College baseball scholarships are tough to come by and they aren't promises for four years. All players are told that they will be evaluated for production during the year and scholarships could go up or down.
Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn talked a little bit about that today at his year-end meeting with the media in his office. He explaind what he went through the previous day with his players after returning to Fayetteville from the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
First, let me explain a little about what goes on at these meetings. Players are not cut. Sometimes they lose some scholarship money. Sometimes they get more. It's like that at a lot of schools in the sports that are not given full scholarships like football and basketball. I know that my daughter's DII school gave partial scholarships in soccer and each year the money was either added or taken away based on performance on the field. You know that going in. My daughter never had her money cut, but about half of the team lost money each year. It's the real world and they know it coming in.
Van Horn expects big numbers from his players. If they don't produce, something has to give. And, for sure, if you are on nice scholarships and you are sitting the bench, your scholarship is likely to be reduced.
There are times when he actually encourages players to take the professional money. He said today that he had one pitcher (and I'm pretty sure it was Clint Brannon) who is going to take the pro money instead of coming back so he can pay off his college loans.
"We are going to lose a pitcher because he is being given $20,000 to sign and that will almost cover his college loans," Van Horn said. "He pretty much has to do it. He could come back next year and a pro scout is going to give him $1,000 or maybe $2,000 at the most to sign. He needs to go now and we all understand that."
Kern Watts and Devin Day are making decisions on their future right now. They probably lost some money, although I don't know that four sure. Van Horn said both are welcome to return and compete for spots in the fall, but he emphasized that there are no guarantees for playing time. I figure both might leave.
Van Horn said he likes this team, but knows he had to make tough, hard decisions on every player on the team. He knows that the players he's signed, in many cases, are better than returnees. He wanted players to know that many of the returnees will have a real battle holding onto their spots. He wanted players to know that now, not in the fall when they might not be able to find another place to play.
"I really like Kern Watts," Van Horn said. "I like him as a person and our team likes him. He has ability. I think he can hit at this level. I do worry about his defense. I told him that yesterday. He's got a decision to make. He can come back, or he can go to a junior college. There are several that really want him. He's got to decide if he wants to possibly sit behind someone for another year, or go play. That's a tough decision because I know he likes it here."
Some other SEC schools have an easier time finding depth because of state lotteries which give nice scholarships based on GPA or ACT scores. Florida, Georgia and LSU all get extra funds for scholarships on top of the 11.7 allowed by the NCAA.
"I'm not bringing it up," Van Horn said. "You brought it up, so here goes. You look on paper and it says that Arkansas and Georgia both have 11.7 scholarships. But that's not really the truth. Georgia has great talent in their state and a special scholarship fund based on a state lottery. They can give a player 10 percent and then he qualifies for tuition and quite a bit of room and board. In reality, he ends up with a 70 percent scholarship and they only spent 10 percent of a scholarship. They end up with 20 scholarships, if you look real close.
"LSU is at about 20 because of what they get in state money. I have to give a kid from Louisiana 75 percent money that they get for 10-20 percent.
"Ron Polk at Missisissippi State is hard on this issue. I have mixed emotions because I am glad the kid at Georgia gets that money. It's good for those kids and I don't want to take their money away. But it is tough on some of the schools which do not have lotteries. Is a state-run lottery good? I don't know the answer there. But this is a (college baseball) issue. The (SEC) had a vote on this and it won by a close margin so we are going to have it another year."
Van Horn said the veteran Polk also had some other advice for him during a recent visit.
"Ron Polk told me if you are a young coach with young kids, you better do what you have to do each year," Van Horn said. "He said he doesn't have to worry much about job security, but that might not be the case for someone else. You better do what you have to do to make sure you win."
Does that mean Van Horn still feels pressure at Arkansas just a few days removed from a trip to the College World Series?
"You always want to win," he said. "Did we put some pressure on ourselves with this trip. Probably. But that's what you want. We want to become the LSU of the (SEC) West. I don't know how long that will take, but that's what I've been talking about."
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