"We've been in existence for a long time, since 1945. We have about 6,000 members. About half are college, 45% high school and 5% are others such as youth coaches. It only costs $30 to join."
The ABCA and the NCAA seem to be working together on several very important issues related to college baseball. Talk a little about the ABCA and how it interacts with the NCAA?
"Basically, I have the opportunity with the NCAA to sit in on all the Division-I baseball committee meetings. I'm not involved in their selection process, but all the meetings that involve conference calls. I also serve on the Division-I Baseball Issue Committee, which was developed three years ago at our request to help take our issues forward. I spend, as many of our coaches do, a lot of time on NCAA legislation.
"The first thing we have to do is address what an issue is and what we want to do about it, whether it be more scholarships, graduate assistants, change of season, steroid testing, the bat, whatever it might be. We have to get the consensus of the coaches. Once we know what an issue is we normally send out a survey and have discussions with our coaches to find out what is most important to them. If we get the majority of the coaches onboard then we take it forward to the NCAA Issues Committee and then into the legislative process. It goes through the championship competition cabinet, the management council and then, eventually, the Board of Directors."
One thing you mentioned is adding more scholarships? There are many schools in Division-I that don't even use their entire 11.7 scholarships as allowed by the NCAA due to financial reasons at their schools. And there are a lot of other coaches that want more scholarships. Therefore, even though a lot of coaches want more scholarships, there are many who may not want more. Where does that factor into trying to get more scholarships?
"What can cause a difficult situation is if we don't have the majority of baseball coaches on board it makes it almost impossible to get anything through the NCAA. When we take an issue to the (NCAA) Issues Committee, the first question asked is what percentage of your coaches want this. And if I say 52% it is probably not going to go anywhere. But if I can tell them 80 to 85% then it has a much better chance to go through."
How many schools don't actually use all of their 11.7 scholarships? I know there are quite a few, but what is the actual count?
"Of the 283 schools that play Division-I baseball, less than 50% of them have 11.7. That fact makes it tough to get more scholarships. But we need 13 or 14 scholarships and I will pursue it because it's the right thing to do. It's best for our student-athletes and it's best for college baseball. Even if the NCAA Board of Directors approve it, it still won't be easy because we will still have a lot of Athletic Directors and Presidents that will fight it and would be able to override it by a vote at the NCAA Convention."
Coach Polk said he would like to have 15 or 16 scholarships. You mention 13 or 14. Why the difference?
"I'm optimistic, that in time, we will get the 13 or 14. We are probably not going to get beyond 14. And we aren't going to get 16, 18 or 20. The ADs and Presidents just aren't going to pass it. But if we can go from 11.7 to 13 or 14, that would be significant. It's not ideal, but that is a reasonable number to expect."
Additional scholarships were a part of the baseball package that was just passed by the NCAA. Why was it taken out at the last minute?
"Fourteen scholarships were in the package until the last moment, but we were told right at the last minute that it wouldn't fly at this time. They left the door open by saying 'let's see what happens.' I'm convinced that this is going to work. We are going to really improve our APR with this package. Then, we will have great justification to go forth and show them that we are doing all the right things to help our student-athletes. And to help them even more we need 14 scholarships for them."
There are several things in the recently passed college baseball package that a lot of coaches don't like. One of them is the 33% scholarship minimum. Why was a minimum percent passed? Why not allow coaches to continue to give book scholarships or scholarships less than that 33%?.
"The data showed that the smaller amount of scholarships and the larger number of players you had on your squad, in most cases those are the lower APR teams because they have so many kids leaving. In many cases for each kid you have on a low amount of scholarship that is successful, you have three of four on minimum scholarships that leave the program. That's not good for the APR and it's not good for the program."
The APR doesn't take into consideration a good GPA. Baseball players, overall, seem to have good GPAs. Why is that not part of the APR?
"Baseball does have a good grade point average. But let me ask you this question, what good is a high grade point average if you don't graduate? If you attempt to go get a job and you don't have a degree, they won't care what your grade point average was. They want to see that degree."
It seems like college baseball continues to give things up, but I don't see what they have received in turn. Am I right in saying that?
"We've made huge strides in the last 10 years. Just look at the field of teams in this College World Series. Who would have ever dreamed that Louisville would be in the College World Series? Cal-Irvine didn't even have a college baseball program nine years ago. And here they are in the College World Series. And look at who is not here - Texas, Stanford, USC, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida, Florida State, Miami. Now, you have so many good programs because many more schools are putting more emphasis in baseball because it's become a bigger sport."
How does limiting squads to 35 total and 27 athletic scholarship counters help a team?
"First thing is it will help the APR. There are other things as well. Let's say there are a couple of major schools in a state that are in a conference such as the SEC or the ACC and they have a ton of kids on their squads. Now, with the new 33% limits, they have to make a decision about scholarships. Some of the kids they had been signing for less than 33% will now go elsewhere. This will allow the talent pool to get bigger for other schools."
Something else that was taken from college baseball were graduate assistants. Probably every head coach at this year's College World Series started out as a graduate assistant. I've really never understood why they took the graduate assistant program away in baseball. What was the main reason?
"They took it away for financial reasons. But I was a grad assistant, Coach Polk was a grad assistant. That was a great entry level into coaching. And it doesn't cost much. I am hopeful, along with getting additional scholarships, that we can get at least one additional grad assistant for every program that wants one."
Are you more optimistic about getting the graduate assistant issue passed than the additional scholarships?
"It might have a better chance of getting passed earlier because it won't have as big of an impact on the schools that don't have the full allotment of scholarships. It doesn't necessarily put them farther behind."
You have been friends with Coach Polk for many years. What has he meant to college baseball?
"We go back forever. And I've said this publicly and I'll be saying it ten years from now - Ron Polk is the reason for the great success that the SEC is enjoying in baseball. The SEC was not a great baseball conference years ago. He went to Mississippi State and made the SEC what it is today. Others saw what he was doing and decided that they had better get onboard or they were going to be left in the dust. That's when LSU, Florida, South Carolina, Alabama got going."
What is your vision for college baseball
"The exposure. It started in the southeast, the west coast, the Pac-10, the Southeastern Conference, the ACC, now the Big-12 have expanded immensely. Stadiums have been expanded. There is much better fan draw. And we would also like to see that expand to the midwest. Of course, the north and midwest have a problem with the weather. But the Super Regional at Louisville was big. And Oregon State has become big. We could have had a regional at Michigan if they had had their stadium completed. Every time you have something like that, it just makes it bigger and fans become more and more interested.
"So, what I am hoping for is that our college programs continue to grow and receive more exposure."
Speaking of more exposure, do you expect college baseball to be on television more often in the future?
"I really think so. They show all the Super Regionals. And they sometimes show the regionals. But they also show a lot of games throughout the year from the SEC, the ACC, the PAC-10, the Big-12. And it will really help if ESPNU grows because they are looking for things to put in their time slots."
If you would like more information about the ABCA, their website address is http://www.abca.org/
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.