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The scholarship game: No more easy outs in college baseball

Picture from Donald J Boyles

Augie Garrido Talking with Moldenhauer- Picture from Donald J Boyles


This story originally appeared in the Dallas Morning News and is being re-publish with the permission of the Author Brian Davis.

For years, college baseball coaches have divvied up an NCAA-maximum 11.7 scholarships among 30 to 40 players. Learning how coaches manage those scholarships can be sobering for parents who believe their son is a future star.

“As far as the numbers go, with 11.7 scholarships, it doesn’t go very far,” Texas coach Augie Garrido said.

As one might expect, better recruits get more scholarship money. A coach may offer a top recruit thousands for tuition, room and board, a figure that could be 70 to 80 percent of a full scholarship.

The coach could then offer another recruit just $200 for books, and he would arrive on campus for the fall semester for what amounts to a tryout. That recruit would shell out thousands to pay tuition, room and board. If he didn’t perform well in the fall, he would be asked to leave.

“You don’t want to really tell anybody what you got and compare it to different guys,” said Blake Stouffer, a senior at Texas A&M last spring.

But beginning this fall, the NCAA is implementing tougher scholarship and transfer rules, aimed at eliminating so-called “tryout scholarships” and driving up player retention.

Roster size limits will go into effect, and the rules dictate that 30 players must receive at least 25 percent of a full scholarship.

Players will be required to sit out one year if they transfer to another NCAA school, just as football and basketball players do.

GPAs criticized

The tougher rules are expected to help improve grades in a sport long criticized as having some of the worst GPAs in college sports.

“That was the whole premise behind the minimum scholarship rule,” said Pat Britz, who worked at the NCAA from 1996 to 2001, then became the compliance director at Texas Tech.

Britz, 39, was recently hired as the commissioner of the Division II South Athletic Conference. He has written a book titled Athletic Scholarships for Dummies.

“If the coach didn’t feel like they would be good enough to play on a regular basis, they would let them go and help them find a junior college,” Britz said.

How do coaches feel about this new 25-percent scholarship rule? Former Mississippi State coach Ron Polk wrote an 18-page letter detailing how this rule, along with other NCAA changes, was destroying the game.

Polk outlined all of the sport’s positives and then wrote, “This is all in spite of the NCAA making it so difficult for our coaches and our kids to enjoy this experience.”

Texas A&M coach Rob Childress can list several players he’s coached who came to school on less than 25-percent scholarships. Take A&M sophomore right-hander Travis Starling, for example.

Childress said Starling “came in here a timid little boy, and he’s grown into a confident young man that’s doing great things in the [Texas A&M] Mays Business School.”

Starling redshirted in 2006 and appeared in 15 games in 2007. Last season, Starling was 8-2 with a 3.70 ERA for the Big 12 champion Aggies.

“The stories you’ve heard about the Travis Starlings of the world, that’s going to be a thing of the past and that’s sad,” Childress said.

Houston coach Rayner Noble likes the new rule. He’s seen private schools get creative. The athletic department pays a recruit’s books while the rest of the scholarship consists of academic aid.

Private schools’ edge

Attending Texas and Texas A&M in the 2008-09 academic year isn’t cheap. Both schools cost around $20,000 for tuition, room and board, books and other expenses, according to university figures. Private schools like Baylor and Rice can cost upward of $40,000 for the upcoming academic year.

The private schools have much smaller undergraduate enrollments, so there is more academic aid to go around.
Dallas Baptist coach Dan Heefner says the new transfer penalty leaves a player vulnerable should his scholarship be suddenly reduced.
Ricky Moon / Special to DMN
Dallas Baptist coach Dan Heefner says the new transfer penalty leaves a player vulnerable should his scholarship be suddenly reduced.

Some states have different rules on tuition structure. Louisiana, Georgia and Florida are among those that offer tuition waivers if students meet various criteria. So if a Texas school wants an out-of-state recruit, the coach must double up his scholarship offer just to get in the recruiting game.

Any aid that doesn’t come directly from the athletic department “needs to be dumped in the trash can,” Noble said.

The real complicating factor in all of this is the new transfer penalty, Dallas Baptist coach Dan Heefner said.

“What’s going to stop some coaches from bringing a kid on a big scholarship, and then you reduce the scholarship and he can’t leave?” Heefner said. He recommends a rule where a player can transfer without penalty if his scholarship gets reduced.

“Hopefully, as coaches we’re pretty careful about who we’re offing scholarships to because we’re dealing with people’s lives,” Heefner said.

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