The Defensive Specialist has never been one to let the people down so with a 5 hour plane ride to Perth on the cards, the Defensive Specialist figured he could stretch out in first class and bang out a few key points about college baseball. The Defensive Specialist has collated a number of the questions that have come into the Deep in the Hole mailbox and will freestyle across the topics as only he can:
1) Players don’t get paid. College baseball is an amateur sport meaning that athletes receive no form of payment. From time to time you’ll hear of some scandal relating to players receiving money or gifts from boosters (supporters of the program) but these are typically confined to bigger ticket sports such as football or basketball that generate greater revenue and tend to be followed in greater numbers.
1) Types of colleges. The pinnacle of college baseball is NCAA Division 1. There are numerous arguments about the equivalent talent level in comparison to professional baseball which can be tough to quantify. Some of the best college players (Stephen Strasburg as the most recent example) have left D1 programs and gone directly to AA baseball in the professional ranks. Evan Longoria also starred as a college baseballer and spent limited time in the minor leagues before being elevated to the Major Leagues where he flourished. Often times, college relief pitchers are the ones fast tracked to the big leagues. Generally D1 college players are able to commence at the single A level.
The NCAA then has D2 and D3. Another level NAIA also exists just to make things more confusing. All of these levels are 4 year schools – meaning that it typically takes a person 4 years to graduate and that a player has 4 years of eligibility at the collegiate level.
Junior Colleges are 2 years institutions (a good comparison would be TAFE for Australians). Players can attend a 2 year school, gain the prerequisite grades and then attend a 4 year school.
2) Restrictions. NCAA Division 1 has particularly stringent guidelines around practice, number of games, season start date and a myriad of other issues that would bore you to death if the Defensive Specialist broke them all down. A strange example is the ruling around supervised practices. Coaches can only attend a finite number of practices (or hours of practice) so you will see sessions run by the players.
As you move down levels, the rulings become less rigid which is why you see some junior colleges playing 60+ games in a season and commencing their season in early February.
3) Academics. Players have to maintain a grade point average in order to play. There are always stories of gifted players not playing because they weren’t academically eligible. The majority of Division 1 programs (and especially the big ones) have academic staff who monitor grades and assist with study and learning.
Junior college is less challenging on the old grey matter and in fact in a lot of cases all you really need is a pulse to pass your classes.
4) Getting drafted. Players can be selected in the Major League Draft coming out of high school. Once they register for classes and step foot on campus of a 4 year college they are not eligible to be drafted until after their junior season (3rd year) or unless they are over 21. Typically a drafted junior has more leverage in contract negotiations because they have the option of returning to college for their senior year (4th year). In fact, Josh Spence made this decision just last year, turning down a significant chunk of change to return to Arizona State.
If a player attends a junior college, he can be drafted after his freshman (first year) or sophomore (second) season.
5) College is expensive. Not only do Aussies have to pay for school, it is significantly more expensive than Australian universities and payment cannot be deferred. On top of this, Aussies normally have to pay ‘out of state’ tuition which bumps the cost up more. When the Australian dollar isn’t doing so well things get even tougher. The price of attending university in the US varies across institutions with 4 year colleges being considerably more expensive than junior colleges.
On top of academic fees, you are also faced with costs for housing and food, especially if you live on campus.
A good reason to attend a junior college is the opportunity to showcase yourself at a lower price point and hopefully with solid performance the opportunity for scholarships may arise. Which leads us to:
6) Scholarships. There is a misconception in Australia that colleges offer ‘full rides’. A Division 1 program offers 11.7 scholarships. That’s it! A team can have a playing roster of 25. Some teams will make it rain for an out and out stud but the vast majority offer partial scholarships where they break up the money and give players half scholarships in order to stretch it out. If you attend a school where tuition costs 10k a year then you only need to cover 5K. On the other hand, if you land at a place that charges 30k, you’re on the hook for 15k. Often schools will try to package in ‘academic money’ meaning that they offset the cost by using academic scholarships in conjunction with athletic scholarships. It helps your cause if you have a brain and baseball ability
Lower divisions and junior colleges have different rules around scholarships and can sometimes cover more tuition. Some schools offer no scholarship money at all.
7) Metal bats. All 4 year schools swing tin bats. There are numerous junior college leagues throughout the US that are wooden bat leagues.
8) Why college? Well if you’re like the Defensive Specialist and hit puberty at 21, there aren’t too many ways to get drafted if you don’t have pubic hair. College presents an opportunity for players with less refined skills or physical ability to extend their playing careers. It’s not easy to sign a pro deal – especially out of Australia so college is a chance to work within a structured environment and develop your skill set. From here there is an opportunity to then get drafted into professional baseball.
College baseball also presents the chance to work towards achieving a university degree. The road is littered with men who signed pro deals at 18, bashed around for 5 years or so and then upon release at 23 found that they had no relevant skills for the workforce or qualification.
Attending a US university and playing baseball is also a great way for an Australian kid to experience playing every day (or almost every day).It is very much a lifestyle as well, typically living on campus or with team mates and being a big part of the school culture.
9) Season. A D1 season now runs from late February to May, with playoffs and the college World Series in late may. Teams play approximately 50 games per season.
10) Recruiting. In the US, good & great players are recruited relentlessly by colleges (recruiting periods are governed by the NCAA and contact can only be made in certain periods). Players are invited for campus visits etc. Obviously Australian players are immune to such recruiting in Australia which is why not many Australian players would ever go to a 4 year college on a scholarship.
We do see a lot of our players being recruited once they have done a stint at a Junior College however. These 2 years stints allow Aussies to showcase their skill sets and once eyeballed then become recruiting targets. The recruiting stage is where schools will talk to players about scholarship opportunities etc.
11) Coaching. Instruction tends to be more rigid and formal in the college ranks with coaches often being control freaks who demand things are done their way. Teams often have a way of doing things or a methodology about playing the game. This isn’t always such a bad thing and can be good for players who are less naturally gifted. The Defensive Specialist knows of many players who have chafed under the rigid structures and teachings of their program.
Alright folks, that was a brief snapshot of the college game. With more and more Australians participating in the college ranks, it’s exciting to hear about the different experiences that the fellas are having in their programs. If the Defensive Specialist has failed to cover a topic or if the loyal readers have any further questions about the college ranks, by all means fire an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
The wine services has just been offered by the first class attendant so the Defensive Specialist had better sign off and imbibe. Keep your eyes open for the Defensive Specialist at the WA State League Grand Final Series this week!