Bidding For College Baseball Players

The current system for awarding scholarships to SEC baseball players is not fair, some of the league's coaches contend.

Not so long ago, nobody paid much attention to what was happening in Southeastern Conference baseball. Most schools didn't put a lot of money into it and most of the top players signed professional contracts out of high school.

That has all changed dramatically, and it seems the learned people in the SEC office are having a hard time coping.

Former commissioner Roy Kramer tinkered endlessly with the postseason tournament. There were division tournaments. There was a tournament with play-in games. And finally there was the eight-team field we have today.

The coaches don't like it. They voted 12-0 for a 12-team tournament, but that might not be as attractive as it sounds. The coaches don't want play-in games. A 12-team, double-elimination tournament would be unwieldy at best.

What the coaches really want is no tournament at all. They want an 11-series schedule without divisions in which everybody plays everybody else. The tournament is great for Hoover, but the schools don't get enough money out of it to make much difference. Once the NCAA went to a 64-team tournament, the outcome was rendered all but irrelevant.

If it was up to me, I'd do away with the tournament and have a best-of-three series for the SEC championship between the two division champions, but that's certainly not going to happen. For the coaches to get their 12-team tournament, the athletic directors will have to agree to it. They'll take up the matter at next week's spring meetings in Destin, but most think they'll leave the tournament as is.

The really big issue facing SEC baseball is scholarships. Auburn coach Steve Renfroe has been complaining for two years that the schools with state-sponsored scholarships have a major advantage. Mississippi State's Ron Polk and Alabama's Jim Wells have added their voices.

Steve Renfroe

It's a problem, and a big one. Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, LSU, South Carolina and Kentucky can sign more players with the same amount of money than can the other six. Georgia has almost as many pitchers on its roster as Auburn has players.

Georgia, LSU and South Carolina, in states that produce a lot of players, have a huge advantage. That doesn't mean none of the others can compete. Arkansas won a share of the championship this season. But the Razorbacks haven't done it consistently and aren't likely to. It's more than a coincidence that Auburn, Alabama and Mississippi State are sitting out the SEC Tournament because they weren't in the top eight.

Commissioner Mike Slive has expressed concern about the unlevel playing field and will bring it up in Destin, but it's unlikely the six with the advantage are going to vote to help out the other six.

Under any circumstances, equivalency (partial scholarship) sports create an ugly recruiting situation that is not in the spirit of college sports. Putting it simply, there are bidding wars for the top athletes.

In baseball, each school has 11.7 scholarships to offer. Those scholarships can be split up among any number of players. There's nothing to keep a player from getting an offer from one school and going to another and trying to beat it like he was shopping for a car.

The state-sponsored scholarships make it possible for those schools to spend less money on scholarships for in-state players and, as a result, have more money to offer out-of-state players.

It's not fair.

Changing the subject, can former Alabama snapper Bradley Ledbetter and his lawyer, Garve Ivey Jr. of Jasper, be serious? They have filed a lawsuit against the NCAA claiming the NCAA's scholarship limit "harms and continues to harm the interests of thousands of Division I-A football players throughout the United States."

Ledbetter was a walk-on for three seasons before getting a scholarship as a senior. As best I can tell, he's claiming he would have had a scholarship earlier had there been no limits.

Whatever judge hears this one ought to summarily toss it out. Does Ledbetter really believe he had an inherent right to be on Alabama's football team? Courts have consistently ruled that the NCAA, as a voluntary association, can regulate its member schools.

If, by some miracle, Ledbetter was to win this case, the likely result would be that NCAA schools would simply stop taking walk-ons. Doesn't matter, though. Ledbetter is not going to win this ridiculous lawsuit. Somebody gave him some bad, bad advice.

Until next time…

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