SAN DIEGO–On the drive down from Los Angeles to San Diego yesterday, I stopped off in Laguna Hills to have lunch with Baseball America salesman extraordinaire Ryan Johnson, who played baseball for Wake Forest in the early 2000s. We got to talking about the new Academic Progress Rate-inspired legislation that I discussed in Three Strikes yesterday, and I found his perspective very interesting as a former Division I athlete at an expensive private school.
The most controversial piece of the emergency legislation is the requirement that all scholarship players must receive at least a 33 percent scholarship, which is intended to force schools to make a heightened commitment to athletes in exchange for preventing players from transferring freely. But RJ believes this isn’t necessarily good for all athletes. Players who attend a pricey private school like Wake Forest on a 33 percent scholarship are still paying $20,000-$30,000 per year, and it’s tough to say they can’t transfer if the school turns out to be the wrong fit, or they’re not getting playing time, or whatever reason.
Plus, limiting the roster size and the number of scholarship players will give players fewer options. Some players might prefer to walk on at a major public school than accept a 33 percent or larger scholarship at a second- or third-tier school, but some won’t be given that opportunity anymore. And schools will be less likely to take chances on players who could develop over their college careers now that scholarships are so substantial.
All of this got me thinking about the impact this legislation will have on private schools that don’t have the vast reservoirs of non-athletic aid to give players that Rice, Stanford and Vanderbilt have. I discussed it with Pepperdine coach Steve Rodriguez yesterday, and he seemed to think it won’t affect the Waves too much, because he offers very few scholarships that are less than 33 percent anyway, since his school’s tuition is so expensive. The biggest change will be that he can no longer reward hard-working walk-on players with a smaller scholarship as a symbol of appreciation, but it won’t change the fundamental way Pepperdine operates.
I also had the opportunity to discuss the legislation yesterday with Dave Keilitz, the executive director of the American Baseball Coaches Association, and Dennis Poppe, the NCAA’s managing director of baseball. Talking to these very intelligent people reinforces the fact that this proposal was not thrown together haphazardly. There are a lot of very smart people working on this problem, and they have put an unfathomable amount of thought into every detail and potential ramification. Even if you don’t agree with every point they make, you still have to appreciate that they have a plausible answer at the ready for any criticism tossed their way.
I bounced some concerns off Keilitz, and here’s how he responded.
On the lack of flexibility afforded to schools by the 33 percent scholarship requirement in the event something unexpected happens with the draft:
“There’s no doubt you do not have as much flexibility as what you’ve had in the past. But, the data shows that the flexibility that we’ve had in the past is also one of the reasons for the huge number of transfers. And I think the committee felt a couple of things. One is, the smaller the scholarship, the greater the chance of the kid leaving. So what was happening was a lot of programs, if you look at the data, a huge number of very low scholarships were being rewarded, either books or 5 percent or 10 percent or 15 percent. When a lot of those sign, you’re not sure of the caliber of the kid, what he’s going to be like as a player. Sometimes it works out, and every coach can name instances of a player they had who became an All-American or whatever and he came on books or so forth. But for every one of those, there were several kids that were leaving the program. In the whole APR component, the biggest problem was the transfer, so the committee felt a bottom had to be created. I’™m not sure if there’s any magic bullet on what the minimum percentage should be. I don’t know what it is, if it’s 25 percent or 33 percent or 38 percent or whatever. But the committee settled on 33 percent.”
On the cap of 27 players on scholarship:
“The cap of 27 was established because the data shows the larger number of players on the team also created greater turnover, because all players are looking for playing time. So the cap was established at 27, that was based on the average number of players on scholarship Division I teams have had in recent years.”
On the underfunded schools, which will not be able to stretch their scholarships out among as many players as they can now because every player must receive 33 percent:
“The committee spent a tremendous amount of time on that, and it is a concern. The majority of programs in Division I have at least eight and a half scholarships. You’d have to be really below, at three or four or five scholarships, to really be affected by this. We also took that into consideration, but we also felt you can’t throw what the committee considered to be a good proposal out the window because there’s a couple dozen schools out there that haven’t made a financial commitment to their program. They can choose to do that or not do that, that’s up to them. But we couldn’t throw out something that’s going to benefit the majority of the programs just because a few programs haven’t made a financial commitment.”
On the impact on private schools:
“It probably leaves them in the same situation. I’ve talked to private school coaches that had some concern with it, and I’ve talked to other private school coaches that are not concerned with it and think it will not affect them either way. I haven’t gotten a great read yet that this would be a great hindrance to private schools. You’ve still got your basic difference that the kid’s got to pay, which is a lot more at private schools.”