ABCA Targets Scholarship Limits

By Staff

Coaching Management, 14.2, February 2006,

A new system for administering college baseball scholarships may be on the horizon. The American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) is working on a scholarship overhaul proposal it intends to pitch to the NCAA in July.

“The current model is inadequate and inappropriate,” says Mike Gaski, Head Coach at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and a member of the NCAA Division I Baseball Rules Committee. “It’s broken, and we need a whole new paradigm.”

The current 11.7 equivalency scholarships per team are insufficient for a sport that regularly sees rosters of 27 or more, Gaski says, and divvying up the money creates a re--cruiting nightmare for coaches. “Nobody who goes out to recruit is happy with this system,” says Gaski. “It’s humiliating to say to a family, ‘We think your son is worth 20 percent.’ You do that with used cars. Baseball coaches have become rug salesmen in terms of how we have to recruit now.”

The ubiquity of small partial scholarships also helps fuel baseball’s high transfer rate, another trend troubling coaches. “It’s easy for a player who’s getting nothing more than one semester of room and board to leave if everything isn’t completely to his liking,” says Dave Keilitz, Executive Director of the ABCA. “Baseball leads the country in transfers, and the lack of scholarship dollars is the major reason.”

The NCAA’s new classroom measure for teams, the Academic Progress Rate (APR), has put the transfer issue foremost in coaches’ minds as well. When a player transfers out, his team loses a point toward its APR. When enough points are lost, a team faces sanctions. And while a study group assigned last summer to review baseball-specific issues with the APR made adjustments to lessen the impact of a player leaving for the pros, they decided against making the same APR allowance for transfers.

With the addition of APR concerns, longstanding dissatisfaction with the current scholarship system is turning into a grassroots push for change. In November, Keilitz sent out a survey asking Division I coaches to consider two different plans. The one favored by the most coaches will ultimately be proposed to the NCAA.

The first option is simply to request an increase from 11.7 to 14 full scholarships. A second option would allow every program to award 27 tuition-and-fees-only scholarships. The ABCA settled on 27 scholarships because that is the average number of players per team who get some type of scholarship under the current system.

“This would be a totally new model,” Keilitz says. “No other sport limits the amount of aid an athlete can get to that university’s cost for tuition and fees. It would mean that no baseball player could get a full-ride scholarship, but it’s already unusual for a player to get one under the current system.”

There are advantages and disadvantages to both models, Keilitz says, but he believes the tuition-and-fees model has greater potential to dramatically decrease student-athlete transfers. “The cost to a player of going to school at one institution would be about the same as at another institution, because room and board costs are similar everywhere,” he explains. “The best a player could do would be to make a lateral move financially, so players wouldn’t be moving to a new program for a better deal.”

Keilitz acknowledges that any plan to raise scholarship limits will face hurdles. Adding scholarships is costly, and because Title IX compliance means schools may have to commensurately increase spending on women’s sports, the cost is more than just the scholarships added for baseball. In addition, only about half of the 285 baseball programs in Division I currently offer the full 11.7 equivalency scholarships already allowed. For programs that offer fewer than 11.7, joining a push for more scholarships may only put them at a greater disadvantage. Even so, Keilitz believes the majority of baseball coaches are behind adding scholarships.

“Seventy percent of our members say they support adding scholarships,” he says. “As an association, we feel strongly about this. It’s time to address it.”

Keilitz plans to assemble a committee to draft a proposal. He’ll submit the proposal to the NCAA Legislative Issues Committee in July.