that are actually needed on a good college baseball team vary depending on who you talk to. Some, of course, will tell you 35 is way too many. Nonetheless, 12 is way too few ... and having 11.7 scholarships available to be shared/split between 27 players, especially when football and basketball (in particular) get way more full scholarships, is falling far short.
Thanks, Rick Cleveland, for bringing up a topic that needed to be brought up. It’s as you say: Fair is fair.
Baseball players are people too. They’re student athletes who are playing the game they love, but are — more importantly — trying to prepare for the rest of their lives. Just like their buddies in football and basketball and all other sports.
Even the fourth-string quarterback who plays maybe 10 downs during his entire collegiate career will be better off financially after college than the all-American first baseman.