Monday, October 20, 2008
College Baseball...The Future is NOW!!!
RT Staff Note: We like to spread our opinions around the nation to various web sites and last week we wrote a post on Rivals.com College baseball that got some good response from their editor. We added in some additional thoughts below, but would like your opinions as well. Many parents and high school players that read our blog may not think that any of the decisions made on the behalf of college baseball means a lot now because...well, just getting through high school is on the minds of families. However, the future of College Baseball is at a major crossroads...hopefully for the better...and that affects all aspiring collegiate players and their families. The following is what we posted on Rivals with some additional comments.
College Baseball...The Future Is Now
I'd like to know what coaches and administrators in collegiate baseball think about the future of their sport. Do they think it is heading towards more of an alliance with the pros like college football and basketball? The way we see it, it sure seems that way. And if that is the case, the NCAA should move to reward the progress rather than cut back. Let me explain.
College basketball and football are popular because it's a combination of tradition, great competition AND a glimpse into the future of what the careers of those superstars might be in the professional ranks. The draft day coverage of both the NBA and NFL draw incredibly large audiences on ESPN and on local channels. Fans want their pro team to pick one of those high profile players they have watched on College Game Day for the past several years.
Baseball is trying to mimic that success. For the past two years, ESPN has been televising the MLB draft...not to nearly the audience ratings of football and basketball, but they ARE covering it nonetheless. And those that watch the MLB draft are a step ahead and a bit more educated about their favorite pro teams up and coming stars.
Extensive televised game day coverage of the major sports educates fans too. After three or four years of watching collegiate stars like football's Reggie Bush or Darrin McFadden on TV, fans have become experts and are aware of each star and their abilities from the start. By the time these stars are eligible for the draft, and draft day nears, those draft picks become hope for the future of that pro franchise and their star starved fans.
In baseball however, despite the recent coverage, the draft picks often go unnoticed and the everyday casual fans don't really know much about a young prospect when they are brought up. There's hasn't been as much draft day excitement like there is with a top basketball or football college player.
Lately however, the quick accent to the majors with players like Longoria, Price, Pedroia, Ellsbury (all of whom had success in the ALDS and ALCS) and others have seemed to be game changers. The more competitive college baseball becomes, the better the chance top players have to make that leap into the big show. There are others like Joba Chamberlain from Nebraska that made it to Yankee Stadium in a hurry and up and comers like Buster Posey, Matt Weiters and Max Scherzer that are on the fast track to the bigs.
We can identify with these young players more because we saw them play in the College World Series or on CBS, Fox or ESPNU regular season coverage. Players like Longoria have more top of mind awareness with the fans and bring hope that the success he and others had at colleges such as Long Beach State, Vandy, Arizona St., LSU, Miami, USC and more can translate into a boost for a Major League team. That theory has sure served the World Series bound Rays very well this year...The Red Sox with Ellsbury and Pedroia haven't done too bad either.
Throw in the coverage that young players are also getting with televised draft day coverage and college baseball is on the brink of the kind of top of mind awareness that can open up all kinds of opportunities for both the NCAA member institutions and the MLB as well.
For instance, when a football player is introduced in the pre-game ceremonies or when his profile is shown on a TV graphic, the college he attended is part of his identity...That has never been the case with baseball.
This year, for the first time, after watching the ALCS, we know now where Longoria, Price, Pedroia and Ellsbury went to school. Why? Because, all of these guys hardly had a cup of coffee in the minors. College baseball provided them with the kind of experience, discipline and knowledge of the game that enabled them to quickly make the transaction to the bigs.
When a player is drafted out of high school, the minor leagues are his training ground to help him adjust to the hard knocks of everyday baseball life. Players that attend college, it can be argued, not only gain that same level of knowledge about baseball that the minor leagues teach, but may have an edge with better discipline, strength and conditioning, time management and social maturity. It seems many MLB clubs are noticing that type of edge too with the top prospects. It's no coincidence that more college players were drafted this year than any time in the MLB drafts history.
Hopefully, as collegiate baseball becomes known as more of a fast track to the pros, we will be able to identify each player with the college he attended, just like football and basketball...And, as more and more pro players are identified with their school, you get more interest at the fan and alumni level supporting their programs, increasing ticket sales, donations and revenue to help grow those programs.
It's that type of association with top athletes and school pride that has made college football a great tradition and NCAA basketball a huge TV revenue generator. With new venues, more TV coverage and bigger fan bases, can baseball be far behind?
From a recruiting standpoint, we would hope that more high school players set their sites toward earning a scholarship to their favorite college as the number one goal. In essence, that change is already beginning to take shape with top prospects like Gerrit Cole, spurning a first round draft pick by the Yankees and representation by Scott Boras to become a UCLA Bruin. But, if more players opt for college like Gerrit, there has to be more incentive in terms of scholarships for them to turn the tide.
As we stated earlier, MLB scouts love college players because they have at least three years of great work ethic and discipline that is arguably more stringent than what the minors offer. The collegiate player puts more time into their off season and during the season, squeezes up to three times more games into a week than any other collegiate sport. Their day starts at 6:00AM with strength and conditioning and doesn't end until 10:00PM after study hall...everyday...fall, winter and spring.
Despite this grueling schedule, they get the least number of scholarships of any major sport. That's probably the single most issue keeping college baseball from landing every top recruit. The out of pocket costs for some families of top prospects is too much too handle.
Like football and basketball, baseball families have invested a lot of time and money with travel ball, showcases, camps and so on, yet the reward is nothing but a 25%-50% discount to the college of their choice. We like the direction that baseball is headed, but the one disconnect is the scholarship. There are 30 roster spots divided by 11.7 scholarships... there has to be a better solution.
With dozens of newer, bigger, fan friendly stadiums and the subsequent increased TV coverage, college baseball is on track to be a major NCAA revenue sport. In Ron Polk's much publicized letter last year, he stated that NCAA D-I level is the second largest producer of revenue for NCAA championships behind men's college basketball. That revenue will continue to escalate. So, with increased attendance, bigger venues, more TV money...why are athletes playing a major college sport...America's Past Time... for the scholarship equivalent of minimum wage?
Is there a long term plan to make baseball a fully funded sport with 20-30 scholarships? Has there been discussion within the NCAA on baseball's growing popularity?
How will the NCAA change it's policies to take advantage of the growth of the sport?
Are their lessons/case studies to be learned from a similar growth acceleration of NCAA championship basketball that can be applied to baseball?
Do fans want to see more regionalism of the NCAA baseball tournament or more fair distribution of top rated teams throughout the country?
With the price of fuel spiraling downward, are there more opportunities for expansion to give the country the bragging rights kind of match-ups of West Coast vs. Texas, Florida and Georgia that would garner far more interest than a ho-hum "I can see that match-up during their regular season" affair that is being proposed for the first round regionals?
Are the Northern schools and their inability to fully fund their programs a barrier to change? If so, is it right to have the same rules in place for those schools that invest tens of millions into their programs?
Collegiate Baseball is headed into the big time...That, we are sure of...Write the NCAA...express your concerns...write them often. Tell them your thoughts and how passionate you are about this sport. If collegiate baseball is in your sons future...if you have a vested interest, are employed by, are a partner of, a media representative, or are just a fan... you should take a stand now.
Let's help college baseball move forward with a plan to take advantage of it's fast growing popularity.