For years, the prospect of increasing college baseball's 11.7 scholarship limit has seemed like a pipe dream. Certainly, colleges and universities aren't going to start funding extra baseball scholarships anytime soon, but suddenly there is real momentum behind the notion that Major League Baseball might step in and pay for additional college baseball scholarships.
Dave Keilitz, executive director of the American Baseball Coaches Association, confirmed a CBSSports.com report that MLB is in discussions with the NCAA about forming a lasting financial partnership. Keilitz sits on a committee that also includes NCAA officials Dennis Poppe, the director of football and baseball operations, and Damani Leech plus former Division I baseball committee chairmen Ron Wellman, Larry Templeton and Tim Weiser. Keilitz said the college committee has been meeting with MLB and MLB Players Association officials for more than three years, but talks were slowed by the death of former NCAA president Myles Brand and the retirement of union chief Donald Fehr.
About three weeks ago, the college contingent met with MLB Executive VP Rob Manfred and his staff, plus MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner in New York. That meeting led Keilitz to believe the talks are really picking up steam.
"The meeting three weeks ago in New York was, I thought, a very productive one and a very good one," Keilitz said. "One reason I'm excited is Major League Baseball and the players association want to make this work.
"There's a lot of hurdles here, and one hurdle will be getting through the NCAA with some of the membership, because there's implications here with Title IX . . . There are a lot of things that have to be worked out. But I do think it's doable and hopefully it's going to happen this time around."
An MLB official said talks are in the "very early stages" but called them "very positive."
College baseball teams used to have 13 scholarships to spread out over their rosters before a 10 percent cut in 1991 reduced the number to 11.7. Just getting back to 13 scholarships would be a huge victory, but Keilitz said, "Personally, I'm hopeful it's more ambitious than that."
Not all college teams are fully funded, and a certain level of funding would likely be required in order to qualify for the extra MLB-funded scholarships, but those details are still being worked out. The Title IX implications remain a fly in the ointment, as well; if MLB funded extra scholarships for baseball, would universities then have to fund an equivalent number of scholarships for a women's sport?
Major League Baseball has a real interest in increasing the number of scholarships for college baseball, largely because many premier athletes choose to play fully funded sports like football or basketball rather than continue their baseball careers in college. Baseball has made an effort to grow the game amongst inner-city youth through the institution of its MLB Urban Youth Academies, and an increase in scholarships is a logical next step.
"If you've got a kid that's a great athlete, and money is a factor—which it is for many kids—if he's got an opportunity to play college football or college baseball, he's got to go play football because that's where his scholarship is," Keilitz said. "So we've lost a tremendous amount of athletes to football and basketball because of scholarship limitations."
MLB might be looking for more out of the partnership than simply reaping the long-term benefits of a stronger college game. For instance, MLB might want to be more involved with summer baseball, perhaps by having its own instructors coach elite players in one summer league, such as the Cape Cod League.
The CBS article speculated that MLB might also be looking to fund wood bats for Division I teams, but Keilitz said, "We've not talked about the bats."
Nothing is certain, and it figures to be at least a couple of years before any major changes are implemented—if they ever are—but for the first time in many years, there is reason for optimism that the scholarship limit could be raised.
"There's a lot of things that have to be worked out on this thing," Keilitz said. "But I'm really excited. If it doesn't work out, then I don't know what we do next. But the fact that I think there's a chance, is exciting. If this can be worked out, it may be the best thing that's happened to Division I baseball."
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