Major League Baseball would fund scholarships and exert greater influence over Division I college baseball under what would be an unprecedented partnership with the NCAA.
If an agreement is reached, it could lead other professional organizations to enter partnerships with the NCAA.
The NCAA’s point man in the talks, University of Hartford president Walter Harrison, said it could take a year or longer for an agreement to be reached because new or amended legislation might be required.
“There is a lot for us to explore as an association,” Harrison said. “The one principle we have is that we want to be completely true to the core values of amateur collegiate baseball.… I want to be cautious about whether this will happen or not. These are concepts at the moment.”
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Still, Harrison said he could see similar arrangements occurring in other sports that generally produce no revenue for colleges. The PGA, for example, might one day help fund scholarships in golf, he said.
According to Harrison, five issues have been discussed with MLB: scholarships, ways to increase diversity, the calendar for the entry draft and College World Series, MLB’s involvement in summer leagues, and wooden bats.
Oregon State coach Pat Casey said he sees only positives if MLB increases its involvement. North Carolina coach Mike Fox said he’s wary of becoming beholden to MLB.
“Usually when you provide money to someone,” Fox said, “you want something in return.”
MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said it was too early to comment on the discussions. Union head Michael Weiner characterized the talks as “exploratory.”
“It’s been our view for a long time that while each player gets to make his own decision, we’d like to encourage as many players as possible to use their athletic ability to try to get an education before they try a professional career,” Weiner said.
Harrison said the most dramatic proposal would have MLB fund one full scholarship for each Division I program that meets certain criteria. A possibility, he said, is that a program would have to already provide a full allotment of 11.7 scholarships to be eligible for the extra one. MLB stipulated that the scholarship could be awarded to only one player, rather than splitting them.
Harrison said the reason for awarding a full scholarship is that it would potentially attract economically disadvantaged minorities who otherwise might quit playing baseball in hopes of earning a full scholarship in basketball or football. MLB has been particularly concerned about the decrease in number of African-American players in the big leagues.
Black players made up 5 percent of Division I baseball players last season, according to the NCAA. The percentage of blacks in the major leagues was 8.8 percent on opening day this year, according to the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.
“There are a lot less African-American kids playing at the high school level than there should be, and whatever can be done to help that situation and facilitate opportunities is good,” Oregon State’s Casey said.
Harrison said the proposal would give MLB no say in who receives the scholarship. Fox said he wondered if MLB would require the awards be given to black student-athletes, and he had other concerns.
“Most of the time a full-scholarship player is one who can pitch for you on the weekend and hit in the middle of the order right out of the gate,” Fox said. “Those are the most talented players that are going to go in the first or second round of the draft. The scholarship amount isn’t going to be enough to keep these kids from signing pro contracts.”
There was no official estimate of how much it would cost MLB to fund scholarships. However, if 150 of the 291 Division I programs met the criteria, and the average one-year scholarship was valued at $20,000, that would be $3 million.
Weiner declined to comment on where the money would come from, other than to say “funding is a real question.”
College coaches for years have complained that the baseball scholarship limit is too low. Their calls for an increase have not been heeded, in part, because baseball loses money at most schools. They also have been stymied by gender-equity concerns. An increase in baseball scholarships could require a similar increase in a women’s sport for a school to comply with Title IX.
Harrison said Title IX would have to be addressed if MLB were to provide extra scholarships to baseball.
The timing of the MLB entry draft and College World Series also has generated discussion. Harrison said MLB would like the college season to end earlier so drafted players, if signed, could join their organizations sooner. This year, the MLB draft begins June 4, two weeks before the College World Series.
The 56-game regular season already is compacted into 13 weeks and, coaches say, it would be almost impossible to shorten the season without sacrificing games.
MLB also wants to spur player development by sending pitching and hitting instructors to summer leagues where players migrate after the college season. Harrison said that would conflict with current NCAA amateurism rules.
MLB also is pushing for colleges to use wooden bats instead of aluminum, Harrison said.
Harrison said committees will be formed to address each of the five proposals. The next meeting between NCAA, MLB and union officials has not been set.