Former Missouri and Giants minor league righthander Garrett Broshuis is now a law school student and is still writing at http://minorleaguelife.blogspot.com/. You also can follow him on Twitter: @broshuis.
Bud Selig may not have the cunning of Odysseus, but he and his braintrust are not idiots. Baseball’s commissioner is entrusted to act “in the best interests of baseball,” which really means acting in the best interests of baseball’s owners. As a former player and current advocate of minor league players’ rights, you can understand my trepidation upon hearing the announcement that MLB is interested in somehow “partnering” with the NCAA to sponsor more college baseball scholarships.
Baseball officials have been discussing the idea of partnering with the NCAA for at least two years. With this spring’s announcement, however, it seems progress is being made, as the discussions are becoming formal. I’m all for athletes attaining degrees, but my worries of today echo my worries of two years ago, namely that MLB envies the player development system of the NFL and, to a lesser extent, the NBA.
Unlike MLB, the NFL obviously does not have a minor league system. Instead, NFL draft requirements virtually ensure that college football operates as the NFL’s minor leagues. The NBA has also taken steps in recent years to use colleges in this fashion, and a recent article from broadcaster and former general manager Steve Kerr signals that some would like to take it further. On the other hand, baseball has an extensive player development system that costs MLB teams large sums of money (around $600 million annually as of 2010). From the owners’ perspective, it must be very tempting to find a way to slash this budget.
Baseball officials state their interest in sponsoring college scholarships stems from their fear that talented athletes are choosing college football and college basketball over college baseball due to the greater availability of scholarships. Division I football and basketball players typically receive full scholarships, as NCAA rules allow eighty-five scholarships for Division I football teams and thirteen for basketball teams. On the contrary, baseball teams receive a total of only 11.7 scholarships for their entire roster, meaning that almost every college baseball player receives only a partial scholarship.
This limitation on scholarships is a problem that college baseball coaches would love to see alleviated, but it is not the main reason that baseball is losing top athletes to football and basketball. Instead, baseball loses many top athletes to other sports simply because many young athletes see baseball as a boring sport. The great game that I love has lost some of its luster with young athletes, particularly with young black athletes. (Evidence: the percentage of black players in MLB dipped to 8.5 percent in 2011, down from 18% just twenty years ago.) As one youngster recently told me, “There’s too much standing around in baseball.”
There are better ways to court top athletes than by partnering with the NCAA. First, baseball should not have agreed in the most recent CBA to limited spending pools for amateur signing bonuses, as this will inhibit teams’ abilities to spend on top athletes. After all, baseball is the only sport that allows a player to sign out of high school. This should be used to baseball’s advantage, as allowing teams to spend as needed to court high school athletes can incentivize the choice of baseball over other sports.
Second, baseball should raise the salaries of minor leaguers to make minor league baseball more appealing to young athletes. Yes, player development already costs MLB teams large sums of money, but it’s still only around 6 percent of operating budgets. If each team threw one more million towards minor leaguers, salaries for most minor leaguers could instantly be doubled.
Third, MLB needs to make baseball seem cool again. I’m no PR person, but someone with more brains than me needs to find a way to not only make baseball cool to sabermetricians and 50-year-old white men, but also cool to 13-year-olds. Hey, if Harry Potter can become a fad with today’s youth, then so too can baseball.
As a former all-conference pitcher at Missouri, I can sincerely say that I’m a huge proponent of college athletics. But we should not force highly talented athletes into college sports as is done in football and basketball. A former professor once said to me, “MLB has it right. College is great for a lot of people, but not for everyone.”
I wholeheartedly agree. Yet I fear that baseball might be taking steps towards an NFL type of model. While this might be great for college baseball and great for the owners’ bottom line, it wouldn’t be great for players. It would take away players’ freedom of choice, and it would shave away earning years from an athletes’ short earning window. And, as stated above, there are better ways to court young athletes, chiefly through the already existing model.
Again, I’m all for helping athletes get college degrees. But when two cartels start cooperating with one another, I’m immediately wary. Any resulting gift is most likely not what it seems.