Category Archives: Baseball

How the Arizona Wildcats Made the College World Series…and Money

It has been quite a season for the University of Arizona baseball team.  Winning the most games of any Wildcats baseball team for a single season since 1989, the Wildcats punched their ticket to Omaha, NE and the College World Series after beating St. John’s University in the NCAA Super Regional tournament.

While the Wildcats’ road back to Omaha is impressive, perhaps what is more interesting about the team’s season is the increase in revenue enjoyed by the the University of Arizona baseball program.  While the team’s on-field success drove interest in the program, the increase in revenue was largely generated by the team’s move from its previous on-campus home of 44-years, Jerry Kindall Field at Frank Sancet Stadium, to the off-campus location of Hi Corbett Field.

Given the history that the Wildcats created while playing at Jerry Kindall Field, along the field’s convenient on-campus location, there was some initial resistance from Wildcats baseball fans regarding the move.  However, University of Arizona Director of Athletics, Greg Byrne, knew that the move to the former Spring Training facility of the Cleveland Indians and Colorado Rockies would bring great things to the team and the Arizona athletics department.

“When we did this, our thought was that there was a community connection with Hi Corbett.  It was a dramatic facility improvement for our team, as we have a great clubhouse, locker room and training facilities.  We felt that if we could re-engage Tucson with our baseball program, it would have a tremendous impact for us this year and many years to come,” Byrne said.

Byrne’s intuition about the success that moving to Hi Corbett Field could bring the baseball program was correct.  The athletics department invested $350,000.00 to update the field’s clubhouse and provide it with University of Arizona paint and banners.  After those measures, Hi Corbett was open for business and fears that fans may not attend games at an off-campus location were quickly quashed.

For starters, ticket revenue for the baseball team this season was five-times that of what it was last year.  In 2011, Arizona baseball brought in $69,000.00 worth of ticket revenue.  This season, the baseball team brought in just shy of $350,000.00 in ticket revenue, which does not include revenue for tickets sold during the NCAA Regional tournament or NCAA Super Regional tournament.  Arizona baseball games were a hit with fans this season, as the team has brought in an average home attendance of 2,460.  Last season, the average attendance for games was just over 1,000.  The popularity of watching the Arizona baseball team play at Hi Corbett Field is further demonstrated by the fact that during one weekend series against Arizona rival ASU, the baseball team was able to bring in ticket revenues of $98,500.00.  The ticket revenue that Arizona baseball was able to generate during one weekend series was nearly $30,000.00 more than it generated all last season.

Along with obtaining revenue from ticket sales, Arizona’s athletic department also receives revenues from concession sales at the baseball games.  One luxury the athletics department has found in its move to Hi Corbett, is the ability to sell beer at baseball games.  This year, $360,000.00 worth of concessions, including beer, were sold at Arizona baseball games.  Of that gross number, the Arizona athletics department received $160,000.00 from Hi Corbett’s concessionaire.  Although beer sales accounted for a significant portion of the concession gross receipts, Byrne is quick to note that he does not believe beer sales are driving ticket sales.  “The nice thing, is that for our NCAA Regional game, we had 5,400 people at the game and we didn’t sell beer.  They came to support Arizona baseball; not for the amenity of beer,” said Byrne.

Arizona’s move to Hi Corbett has also presented the school’s athletic department with another way to generate revenue:  Hosting NCAA postseason baseball games.  For the first time in 20 years, the Wildcats hosted the NCAA Regional baseball tournament.  Additionally, Arizona hosted its first-ever NCAA Super Regional baseball tournament.  To host these tournaments, the athletics department placed bids with the NCAA.  The starting bid for the NCAA Regional tournament was $35,000.00, while the bid for the NCAA Super Regional is $50,000.00.  Byrne noted that the Arizona athletics department exceeded the bid amount for the NCAA Super Regional tournament.  Although Arizona spent money to bring these tournaments to Tucson, it gets to keep ticket sales revenue exceeding  the bid amount.  Additionally, the athletics department gets to keep all concession revenues from the tournaments.  On the first day of the NCAA Regional tournament, $24,000.00 worth of concessions were sold.

For the first time since 2004, the Arizona Wildcats baseball team took the field in Omaha to compete for the College World Series.  While the team’s success is much to celebrate, the financial turn-around of the program that was sparked by the team’s play and move to Hi Corbett is another cause for celebration.  Last year, the baseball team lost revenues of $816,000.00.  This year, Byrne expects the team’s net loss in revenues to be closer to $650,000.00.  In the next five years, Byrne expects the teams net losses to be under $500,000.00.  Although these numbers still represent net losses, in the grand scheme of things, it is a major win for the University of Arizona baseball program.

The 2012 Junior College World Series

Is it possible in this day and age to hear about an intercollegiate national championship without also hearing stories of improper recruiting, conference realignment and pay-for-play scandals?

Believe it or not, it is. 

For 55 years, the small western Colorado city of Grand Junction has played host to the Junior College World Series.  From the Friday before Memorial Day until the Saturday after, Grand Junction citizens devote their livelihood to supporting the baseball dreams of young men from across the country.

In 2012, those men represented junior colleges from nine states between South Carolina and Nevada as they competed to win the championship team trophy and the gold medals that are awarded to the members of the championship team.  Winning the JUCO World Series does not bring a school the chance to negotiate with a television network for a greater revenue distribution share.  Nor will it bring a large payout to the team’s school.  However, winning the JUCO World Series binds these young  to the others like them that have come before, that deeply loved baseball and experienced the strong sense of community Grand Junction, CO offers. 

The 2012 JUCO World Series kicked off on Friday, May 25 with a banquet attended by over 1,000 individuals at the Two Rivers Convention Center.  The banquet serves as the tournament’s first warm welcome to players and coaches.  While each team in its entirety attends the banquet, the bulk of the banquet’s attendance is made up by local Grand Junction residents and business owners who purchase tickets and tables to support JUCO.  The room is filled with well-dressed people, who gather around their neighbors with proud smiles on their faces for what their city has accomplished through the JUCO World Series. 

This year, banquet attendees received quite a treat, as the guest speaker was Don Meyer, who at the time he retired as an NCAA basketball coach, led the NCAA in all-time wins for men’s basketball head coaches.  Standing at the podium with a cane in his hand, Meyer served as an inspiration to the young men who would be taking the field the next day along with those present who have dreams of their own to fulfill.  A basketball coach for 38 years, one of Meyer’s legs was partially amputated in 2008 after he was in a car accident.  While recovering from the serious car accident in the hospital, doctors also diagnosed Meyer with inoperable liver and intestinal cancer.

Meyer’s response to recovering from a life-threatening accident and the terminal news of his cancer diagnosis, serves as an inspiration of how the love of something greater than one’s self can help one beat the odds against them, no matter how big the odds may be.  In Meyer’s case, what he loved more than himself was the opportunity to guide young men’s lives as a coach.  The depth to which this love found itself in Meyer’s heart is demonstrated by how Meyer responded to the amputation of his leg and being diagnosed with two forms of inoperable cancer.  At 4:30 a.m.  on the day that he was released from the hospital Meyer got in the car, headed to the gym and went back to work as a college basketball coach.

Don Meyer speaks to banquet attendees.

Leaving the Two Rivers Convention Center on Friday night, it’s safe to say that every young man believed that if he pushed himself just a little bit harder to overcome his personal obstacles, then his team could hoist the JUCO World Series championship trophy come June 2.

At 9 a.m. on May 26, the sun was shining in Grand Junction and the wind was blowing some 40 MPH.  However, a little (albeit strong) wind was not going to put a damper on the event that for 55 years, many Grand Junction residents have centered their Memorial Day weekends around.  Men who have served on the JUCO committee for decades arose early to prepare the field for the day’s games.  Many of these men would take days off of work throughout the following week to ensure that all ran smoothly with the tournament.  Perhaps its childhood dreams that drive these men’s desire to spend one week each summer practically living at a baseball stadium, devoting all of their time during that week to the operations of a baseball tournament.  However, more likely, it is their desire to serve their community and help young men achieve their own dreams that drives them out of bed before the sun rises to organize a baseball tournament.

Walking into the tournament this year, past attendees quickly noticed the grand renovations to the Lincoln Park Stadium, where the tournament is held.  Since fans left the stands after the 2011 tournament, the Tower at Lincoln Park was constructed.  The tower is an eight-story tall building which houses concession stands, media booths and an open space conference room that can be used for entertaining and events during sporting events (on the opposite side of the baseball field there is a football field where Colorado Mesa University plays its games).  The construction of the tower is a further demonstration of the long-standing commitment of Grand Junction and its residents to the JUCO World Series, as it was funded and developed by Grand Junction residents Jamie Hamilton and Bruce Hill, along with the school district, Colorado Mesa University, JUCO and the NJCAA.

The Tower at Lincoln Park stands 80-feet tall.

A view from the Tower at Lincoln Park overlooking Colorado Mesa University’s football field.

While the most notable change this season was the finalization of the Tower at Lincoln Park construction, mention was made during the weekend of the breadth of development to the JUCO World Series that has occurred over the years.  On Sunday, May 27, a pre-game celebration was held honoring the 7th  year of the NJCAA and recognizing former NJCAA Executive Director, George Killian.  In the world of JUCO baseball, Killian is a celebrity of sorts.  Upon his arrival to any game or event, people quickly whisper to one another such things as, “That’s George.  You must meet George.”  At the pre-game celebration, an elderly Killian stood near home plate and recounted how in 1960, he came to Grand Junction to see if it would be fitting to host the JUCO World Series.  He noted that when he arrived to Grand Junction in 1960, all he saw before him was a cow pasture.  Yet, the city and the NJCAA forged a bond which has subsequently resulted in the two pairing to host the tournament over the last 55 years.  The measure of this was not lost on Killian, who as he stood below the new 80-foot state-of-the-art tower, noted, “What you see today, is truly a miracle.”

George Killian comments upon how far the JUCO World Series in Grand Junction, CO has come since 1960.

Perhaps some would call the success of the JUCO World Series over the last 55 years a miracle.  However, from an outsider’s perspective, it appears to be more so the expected outcome from an outpouring of love.  The men and women who call Grand Junction home undoubtedly love their city.  Additionally, it is clear that they recognize the good that comes out of one devoting his time to helping a community and others become better.  It is this mixture of love for a city and service to others that has allowed the JUCO World Series to successfully exist over the last 55 years while also making the dreams of young men and Grand Junction residents alike come true.

An Interview with Texas A&M AD Bill Byrne

Texas A&M AD Bill Byrne

Texas A&M Athletic Director Bill Byrne chatted with me by telephone yesterday. We talked about everything from the Longhorn Network to rumors of a move to the SEC to Kyle Field renovations. Below you’ll find the full interview followed by my thoughts on the most important thing he said.

Q: What are some things A&M can do to compete with Longhorn Network?

A: I’m not concerned about competing with the Longhorn Network. What I am concerned about is fairness. As Athletic Directors [in the Big 12] we agreed that every school could take one football game and choose to put it on PPV or our own network. As far as the high school games, I think that is absolutely against NCAA rules. I think that’s a recruiting advantage. Fairness is what you want you in recruiting.

Q: What about the fact that University of Texas administers high school sports in Texas? Is that an issue?

A: I think that’s a significant issue.

Q: I’m of the opinion that Texas will become an independent in the next five years. What do you think?

A: They have a very good conference. They get special treatment from ESPN, and they have a place for all of their Olympic sports. I don’t agree that they will become independent.

Q: Tim Brando and I discussed on his show the other day the increasing volume of Texas A&M fans who want to move to the SEC. Tim says he’s hearing from a lot of fans who are ready to make the move. Do you feel like fans are becoming more vocal about wanting to move to the SEC?

A: I don’t know the answer to that, because I don’t know who all is talking to him. There was a movement last year by a number of people on the internet that wanted us to leave Big 12 and go to the SEC. Texas A&M didn’t push Humpty Dumpty off the wall, but we did help put the pieces back together again in the Big 12. There’s some angst here about our future, so I’m concerned about that.

Q: At SEC Media Days Commissioner Mike Slive proposed an increase in GPA required for the core high school curriculum required by the NCAA. Several coaches opposed saying they’d rather increase the standards at the college level instead of putting pressure on high schools or denying kids opportunities. What do you think?

A: I’ve been an AD now almost thirty years and I find where the problems arise are on the front end and whether or not they can compete academically on campus. If prospective-student athletes don’t have at least a 1300 SAT or are in the top 10% of their class, they’re not getting into Texas A&M. We’re an elite academic institution like Vanderbilt or Florida in the SEC and our core curriculum requirements are higher than those required by the NCAA.  

Q: You’ve been compared to Louisville AD Tom Jurich because of your commitment to Title IX and Olympic sports and success at marketing/fundraising. Do you agree?

A: Oh yeah. Tom has done an incredible job everywhere he has been. He’s done a remarkable job at Louisville.

Q: Why focus on non-profit-producing sports? What benefits do they bring to the University?

Once someone puts on a Texas A&M uniform, they are your athletes. They are your kids. I treat our athletes as though we’re part of a big family. When I was at Oregon I was introduced at a woman’s volleyball banquet. They talked about how I attended all their games, banquets and other events. When they introduced me they talked about me being like a father to the program. I feel a personal responsibility to those students and their parents.

Q: Obviously Title IX is the reason some sports are on campus….

A: I was very disappointed when Title IX was passed and not funded. It was an unfunded mandate, and I objected to that aspect. I don’t believe in unfunded mandates. Once it was passed, I stand up and salute it. We are going to do the very best we can for all of our athletes. We treat all of our athletes the same. We want to make sure you have a great experience while at Texas A&M and leave with a degree.

Our women’s basketball team won the national championship this year. Their budget is identical to the men’s except the guarantees are less.

Q: Are there any plans to renovate/expand Kyle Field or any other facilities in the near future?

We’re spending 25 million right now to renovate the baseball field. We’ve recently had seven coach’s nights across Texas where renovation plans for Kyle Field have been presented. We’re also getting a new outdoor track. We have the best indoor track facilities in the world – not the country, the world. That’s why we host the NCAA championship every third year. The new outdoor track will be the best in the country and will host Olympic trials. The Regents passed football plans for Kyle Field last week. We’ll start on the one side at the end of the 2012 season and tear it down section by section. We’ll tear down the west side at end of the 2013 season and the second deck following the 2014 season.

Q: Will there be additional seating added during the renovation to Kyle Field?

A: We will not increase size of football stadium. It seats 90,000 now. There’s a good reason for not having an increase – in the sport of football there is declining attendance both in college and NFL and increase in television viewership. We don’t want to overbuild.

Q: I’ve written a lot about colleges selling naming rights on their facilities. How do you feel about naming rights?

The new baseball stadium will have “Blue Bell Park” in the name, if that answers your question. They’re paying 7-8 million to have the naming rights for 20 years.

Q: Texas A&M is one of 22 self-sustaining athletic departments. To what do you attribute that?

A: I tell all of our coaches they need to hug the bricks at Kyle Field every day. When you have a stadium that seats 90,000 and is sold out it generates a lot of help. Also, our membership in Big 12 and terrific sponsorship program. We manage our money well.


The thing that stood out to me most about this interview is what Byrne said about overbuilding. Texas A&M has made the conscious decision not to add any seating to their football stadium despite their attendance levels. Texas A&M was #13 in average attendance in 2010 according to the NCAA.

This to me underscores the importance of television contracts in college football. I’ve long said more ADs and commissioners should be former CEOs and CFOs because college football is a billion dollar business. Now I’m wondering if the focus shouldn’t be on someone who has worked in or who has connections with the television industry.

No commissioner has been more lauded lately than the Pac-12’s Larry Scott. Why? Because he secured a record-breaking television deal for his conference that involved ESPN and FOX having to work together. Yesterday, he announced details of the Pac-12 Network, which will feature a national network and six regional networks within the conference’s footprint. In my opinion this blows the Big Ten Network out of the water in terms of structure and availability. (That being said, I don’t think he has the same product as the Big Ten, so we’ll see how it goes.)

Television is not only a huge source of revenue for conferences, it impacts the entire structure of college football. For some like Notre Dame and BYU it helps support independence. For others, like members of the Big 12, it can hold a conference together. It’s the reason why TCU and Utah are moving to AQ conferences and Boise State is not.

The stadium capacity arms race in college football is over. Sure, stadiums will still be renovated and improved, but the race to see who can add the most seats has likely peaked. Instead, we are in the midst of a great television race. Which conference can sign the largest contract? Which conferences can support their own network? Which schools can use their own network to get ahead? Which school can a conference add to get into a top tv market they don’t already occupy?

It’s time to face the facts. The future of college football is in the hands of television networks.

Postseason Financial Losses Not Limited to Football

Florida vs. Alabama (by Flikr user TipsterHog)

Much has been made of the fact that so few football programs make money on their bowl appearances. Between the tickets required to be purchased and the travel expenses, most programs are happy to break even and many lose money.

What if I told you it’s not a phenomenon confined to football?

It turns out football is no different than baseball or gymnastics. I’ve been looking through audited financial statements from a number of schools lately and something caught my eye on the University of Florida’s. Quite a few of Florida’s sports teams made postseason appearances and virtually every one of them cost the athletic department more than was made.

Here’s a breakdown by sport:

  Revenue Expense Profit
SEC Championship




Bowl Game




Men’s Basketball      
SEC Tournament




NCAA Tournament




SEC Tournament




NCAA Regionals




NCAA Super Regionals




NCAA Championships




SEC Championship (Men’s)




SEC Championship (Women’s)




NCAA Championship (men’s and women’s)




Men’s Golf      
SEC Championship




NCAA Championship




Men’s and Women’s Swimming    
SEC Championship




NCAA Championship




Men’s and Women’s Track      
SEC Championship




NCAA Championship




Women’s Golf      
SEC Championship




NCAA Championship




Women’s Basketball      
SEC Tournament








Women’s Soccer      
SEC Championship




NCAA Championship




Women’s Volleyball      
NCAA 1st/2nd Rounds




NCAA Regional




SEC Championship




NCAA Regionals




NCAA Super Regionals




NCAA Championships




Women’s Gymnastics      
SEC Tournament




NCAA Regionals




NCAA Championship




ALC Championship




Similarly, Ohio State’s budget shows losses of $462,000 from participation in championship events and athletic tournaments, not including revenue from its bowl distribution from the Big Ten and NCAA distribution from the men’s basketball tournament.

The only time schools receive revenue from NCAA postseason competition is when they are the host school, with the exception of basketball. Florida was lucky to have held a number of events in Gainesville during the 2009-2010 school year, but you’ll see even then they generally lost money. Any profit made at these NCAA tournaments I’m told is little if any and goes to the NCAA. As someone who religiously watches the College World Series every year, I’m surprised to learn that teams don’t earn money for their appearances.

I don’t share this information to defend the bowl system, but to explain that it’s common for athletic departments to lose money when one of its teams participates in postseason competition. I understand bowls generally make more money than these other NCAA tournaments and competitions, so I’m not directly comparing the situations. I’m only trying to share with you the fact that athletic departments lose money on just about every postseason endeavor. It’s not something I’ve seen widely discussed, and I always strive to bring you as much information about the business of college sports as possible.

Which Sports Turn a Profit?


Florida Gymnastics (from Flikr user gtmcknight)

Quite often when sharing the financials of various athletic departments I’ve told you that football and men’s basketball are generally the only sports with the potential to make more money than they spend. Here and there we see a women’s basketball program or another sport turn a profit for the year, but it’s a rarity.

Some of you have asked exactly how much the other sports lose, so I thought I’d share with you what I have. Keep in mind, I’m sharing operating revenue and expenses for each individual sport. There are other forms of revenue and expense in the athletic department, but these are the revenues and expenses necessary to operate each sport.

We’ll start with Michigan State. I’ve got their financials from the 2009-2010 school year.

Here’s the operating profit or loss of each sport at Michigan State:

Men’s Sports

  Revenue  Expenses Profit
Football $14,406,957.00 $9,609,426.00 $4,797,531.00
Basketball $4,053,960.00 $5,230,048.00 -$1,176,088.00
Hockey $1,156,130.00 $1,786,114.00 -$629,984.00
Baseball $0.00 $721,677.00 -$721,677.00
Track/Cross Country $0.00 $611,860.00 -$611,860.00
Wrestling $0.00 $609,573.00 -$609,573.00
Soccer $0.00 $506,016.00 -$506,016.00
Swimming $0.00 $457,172.00 -$457,172.00
Tennis $0.00 $276,024.00 -$276,024.00
Golf $0.00 $225,653.00 -$225,653.00
    TOTAL -$416,516.00

Women’s Sports

  Revenue Expense  Profit
Basketball $163,639.00 $1,938,843.00 -$1,775,204.00
Crew $0.00 $1,145,040.00 -$1,145,040.00
Volleyball $0.00 $928,579.00 -$928,579.00
Track/Cross Country $0.00 $882,337.00 -$882,337.00
Softball $0.00 $867,019.00 -$867,019.00
Field Hockey $0.00 $819,930.00 -$819,930.00
Gymnastics $0.00 $706,399.00 -$706,399.00
Soccer $0.00 $639,370.00 -$639,370.00
Swimming $0.00 $635,605.00 -$635,605.00
Tennis $0.00 $427,447.00 -$427,447.00
Golf $0.00 $249,918.00 -$249,918.00
    TOTAL -$9,076,848.00

Only four sports generate any revenue at Michigan State: football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball and hockey. This is not uncommon, as few sports outside of football and basketball charge for admission to games.

For those who are interested, despite the appearance of the above, Michigan State is a self-sustaining athletic department once you add in revenue from broadcasting, post-season payouts, sponsorships, licensing and royalties, etc. However, as you can see, it takes the football profit plus many millions more to run the athletic department, not unlike most universities.

The story isn’t much different at Florida. Here are the operating numbers for each sport at Florida based on financial statements for fiscal year 2010 (2009-2010 school year):

Men’s Sports

  Revenue Expense Profit
Football $63,951,571.00 $19,707,442.00 $44,244,129.00
Basketball $9,464,520.00 $6,866,541.00 $2,597,979.00
Baseball $541,073.00 $1,678,780.00 -$1,137,707.00
Tennis $9,867.00 $507,705.00 -$497,838.00
Golf $14,400.00 $375,499.00 -$361,099.00
    TOTAL $44,845,464.00

Coed Sports

Swimming $3,000.00 $1,403,826.00 -$1,400,826.00
Track $69,854.00 $2,263,392.00 -$2,193,538.00
    TOTAL -$3,594,364.00

Women’s Sports

Golf $4,932.00 $314,413.00 -$309,481.00
Basketball $45,361.00 $2,182,324.00 -$2,136,963.00
Tennis $0.00 $516,992.00 -$516,992.00
Soccer  $0.00 $757,538.00 -$757,538.00
Volleyball $78,418.00 $1,008,438.00 -$930,020.00
Softball $39,655.00 $908,338.00 -$868,683.00
Gymnastics $236,819.00 $1,063,242.00 -$826,423.00
Lacrosse $0.00 $600,624.00 -$600,624.00
    TOTAL -$6,946,724.00

I should note there is a slight difference in the way Michigan State and Florida break out revenue and expenses for each sport. Florida breaks broadcasting revenue and postseason money out by sport, whereas Michigan State does not. However, Florida also includes the expenses for postseason participation by sport. Another difference is that Michigan State includes grants–in-aid by sport and Florida does not.

All this would matter if you were comparing the two schools, but here I’m only using them to give you two examples of how every sport other than football, and in Florida’s case men’s basketball, lose money. (Even if each school presented their financials in exactly the same way no sports other than football and maybe men’s basketball would turn a profit.) This is typical of every school I look at, but these are examples from two schools who are self-sustaining athletic departments (meaning they require no financial support from the University).

If you’ve read this site for long, you’ve heard me say that football profits are important because they fund every other sport. They don’t simply sit in a “football only” vault waiting to enrich the football program. As you can see, Florida is in a better position than Michigan State to cover the operating expenses of all the sports thanks to the huge football profit. In addition to the approximately $10 million it must cover in losses by other sports, however, there is $9.6 million in scholarship expense, $2.9 million in training expenses, $1.2 million in sports information expenses (publications, programs, etc.), $2.1 million in marketing expenses, $4.9 million in administrative expenses and so on to the tune of $96.9 million in total operating expenses in the athletic department.

This is why the debate over pay-for-play is so complicated. Not only are there only one or two profit-producing sports at a school, but there’s the Title IX issue I’ve detailed previously.

Check back tomorrow for something else I found interesting when reviewing which sports lose money.

Are African Americans Underrepresented in College Baseball?

If you’ve read this site for a while, you may have seen my post about a young man named Mendez Elder who plays in the inner-city baseball league I’m involved with. Mendez did attend The Perfect Game National Showcase and I hear he made the most of his opportunity. He was 2-for-4 with a standup triple, a single and two stolen bases. His arm was rated as above average Major League arm playing both Right Field and Catcher. He really made us all proud!

Without organizations like L.E.A.D., however, I fear the number of African-Americans playing baseball at the collegiate level will continue to dwindle. On the rosters of this year’s eight College World Series teams there were just 11 African-American players out of 275 – that’s only 4 percent of players. Why?

We hear a lot of debate about whether college scholarships are sufficient compensation to college athletes or if they should be paid for their performance on the field. What we fail to discuss is the blockade many young men face trying to earn one of these coveted scholarships.

Most of the guys I know who played college baseball spent years playing travel baseball and taking private pitching or hitting lessons. They have the latest gloves, bats, cleats, and custom baseball uniforms.Their parents will tell you they spent thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars over the years getting their son to a level where he could compete for a college scholarship. The last time I posted on this I received responses pointing out the fundraising that is done by most travel teams. However, these teams are not located close enough to the inner-city for most of the young men I work with. Many come from broken homes. Many live on very tight budgets. Their parents can’t drive them out to the suburbs where the travel teams are concentrated because they are working multiple jobs or don’t have a reliable vehicle. That’s not to say they are the only youth with disadvantages to overcome, I’m simply explaining why there was a need in this community for an organization like L.E.A.D.

Back to why the number of African-Americans playing collegiate baseball is dwindling….

Collegiate baseball scholarships are getting harder and harder to earn. The NCAA limits the  number of full scholarships in baseball to 11.7, however, the typical team roster is between 25-45 players.  In 2008, new rules were adopted that limited the number of players on aid to 30 for the 2008-2009 season and 27 for the 2009-2010 season.  Scholarships used to be split into amounts that allowed most, if not all, of the roster players to receive some sort of financial aid.  Unfortunately, there was some abuse that caused the new rules to be implemented.  Coaches were giving out “tryout scholarships” which lured the player to campus with a small scholarship.  The amount was small enough that the coach could cut the player during fall practices without if effecting his bottom line.

Sometimes rules aimed at one problem make way for a new kind of problem.  Under the new rules, only 27 players can be on scholarship and each scholarship must be for at least 25% of the tuition, room and board.  Compare that to football where 85 full scholarships are available for about 87 roster spots (active and inactive), or basketball where 13 full scholarships are available for 12-15 roster spots.  Which sport would you choose to play if you were a young African-American athlete who could only get a college education through an athletic scholarship?

Consider this: the champions of the 2009 College World Series, the LSU Tigers, had two African-American players, neither of whom were on baseball scholarships.  Instead, Chad Jones and Jared Mitchell were both on football scholarships.

African-American young men who, like Mendez, grow up in the inner-city simply cannot afford to play travel baseball or take private lessons. Without participation on travel teams or being part of top-notch high school programs, these young men do not develop on the baseball field and/or go unnoticed.

For the young men who participate in L.E.A.D., a revolutionary inner-city baseball organization, college isn’t just a fairytale. It’s something they’re taught they can achieve with dedication to their studies and fine-tuning of their skills on the diamond. These young men aren’t playing baseball to become the next major leaguer. They’re playing baseball to earn a college scholarship – the only way most of them will ever set foot on a college campus as a student.

L.E.A.D. has changed that for quite a few young men in Atlanta by creating the first-ever inner-city travel program that doesn’t cost the participants one dime. The L.E.A.D. Ambassadors play against elite travel teams like nearby East Cobb, a perennial contender in AAU and Baseball America’s “Most Outstanding Youth Baseball Program in the Nation” for the entire decade of the 1990s. In addition to the baseball opportunities, scholarship and community service are emphasized, with 100% of the L.E.A.D. Ambassador graduates being accepted to college since the program’s inception and over 2,000 hours of community service being performed. Since being formed in 2008, 87% of the participants in the program have gone on to earn college scholarships to play baseball while pursuing higher education.

I don’t know the best way to address the shrinking population of African American collegiate baseball players, but I do know I was shocked to learn that they made up just 4% of CWS team rosters. Certainly the story would be different if we looked at rosters for teams in BCS bowls or March Madness. What I do know is that L.E.A.D. is an amazing organization making progress in this area, so I encourage you to check out their website and support their efforts or similar efforts in your community.