AU Coach Unhappy About "Unlevel" Playing Field

Auburn, Ala.--While baseball has received much of the attention in the debate in the Southeastern Conference concerning competitive advantages provided to colleges with state-wide lottery scholarships that are available for athletes, the problem goes beyond just one sport.

Ralph Spry, who coaches the Auburn men's and women's track and field teams, says he would like to see the situation changed. However, at this week's Southeastern Conference annual meeting in Destin, Fla., faculty athletic representatives and athletic directors voted to not change the current system. With a scholarship program coming on line in the state of Tennessee, half of the SEC's 12 universities will be able to supplement teams that give out partial scholarships with academic scholarships.

Auburn men's golf coach Mike Griffin and men's and women's swimming coach David Marsh have also expressed their dissatisfaction with what they call an unfair recruiting advantage for some of their rivals inside and outside the conference.

Coach Ralph Spry

"We are supposed to be competing on a level playing field, but with the Hope Scholarship in Georgia and similar scholarship programs like that in other SEC states it creates an unlevel playing ground," Spry says. "I feel very strongly that is the case.

"What that gives them is tuition and fees, which is the biggest cost of an education," the track coach notes. "What that does is allow programs like Florida and Georgia to build some depth. We get 12.6 scholarships for our entire (men's) team. For example, if there was a high jumper interested in coming to Auburn who goes six-foot-eight and has the potential to get better if we do a good job training him, we probably wouldn't offer him anything more than books to come here. But, if he is a good student and he chooses Florida he is getting his tuition and fees paid for so they are getting him for free. For us to be in the same ballpark in recruiting him we are going to have to offer him a 30 to 40 percent scholarship to entice him to come to Auburn.

"Since the state of Alabama doesn't have that type of scholarship program, we don't get those lower level kids who are developmental prospects," Spry adds. "Because of that, we are not able to build the type of depth we would like so we have to depend on signing athletes who are real high quality performers. We depend on getting most of our points from heavy hitters who are on heavy scholarships. Just using the Hope scholarship type program alone, schools can add more athletes who can help them compete at the SEC level."

The lack of depth explains why last season Auburn was able to finish higher at the NCAA Track and Field Championships in Sacramento, Calif., than the Tigers did at the conference meet. The AU men were fourth at the SEC Championships, but the runnerup at the nationals. This year the men's team finished third at the SEC Championships and it has a chance to do better than that at next week's NCAA Championships that will be held in Austin, Tex.

"Hopefully, this issue will be looked at again," Spry says. "Until the situation is made fair for everybody it is not a good situation. If we did have a Hope-type scholarship, it would change the makeup of our team dramatically and make us a more competitive team at the SEC level."

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