Most everyone knows my passion for baseball, particularly Alabama baseball and college baseball in general. With the many restrictions the sport faces, they lost a chance to take a big step forward last week. The SEC, with the backing of The American Baseball Coaches Association, had a proposal brought forward to allow a third paid assistant coach for baseball. After a year or so of due diligence the proposition was amended to add another softball coach as well.
First a little background.
NCAA Division One baseball allows 35 players on a team, with 27 of them allowed to have some scholarship assistance. The problem is the 27 have to divide 11.7 scholarships, with the minimum allowed to give being 25%. Softball is allowed up to 25 players, but most teams have 15-19 players to divide 12 total scholarships. Each team is allowed three paid coaches — usually a head coach, a hitting coach, a pitching coach, and one unpaid volunteer assistant. By contrast, because of football, Title IX- rowing has 20 full scholarships, women's basketball was 15 full, (men’s teams have 13), Soccer has 14 full rides that they can use or divide among their 29 players.
The volunteer coach is not allowed to receive a salary or benefits, and at bigger schools the volunteer survives on money earned at winter and summer baseball camps. At schools like Alabama, as is the case with most SEC teams, that can be a pretty fair amount of money. However, insurance and retirement pay can not be included. At smaller schools, the volunteer most likely is doing private lessons or working some other job in their “free” time.- Baseball is a very time intensive sport, and the staff has very little free time.
The volunteer is not allowed to engage in off-campus recruiting. I am not really sure why this is a thing. As Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn pointed out in having to hire new coaches it is important to have good recruiters. If the volunteers haven't had the opportunity to go out and prove their chops, it makes it harder to get a job. With only the head coach and two paid assistants able to go out and recruit, the team is often times left shorthanded during practice and some midweek games. The life blood of any program is the recruiting, so the coaches find themselves out often during the preseason practice and midweek games. This leaves less time to spend with the players to help develop them. If the NCAA is really about the “well being” of their student athletes, this is a strange way of showing it.
Back to the proposal.
In the fall of 2015, the SEC came up with the idea of adding a third paid assistant, as well as keeping the volunteer position. The coach-to-player ratio for baseball is one of the worst in the NCAA at 12 players-per-coach. At some point the measure was considered doomed to fail without a women's waiver added to it. Therefore the third coach for softball was added to the equation. The plan evolved again to eliminate the volunteer, and make it a paid position. That is good for the volunteers who get promoted, but it also eliminates a position that gave young coaches a foot in the door to begin their career. The main thing the sitting coaches wanted was the right to send one more coach out on the recruiting trail to spread the work load.
The coaches in all the conferences supported the measure, but the vote went to the Athletic Directors. Up until the last minute everyone seemed to be on board, but inexcusably the Big 10 and Big 12 changed their votes at the last minute and the rule failed. The 14 SEC schools all voted yes, in the Big 12 it is known for sure that Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and West Virginia all voted no. The Pac 12 did vote yes, but the AD at Oregon State voted no. OSU won the College World Series last year, a truly shocking vote.
The full list of nays has not been released yet, but these big schools with huge budgets should be ashamed. Most did not want to include the softball assistant. The sad thing is that it would be the choice of each school whether they wanted to, or could afford to, add the third paid job. Pass the legislation and then decided as a school to use it to your advantage or not. There is no reason to punish the other schools and young coaches with a negative vote. Van Horn mentioned that he is hesitant to hire a volunteer coach that has a family because of the hardships involved with no insurance or other benefits and the lack of a steady and predictable amount of income.
There were a few things that did get passed, with the most important being a tweak to the recruiting calendar. More dead periods were built in to try and allow the coaches some times with their families. One was added for after the conference tournaments, from May 27 to June third, as well as the first weekend of the College World Series-which correlates with Fathers Day. A three dead period around the fourth of July holiday was included, as well as some time in late October to early November. That is a good thing, but having another body that could go out would have allowed for the same thing, by dividing the trips among four instead of three men.
With this important piece shot down, the coaches and Athletic Directors should take aim on trying to remedy the low scholarship numbers. Simply stating that it is about student-athlete safety should open some eyes, and some worries about possible lawsuits. Another issue is the lack of African American players in the sport overall. Baseball has been dying in the black community for some time now: black players comprise just 8% of MLB, for instance. Baseball is an expensive sport as a youth now days because of the phenomenon of travel ball. Bats, gloves, shoes, and weekly travel adds up in a hurry. And the professionalization of developing younger players has had real-world ramifications. Among other things, there has been a direct and immediate decline in black players. The minority players that do play are more likely to sign professional contracts out of high school rather than playing college ball.
And this doesn’t even address the scholarship disparity among lottery states.
People that love baseball need to make their voices heard. The disrespect that the sport faced among athletic directors is ridiculous. A commonsense proposal that had garnered near-unanimous support among the nation’s coaches, one that equally and positively affected both baseball and softball, was shot down by a few cowards in the Big 12 and Big 10. And they need to answer for their no votes.
College Baseball Fever, Catch It