Baseball coaches struggle with scholarship limitations

Posted Thursday, Jul. 12, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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Private schools in the CWS

Here's a look at the private schools that advanced to the College World Series in the past 20 years and how much of an endowment the institution had as of 2011:

School

Years

Endowment

(in billions)

Stanford

1995, '97,

'99-'03, '08

$16.5

Notre Dame

'02

$6.2

Rice

'97, '99, '02-03,

'06-07, '08

$4.5

USC

'95, '98, '00-01

$3.5

Vanderbilt

'11

$3.4

TCU

'10

$1.2

Baylor

'05

$1

Tulane

'01, '05

$1

Miami

'92, '94-99, '01,'03,

04, '06, '08

$0.7

Pepperdine

'92

$0.6

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Arizona baseball coach Andy Lopez was reading a local online story celebrating his Wildcats' College World Series title a couple weeks ago when he reached the comments section.

A reader posted a derisive slam of the story and the celebration of "spoiled athletes who are on a full ride playing college baseball."

Coaches are used to hearing the good and the bad from fans, but for the first time in his 30-year coaching career Lopez wanted to find out who the commenter was so he could set him straight.

"The last full scholarship I offered was in 1995," said Lopez, who was in his first year at Florida then after six successful years at Pepperdine, including a 1992 CWS championship.

Lopez doesn't expect most fans to understand the scholarship limitations college baseball is under or the mental gymnastics necessary for coaches to recruit top players with only 11.7 scholarships to spread among 30 players. In contrast, football teams have 85 "full-ride" scholarships to offer recruits.

It's an even tougher task for private school coaches such as TCU's Jim Schlossnagle, who has to look for the three Ps in recruits: play, pass and pay.

Still, as of today's Major League Baseball signing deadline for first-year drafted players, the Horned Frogs have hauled in another impressive class of recruits despite losing several top players, such as Austin Aune of Argyle, Austin Fairchild of Houston St. Thomas and Jake Thompson of Rockwall-Heath.

Thompson and Aune signed professionally shortly after the major league draft in June. Aune was reportedly paid a $1 million signing bonus by the New York Yankees. Thompson received around $530,000 to sign with the Tigers. Fairchild signed with the Royals recently after being taken in the 16th round.

"I think it highlights how good our program has done in the recruiting process," Schlossnagle said. "Because if we miss on a guy -- and you're going to miss -- it can hurt you."

Some private schools such as Rice and Stanford have huge endowments that help fill in the scholarship holes on their rosters and allow them to supplement their 11.7 baseball scholarships with financial aid that covers most, if not all, of a student's tuition, room and board. Rice has an endowment of nearly $4.5 billion. Stanford has the fifth largest endowment in the country at more than $16 billion.

For a fast-growing school such as TCU, with an endowment of $1.2 billion, there are more students applying for financial aid, meaning there is less money to go around. Five years ago when TCU signed a class of nine players including Kaleb Merck, Kyle Winkler, Taylor Featherston and Brance Rivera, seven of them received some sort of academic aid, Schlossnagle said.

"If those same guys were to apply today I don't know if any of them would have gotten academic aid," Schlossnagle said. "It's more competitive -- my first year we had 4,500 [applicants] for 1,600 spots and now you have 22,000. TCU wants the very best student and when there's not as much academic money as there is at Stanford or Rice it's going to affect the athletic department."

Since 2007, only five private schools have advanced to the CWS, including TCU in 2010 and Rice in 2007-08. None made it to Omaha in 2012 and the rising interest in college baseball is making it tougher on those schools that don't have as much financial aid available as others.

The scholarship crunch forces coaches such as Schlossnagle to explain to the parents of recruits why their son is being offered only a partial scholarship and why they'll still have to pay a sizeable portion. At a school such as TCU, with tuition, room and board around $46,000, a partial athletic scholarship still forces the parents to pay more than the parents of a walk-on player at Texas.

"The challenges that creates when you're trying to put together an Omaha team when we give a guy 50 percent, it costs him $22,000-$23,000 compared to if someone else gives him 50 percent, the denominator is so much smaller," He said.

For example, TCU outfielder Jerrick Suiter, who had a great year as a freshman, could have attended Vanderbilt, another private school that advanced to the CWS in 2011, and received the same amount of need-based and academic aid as he is getting at TCU with a substantial baseball scholarship.

But he would have been a "free player" at Vandy because he would have only cost the program at most, 25 percent of a full athletic scholarship, which is the minimum amount a student-athlete can be given. His academic aid at Vanderbilt would have equaled his athletic scholarship at TCU, allowing the Commodores coaches to use his baseball scholarship on another player. At TCU, the academic aid wasn't available, so Suiter, one of the top recruits in the nation a year ago, was given a substantial portion of a full athletic scholarship.

Like Schlossnagle, Lopez would love to see the NCAA increase the amount of baseball scholarships. But Title IX issues at most schools have complicated and prevented additional scholarship proposals in the past. Lopez isn't surprised most fans don't realize the complexities involved in college baseball recruiting.

"Most have no clue," he said. "Why would they? It's never going to be front-page news. I'd venture to guess that 80 percent of America would scratch their heads, look at that their wife and say 'Hey, honey, am I reading this article right? They only have 11.7 scholarships?'"

Schlossnagle and his assistant coaches have made it work so far with three trips to Super Regionals in the past four years, but with the move to the Big 12 next season the recruiting wars for the top Texas players will be even more heated.

Most players drafted are guaranteed to have their school paid if and when their careers end by the team that drafted them. That's on top of the signing bonus they received. It's another factor college baseball coaches have to contend with when trying to entice a recruit.

"TCU is a great place and kids still want to go to school here and the right family is still willing to pay more to send their kids here," Schlossnagle said. "As TCU grows, the chancellors are always trying to build the endowment to keep the costs of the education down and provide more aid to all students, not just athletes. Pro ball has all of the money and none of the rules. We have all the rules and none of the money."

Stefan Stevenson

817-390-7760

Twitter: @FollowtheFrogs

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