Why 11.7 is a terrible number for college baseball scholarships

One of the most negative numbers in baseball is not the .200 Mendoza Line or a 5.00 ERA, but 11.7.

That’s the equivalent of 11.7 athletic scholarships to be divvied up among up to 27 scholarship-eligible players in college baseball programs.

As a result, very few athletes get full baseball rides, prompting many multi-sport players – particularly African-Americans – to instead choose a full ride in football or basketball (there are no partial scholarships in football or basketball).

“Again, 27 on scholarship,” said University of Illinois baseball coach Dan Hartleb. “Do the math. 11.7 divided by 27 and see what the average would be.

“It’s an expensive sport. We give partial scholarships where football and basketball are full rides.”

The scholarship restrictions, traced back to the advent of Title IX to ensure equality of women’s collegiate sports, are an underrated, under-reported aspect of a diminished domestic talent pool into which major-league organizations can dip.

And when all the reasons for the significant decline of minorities on big-league rosters are analyzed, the scarcity of full baseball rides may be a significant factor.

“Absolutely we are,” Hartleb responded when asked if the scholarship restrictions is prompting minorities to choose the revenue-producing sports that offer full rides.

The 11.7 number is bandied about informally, but never gets a lot of media attention. In his days as Cubs general manager in the 2000s, Jim Hendry recalled the challenges of recruiting with scholarship restrictions while chatting with reporters on the field during batting practice at Wrigley Field. Hendry once was NCAA baseball coach of the year when he led Creighton to the College World Series in 1991.

While insisting he did not govern his baseball life as a teen-ager, worried about getting a scholarship, Big Ten Network baseball analyst Kellon McFarlin, a former college outfielder, said Title IX has cut both ways in its effect on college sports.

“Title IX was great for women’s funding, but a lot of non-revenue generating sports like baseball and wrestling got hacked down,” said McFarlin, a Chicago State product who is African-American. “My last year in 2010, several colleges dropped (baseball) programs -- Cleveland State, Vermont, Northern Iowa. Iowa State hasn’t had a program since late 1990s. UC-Berkeley was on the verge of dropping program.”

Hartleb said the scholarship floor is 25 percent of all costs. No matter what percentage of costs are covered by a partial baseball ride, the average athlete has to scramble to cover many thousands of dollars remaining via a federal Pell Grant, state grants, special minority scholarships or classic academic scholarships. That challenging task alone will divert many to the full-ride sports.

“It’s very tough to get academic scholarships at our school because there’s so many good students, the money is spread thinly,” said Hartleb.

“There is no formula who gets what money. It’s looking what your needs are and going out and finding out the very best players who fit what you’re looking for, and hopefully making an offer that will allow the family to send their son to go to school here, get a great degree and excel athletically.

“Bottom line is, some families can afford to supplement and other ones take on debt.”

One such player, of all people, was former Cubs pitching prodigy Mark Prior, college baseball’s best pitcher in 2000 before being drafted No. 1 by Chicago. Starting his college career at Vanderbilt, the San Diego-area product, now a Padres front-office assistant,  then transferred to Southern Cal as a sophomore. Prior had to run up debt to cover costs his partial scholarship did not handle.

“I was at 46 percent,” he recalled. “Initially it was 25 percent, but I then picked up a (program) departee’s 20 percent. I took the $2,500 Pell Grant. I took out debt for the rest. I remember standing in the financial aid line the first day at school. “

Prior finally landed a full ride for his junior year leading into the draft. But he was the exception, not the rule.

“We had a few on academic scholarships, a few business and MBA guys,” he said. “I was fortunate my career ended up where it was, because I was able to pay (debt) off right away (with his Cubs signing bonus). It’s less than 1 percent of what that happens to. At the time, full room and board was $34,000 a year.”

The scholarship squeeze leads to even more negativity in college baseball beyond the scramble to cover those costs.

“A typical year for us is to bring in six athletes,” said Hartleb. “You have 35 on the roster, 27 on scholarship. Some schools will recruit 25 kids. They’ll run players off. There are programs that will bring kids in and cut them after a year. From an ethical standpoint, there’s not a lot of consistency in college baseball.

“It’s a touchy subject.”

Have you seen these challenges arise for high school players looking to play college ball? Share your voice with us in the comment section below or on our Facebook page.

George Castle Follow

Chicago-based George Castle has covered sports on a multi-media platform for several de... View Full Bio

Most Popular Articles

Latest Stories