SEC baseball: It's now the haves vs. the have nots

Mississippi State head baseball coach Ron Polk, during Saturday's pre-season press conference, expressed his concerns about how the lottery-based academic scholarships that are given out to student/athletes in six states in the Southeastern Conference who play in partial scholarship sports are affecting college baseball.


Coach Polk's opening comments on this issue.

"Let me ask all of you one question: If Alabama had 85 football scholarships and Mississippi State had 50 scholarships, would that not be headline material in your sports page or on the front page of your newspaper? Well, that is what we now have in the Southeastern Conference in baseball now that Tennessee has passed a lottery. Now, we have six schools (Florida, LSU, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia) in our conference with many, many more scholarships due to in-state lottery based scholarships programs.

It means all of the boys in these states who qualify - and now with grade inflation every boy and girl qualifies for a 3.0 - don't have to pay tuition. And, in the state of Georgia with the Hope Scholarship - a program that I am very familiar with - they get tuition, books and fees. And that does not count toward the 11.7 (scholarships), which is the amount of money that we are allotted under NCAA rules.

"Thus, I think everybody will agree the playing field is no longer level in college baseball in the Southeastern Conference and also the Atlantic Coast Conference, the only two conferences affected because they are the only states that have in-state lotteries in the southeast.

"You saw where A-Rod signed with the New York Yankees. Well, we have six teams in this conference that are the New York Yankees and six other schools that are the Milwaukee Brewers.

"Unless a change is made, those of us at the six schools without lottery-based programs can no longer recruit in the state of Louisiana, Tennessee, South Carolina, Florida, Kentucky and Georgia. We could go into those states, but if I like a kid in Atlanta, I have to go in there and give him in-state and out-of-state (tuition), which is 60% of full to their zero. When I say their, I'm talking about any school in the state of Georgia.

"Now, since these six schools don't have to pay any scholarship aid for tuition on their in-state players, they can come in the states of Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas and spend much more money to attract kids out of our states. Is that fair? Of course not.

It doesn't affect full scholarship sports. This affects baseball more than any other partial scholarship sports because of our large roster size and the need for depth in our sport. If the NCAA would just give us what we deserve - like women's track which is 18 - I would not complain, nor would the other five coaches because we could then have the 4th catcher or 3rd infielder or whatever.

"When I was (coaching) at Georgia, I felt like I was stealing, I really did. I admit that. Now that I'm (at MSU), I blast it. When I was at Georgia, I was hoping nobody would ever stand up and tell everybody I was stealing, but I was stealing. And I apologize for it, but I wasn't about to stay anything.

"So, the Southeastern Conference has to find a way to level the playing field because the NCAA is certainly not going to do it, because how much they care about baseball is second to zero."


Q and A with Coach Polk

Can the six teams in the states you mentioned sign as many in-state players as they want to as long as those kids meet the academic requirements of that state?
"They don't really have to sign a boy. Let's say there is a boy in Atlanta, Georgia who plays shortstop. Well, David Perno, of Georgia, can have him come in for a visit and tell him you already have your tuition, fees and books. I'm going to give you one semester of room and, maybe, (a) dinner (allowance). So, he and his mom and dad walk out and say, 'what a nice scholarship, all I have to pay for is one semester of room, my breakfast and lunch'. If I want the same kid I have to give him in-state, out of state, that room and those meals, which would be about 80%. They get him for about 18 to 19%.

"Plus, these other states have more prospects than Mississippi does. We had two high school kids drafted. In Florida, there were over a 100. Georgia, probably 50 or 60. So they can get more depth. What happens is I can't go into those states for a player that is good because those states' schools are going to take care of those kids (financially) and not let them out. It will costs me 60% (scholarship money) to match Georgia's zero for a player, so, basically, David (Perno) can get them as a walk-on."

With the situations in those six states and so few prospects in Mississippi, what will you do in regard to recruiting, only recruit in Alabama and Arkansas as far as out-of-state players are concerned?
"This got worse when Tennessee (recently) passed the lottery because we go into Memphis a lot for players. Now, we can't go into Memphis anymore. Even the University of Memphis is going to be able to entice them because they can give them much more than I can. I can't go into Florida even though I know everybody in Florida. I also can't go into Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana and South Carolina. We (will) now have to go to Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and other places that don't have in-state lotteries. This is the biggest problem that I or any coach in college baseball has ever had to face.

"(The college baseball newspaper) Collegiate Baseball is going to do a big story on it because they believe this is not right. Even if you asked (NCAA President) Myles Brand, he would say it's not right but who cares, it's baseball. If it was a football issue, he would have a committee on it and he would have ESPN in his office. If this was football or basketball, this would be a major, major catastrophe."

Do you really think the NCAA is going to change this situation?
"No, but I blast them every chance I get because they are the root of the problem. If we have what we are supposed to have (18 scholarships), this is a dead issue. Even if we had as many as women's basketball, 15, it would help out. Even if we had as many as women's crew, 20. The SEC is looking into it, but they are doing it with a committee. I don't put a lot of stock in a committee looking into it. While they are looking into it, coaches continue to get fired. They are not interested that much because it is not a football or basketball issue."

Since you don't think the NCAA will solve this problem, what other solution do you recommend?
"Here's my solution and I presented it to (the SEC office). And they are looking into it. The NCAA rules, if a boy is recruited, which means you brought him in for an official visit or you gave him any type of scholarship, then any money he receives from the in-state scholarship program has to count toward the 11.7 scholarships. But these other six (SEC schools) are going to fight us tooth and nail. So, it is 6 to 6. If it is 6 to 6, you aren't going to win. It has to be at least 7 to 5."


Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.


Gene's Page Top Stories