From: RON POLK
Allow me to first of all apologize for the extreme length of this letter, but I deem it necessary to fully express my thoughts which are reflective of the concerns of a majority of our college baseball coaches (NCAA-I), our student-athletes, their respective family members, and those that care about the value and worth of intercollegiate baseball.
All educators, which includes coaches, must first gain the attention of those with whom they are communicating so they are fully aware who the communicator is and what credentials that person possesses.
My name is Ron Polk, and I am the head baseball coach at Mississippi State University which is a member of the Southeastern Conference. As you read this letter, you will quickly ascertain that my grammar is not the best, nor is my sentence structure and punctuation. For, I am just a baseball coach.
I have been a college baseball coach for the past 40 years. I have been a head coach at three NCAA-I institutions for 35 of those 40 years: Georgia Southern University, the University of Georgia, and Mississippi State University where I am in my 29th year.
Since many receiving this letter do not know me, I deem it vital that you know that I have been involved in amateur baseball not only in a collegiate setting but also on the coaching staffs of seven USA national baseball teams including two national teams that competed in the Olympic games in Seoul, South Korea and Atlanta, Georgia. Two times, I have been the head coach of the USA national team.
Teams that I have coached have played in Omaha, Nebraska, at the College World Series nine times. I have been a coaching participant in the College World Series for the past five decades (eight times as a head coach, and once as a graduate assistant coach at the University of Arizona in 1966).
I am the former president of the American Baseball Coaches Association (1985). For the past 22 years I have served on the board of directors for this organization that represents all of amateur baseball (over 5000 members).
For 31 years I have coached within the Southeastern Conference as a head coach (Georgia and Mississippi State). I am sure it is hard to believe, but the next closest head baseball coach in years at his school in the SEC has 13 years. I mention this to inform those receiving this letter that with the tremendous growth in college baseball (crowds, media attention, upgrading in facilities) there is a new danger for head coaches who are now being held more accountable for fielding highly competitive teams. Thus, I consider myself a survivor in a most difficult and demanding profession.
Within this lengthy letter, I will be relating to you information in regard to the academic achievement or underachievement of student-athletes in our sport. I ask you to keep in mind as you read this letter that I take tremendous pride in the academic achievements of the young men who have participated on the baseball squads I have been privileged to coach.
As one example, the Southeastern Conference has for many years had an Academic Honor Roll for all their sports: men and women. Among qualifications for the SEC Academic Honor Roll, a student-athlete must have compiled a grade point average of 3.00 or better for the preceding academic year or have a cumulative GPA of at least 3.00. This past academic year 20 of our baseball players made this honor roll. Since its inception, Mississippi State University has had 243 baseball players qualifying for this honor. The next closest school to us has had 170 baseball players named, which means we have a 70 player lead over the second place team of Vanderbilt University.
Very soon I will turn 64 years of age. I think it is important for you all to know that there are very few NCAA-I college baseball coaches presently employed at my age. Why? Very simply it is a most difficult profession for many reasons I will not bore you with, but as you read this letter, I firmly believe you will understand what I am talking about.
Why am I typing information on my coaching credentials and the academic performance of our kids both past and present? Mainly, so I can get your attention. This is especially the case for the college and university presidents receiving this letter who might not have much interest in college baseball and have no idea who Ron Polk is. The same holds true for those of you on the NCAA Board of Directors and those of you who have been selected to be members of the Baseball Academic Enhancement Group.
This letter certainly is not designed to make college presidents more aware of the benefits to our young men participating in college baseball. It is designed to make you fully aware of the potential damage the NCAA Board of Directors may very well inflict on our kids, our coaches, and our baseball programs. We have done a pitiful job of educating them on what takes place in the daily lives of our young men who play the "National Pastime" while being enrolled in all our institutions of higher learning.
Some of you have now stopped reading this letter from an ole coach who does not have many more years left to enjoy being called "coach" by his student-athletes. If you are a college president (and this letter has been sent to the 284 presidents of NCAA-I schools that sponsor baseball teams), you are probably saying to yourself, "What is this long letter all about and why am I receiving it in the mail?"
Very simply, for you have, by your voting at each NCAA Convention you attend, the ability to make decisions that affect the lives of administrators, coaches, and student-athletes on a daily basis as we all work together, for the best interests of the kids with whom we work. This letter will detail for each of you how the system has broken down for both student-athlete welfare and baseball coach welfare at the NCAA-I level.
I need to get your attention again. Please, I beg of you, do not give up on this letter due to its length. Stay with me please.
Did you all know that college baseball at the NCAA-I level is the second largest producer of revenue for NCAA championships behind men's college basketball? Many of you might be saying to yourself, "What about college football?" The bowl game revenues are distributed within the conference of the bowl teams and not to the NCAA itself.
We in college baseball take great pride in that, for our NCAA championships each year, set records for attendance and gate receipts received. Our regional, super-regional, and the College World Series tournaments are watched by millions on ESPN. This year Mississippi State played Clemson University in an NCAA super-regional on our campus in a best two-out-of-three series to see who would advance to the College World Series.
In game one, we had a paid crowd of 12,260. In game two we had a paid crowd of 13,715. Two months ago, Mississippi State sent the NCAA a check for $175,000 for these two games. We then went to Omaha after winning the two games versus Clemson. The announced crowd for our first game with North Carolina was 23,568. In the second game we played against Louisville; the announced crowd was 18,187 (losers bracket game).
At Mississippi State University, we have close to 5500 season ticket holders. We have a state-wide radio network of 24 stations. At the NCAA super-regional, we issued 130 press credentials. All our games can be viewed on the internet live, as we have four cameras operating at all our games.
PLEASE STAY WITH ME AS YOU READ THIS LETTER
What is he getting to with this letter?
College baseball in many areas of our country is thriving both in numbers of participants, revenues produced, and interest in our game.
This is all in spite of the NCAA making it so difficult for our coaches and our kids to enjoy this experience. Now, with that sentence I have either turned you off or got your attention. I sincerely hope it is the latter.
Baseball is a clean sport, and it is played at the college level by a lot of neat kids and caring coaches. Very few young men playing baseball have embarrassed themselves, their coaches, and their schools by attracting the attention of law enforcement agencies in their respective communities. I know for a fact that in most college baseball programs the coaches and their players must take care of the upkeep of their fields and stadiums. They do all this for the love of the game since many of them do not have professional baseball aspirations. Many have to help their coaches raise funds.
But very soon, this love of the game is going to be taken away from many baseball student-athletes and their coaches. Student-athlete welfare is going to be degraded, and coach-welfare is really going to be compromised. This letter is intended to educate the uneducated. When I use the term uneducated it is not meant to degrade a college president, an athletic director, or members of the NCAA committees, etc. I fully recognize that many receiving this letter are a lot smarter than I, but I am a baseball coach who has the interest of our kids in mind. And..... I know baseball. I know nothing about what takes place in a physics class. I know nothing about what takes place in a chemistry class. But I know what is happening in baseball. I know for sure most of you receiving this letter never coached a baseball game, never recruited players to play college baseball, and never had to face a young man who wants to be involved in your baseball program as a student-athlete while trying to get a college degree having to inform that young man "with the new rules affecting just college baseball, your coach is having to make some very difficult decisions that are going to possibly hurt you and many of your teammates."
This is what this most difficult letter is all about.
Now…some of you have survived this letter so far might stop reading the remainder of the letter, for you sense there is a very ticked-off college baseball coach writing this letter that certainly has his own agenda.
Please believe me, I do not have my own agenda, for I again am going on 64 years of age and have a very very short future left as a coach. To those presidents of our colleges and universities reading this letter, many are now saying to themselves, "What does this baseball matter have to do with me?" Yes, maybe you are not on any NCAA committee, but you do field an intercollegiate baseball program at the NCAA-I level, and soon legislation is going to be in effect that will affect student-athlete welfare in baseball, and yes, coach-welfare as well.
On behalf of college baseball, our kids, their parents, their families, and our coaches, I beg of you to please just keep reading.
What if I told each of you receiving this letter that there is a sport that has seven points of emphasis that are of major concern to them, and there are seven points of emphasis that no other sport (men or women) has to deal with within the NCAA structure and organization.
Please remember as I spell out to you what these points are, what I said previously, about college baseball being the second largest producer of revenue in NCAA championships.
Would you believe that there is a sport that is facing sports specific legislation that no other sport faces?
1. College baseball has the lowest scholarship percentages to pass along to their student-athletes than any other sport (men or women) under NCAA rules based on the average roster size of each sport.
2. College baseball has fewer coaches to work with our student-athletes than any other NCAA sport based on the average roster size of each sport.
3. College baseball very soon will be the only sport under NCAA rules that will have a roster cap placed on our coaches and our young men.
4. College baseball very soon will be the only sport that gives out partial scholarships that is being told they must provide a minimum scholarship and how many of their young men can receive scholarships.
5. College baseball very soon will be the only sport under NCAA rules that gives out partial scholarships that will have a no transfer rule. This means if a boy transfers from one NCAA-I school to another, he will have to sit out a complete year before he is eligible. All other partial scholarship sports have a transfer rule where a boy or girl can transfer one time without being forced to sit out a year.
6. College baseball very soon will be the only sport under NCAA rules that their young men will have to be eligible one semester prior to their semester of competition. Baseball players will have to be eligible in the fall semester when we are a spring semester sport.
7. College baseball very soon will have more severe penalties based on their Academic Progress Rate than any other sport within the NCAA. And.....for the most part, all of us who care about our players applaud these corrective measures.
I could even add another point of emphasis in the fact that 13 years ago the NCAA took away the graduate assistant program in college baseball. This was the entry level position for a young baseball coach who wished to pursue an advanced degree while working within one of our baseball programs. Now we find that football allows six graduate assistants and yes, even women's crew now gets a graduate assistant coach.
This letter is not in any way shape or form an attack on gender equity or Title 9. This national legislation was much needed, for young women who wished to pursue excellence as an athlete were being discriminated against, Title 9 has made tremendous progress in making it a level playing field for them in all aspects of intercollegiate athletics.
I have gained the respect of all the coaches within our athletic department who coach women's sports for I never blast Title 9. All I ever ask for is Title 10.......for our young men in baseball and other men's sports have now become the discriminated party. Even though the softball team at Mississippi State University has more scholarships to pass along to their girls than we do to our boys, I am only jealous of that fact and just wish our boys were given equal treatment in respect to athletic scholarship dollars.
Why has baseball been treated so unfairly by the NCAA?
Why are we now facing more sports specific punishment from the NCAA than any other sport?
Allow me to explain.
For those who need a little education on NCAA academic reforms, the NCAA has made every effort to make the student in student-athlete more of a student. All of us in college baseball, I am sure, have no problems with this as long as the students in high school, their counselors, and their parents understand the rules well in advance. This also holds true for the many men and women attending junior colleges and community colleges who have an interest in furthering their athletic exploits by enrolling in a four year school.
The NCAA has made many changes in entrance requirements that have made the high school and junior college athletes achieve much better grades, test scores, and core classes before they are eligible to participate in NCAA athletics. We have numerous rules for the athletes as they progress though their academic terms. These eligibility requirements and progression toward a degree requirements are much tougher than the rules for those students not involved in college athletics. We can all live with these tougher standards, even though some of them work against the kids. An example would be that most athletes (men and women) are not allowed to change their majors later in their college experience without endangering their eligibility. Junior college athletes have a much tougher time coming into our universities unless they know what school they will attend and know what major they will explore, for the progression rules towards graduation hit them much harder than those who entered the universities right out of high school.
As an example, two years ago, a young man who graduated from a junior college in the state of Mississippi wished to pursue a degree in engineering. He was a 4.00 student at the junior college, but his school did not offer many pre-engineering courses, and thus if he pursued engineering at our school he wouldn't have met the progression toward a degree requirements. For that reason, I had to inform this young man that he could not come out for our baseball team even though he was an outstanding student. He would have to change his intended major, and rightfully so, he decided not to play baseball for he badly wanted to be an engineer.
And.....just this past year another young man from a junior college wished to pursue a degree in engineering. He also had outstanding grades at the junior college. He wanted to be a part of our baseball team so much; he had to change his major to a degree program that was his second choice. We have to all learn from these young men that there has to be a better way for all men and women who transfer in to a four year school from a two year school that they can pursue a unique academic curriculum without forfeiting their opportunity to participate in intercollegiate athletics.
So.....entrance requirements continue to get tougher for incoming student-athletes. They must maintain a higher grade point average and be progressing satisfactorily toward a degree in order to remain eligible. This is all welcome by most of us coaches in all sports, for we know that the degree they will receive means so much to them and their families.
Well...then the NCAA decided to come up with another standard to evaluate the retention and progression toward a degree for all the NCAA schools, and this would be called the Academic Progress Rate (APR). Schools that do not meet the minimum standards for this APR would be dealt severe penalties in the way of scholarship reductions, loss of team practice time, and eventually loss of games. And......eventually when a team's APR does not meet the minimum standards over the course of several years, possibly that sport's team will not be eligible for NCAA post-season competition. All well and good for those of us who want our student-athletes to perform well in class, remain at our school, and graduate within a workable time frame.
But, we now find that the APR has hit the sport of baseball much harder than any other sport, men or women, within the NCAA structure.
Let's first be fully aware that the APR does not reflect at all grade point averages. We feel that college baseball student-athletes fare very well in this category for the most part if you were to compare the national GPA's for baseball against let's say those participating in the high profile sports of football or basketball. Sure there might be a few schools where the grade point averages of the baseball team were lower than the football or basketball team, but I think this would not be the case in many instances.
A team achieves a low APR grade when a young man or woman transfers out of his or her university, and achieves a much lower APR when that person was not eligible when they transferred. Well....baseball has been a sport since we provide partial scholarships (all we are allowed is 11.7 scholarships for our entire roster) that had a transfer rule that allowed a boy to transfer from one four year school to another without losing a year of eligibility. Was this happening often? Yes, a boy could improve his chances of gaining more playing time by transferring to another NCAA school. If we had a no transfer rule like football or basketball, then this would not occur as often. That makes a lot of sense, for a boy would not want to have to sit out a year. Well......everytime this happened in baseball, the APR for our sport was adversely affected.
Baseball's APR is also affected greatly by the fact that most of our boys are on very small scholarships due to the paltry amount of aid allowed under NCAA rules (11.7 scholarships). This means if our boys wished to attend summer school, they could only receive under NCAA rules the amount of money they were receiving in their athletic scholarship. Thus, our average scholarship last year for our baseball players was 27% at Mississippi State. Thus, a boy who wanted to go to summer school would have to pay 73% of the cost for summer school. Football, basketball, and most women's sports on full scholarship grants can attend summer school on this full scholarship.
So our young men who already have to pay (or their parents pay) for the fall and spring semester of classes often times cannot afford to attend summer school. We are so fortunate in baseball that there are summer baseball opportunities in many leagues across the country where our boys can compete in additional games for the enjoyment, challenge of competition, and to enhance their skill level. It would be comparable to a musically talented student, a potential engineer and government students using their gifted talents in the summer to grow through internships, camps, jobs, seminars, exchange programs, etc. These leagues are sanctioned, by the way, by the NCAA. Many of these boys playing summer baseball take summer classes at schools near where they are playing or take on-line classes. Others choose not to take additional credit hours, and return back to their respective school to be full-time students in both the fall and spring semester.
For those receiving this letter that do not understand what is taking place around the country in regard to summer school, allow me to educate you. There is no summer football league for the college men playing intercollegiate football. There are some summer basketball leagues, but very few young men or women play in these leagues, for they are required to attend summer school by their coaches (on full scholarships) in order to continue to attend strength and conditioning workouts. Since most women athletes at the NCAA-I level are on full scholarships, they also take advantage of this financial break that the NCAA affords them, and they too will attend summer school for the most part.
Just about all NCAA-I football players are required to attend summer school (one or two summer sessions or both) by their coaches, so that, like in basketball, they can catch-up on any credit hours deficiencies, and be strengthened and conditioned by their strength coaches to better prepare them for the fall semester of competition.
Would you believe I was in a media conference room in Omaha at the College World Series where they were having a press conference entitled "The State of College Baseball." There was not one single baseball coach involved in this press conference. Yes, there were several officials of the NCAA present and speaking to the press. I was in the back of the room, because after this press conference, the head coaches of the eight participating schools were to meet with the media.
I could not believe what one NCAA official said when asked about the APR of college baseball. He basically said, "Can you all believe that college baseball players do not take the same number of credit hours per calendar year as football or basketball players?" What a misleading statement to make when these football and basketball players are all on full athletic scholarships and are, for the most part, required by their coaches to attend summer school where they can earn up to 12 credit hours if they attend both sessions of summer school.
Our kids have to basically pay for their summer school and are not required by their coaches to attend summer school unless the boy has some credit hour concerns. And.... yes they have the opportunity to play summer baseball after being in school for an entire fall and spring semester.
Of course, after I talked about my Mississippi State baseball team along with the other seven coaches visiting with the press about their teams, I lashed out at this statement and other statements I had to endure basically saying our kids are underachieving in the classroom. And.... our APR for baseball players was hanging real close to that for football and basketball.
Now, if the NCAA wants our boys to attend summer school, then they are going to have to provide them with the same financial benefits that football, basketball, and just about all the women sports' participants receive. I will not hold my breath for that to happen, even though we are the second leading producer of revenue for the NCAA championships.
You talk about educating the non-educated when it comes to college baseball. At one point in time the APR (structured and designed over a three year period) was going to penalize those baseball players who after their junior season of eligibility were drafted by one of the 30 professional baseball teams and opted to sign a pro baseball contract without completing their eligibility. In all actuality, the penalty affected the college baseball program's APR.
Via our Executive Director of the American Baseball Coaches Association, he quickly informed those that were not informed that each of the 30 professional baseball teams has 50 rounds in the draft (1500 young men in high school, junior college, or college) where professional football's draft only went eight rounds and professional basketball's draft only goes two rounds.
We were to lose additional APR points for something completely out of our control. Just this year, one of our best players at Mississippi State University was drafted in the 17th round by the Texas Rangers baseball organization. This young man was a great student who came from a very middle class family. He is receiving a large scholarship at Mississippi State (43% of a full scholarship is a large scholarship in college baseball). Later in the summer, the Texas Rangers offered him a signing bonus, and since this young man and his family would have to pay $6700 for him to attend his senior year at Mississippi State University (and the pro baseball organization was going to pay for his final year of school) he signed a contract with this pro baseball team.
I hold the NCAA responsible for this boy not returning to school for his senior year due to only providing us with limited scholarship assistance based on what all the other sports, men or women, receive. If this fine young man had been on a full scholarship, or close to a full scholarship, he would be back in school for the fall semester.
Maybe some of you are saying, "Well Coach Polk, if he was such a fine baseball player, why was he not receiving more scholarship assistance?" We had 43 young men on our roster last year. Take 11.70 and divide it into this number. 34 of these 43 boys were on some type of baseball scholarship. Please continue to divide 11.70 into this number. Five of the players that played for us in the most recent College World Series (and were position player starters or pitched in one of the two games) were on no aid at all or were on a books-only scholarship.
Thankfully, now these boys signing a pro baseball contract prior to using up their final year of eligibility do not hurt our sport's APR unless they were not going to be eligible if they returned to school.
But.....one boy signing a pro baseball contract affected our APR. Our senior second baseman was drafted by the Chicago Cubs organization after playing four years at Mississippi State. He is also like the young man above, a fine student. He is a semester short of graduating, for he was on a very small scholarship and could not afford to attend summer school. He is now a 0 for 1 under APR rules until he returns to school and graduates. Please understand his immediate return to school may be altered by professional baseball's desire for him to play winter or instructional baseball.
These two cases I have related happen over and over again in college baseball. The same does not hold true in any other sport due to the fact college baseball players can be drafted and signed after their third year in college, and there are 50 rounds in the pro baseball draft, and only eight rounds in football, and two in basketball.
That is what educating the non-educated is all about. If I were going to take a class in geometry, I would go into that class uneducated in geometry, until hopefully by the end of the semester, I became educated in that subject area. Thus, I am not demeaning the NCAA presidents or NCAA committee members who are now making the rules for college athletics. Unless those men and women, who dictate the rules and regulations, played college athletics, coached in college at one point in their careers, or were super-fans of one or several collegiate sports, they would have to be educated in various aspects of that sport in the way it affects the student-athletes and their coaches.
I wish right now for everyone reading this letter, I could offer you a cup of coffee or a soft drink, so you could take a little break from this letter that is now eight pages long. Yes there are still more pages. I am not writing this letter for myself, for my time in coaching is short. And…if I have to be a cruel, old coach very, very soon to the young men I recruited to attend Mississippi State on a partial scholarship or on a walkon basis, you will not be hearing from me anymore, for I will be put out to pasture.
The remainder of this letter will address what very soon will become for baseball coaches and our players, a student-athlete and coach welfare issue due to overkill by the NCAA Board of Directors who are punishing our kids, our coaches, and our baseball programs based on an APR for college baseball. Again, let me remind you that our APR is very close to what the APR is for college football and basketball, for this seems to be the two sports that NCAA Board of Directors have pitted us against.
We are a sport that had a liberal transfer rule. We are a sport that has very few of our athletes attending summer school. We are a sport that has many of the boys signing pro baseball contracts. But....we are not a sport of underachievers when it comes to the overall grade point averages.
What we are facing is a situation where the NCAA Board of Directors, who received our punishment from the Baseball Academic Enhancement Group (more on this group later), are saying if I have a baseball player who graduates in five years with a 4.00 GPA, and a football or basketball player that graduates in four years (since they go to summer school) with let's say a 2.50 GPA, then the football player or basketball player was a better student while attending college than was the baseball player.
Let's address what was taking place in college baseball at a minority of schools that basically caused the Baseball Academic Enhancement Group to be charged by the NCAA Board of Directors to punish our kids, our coaches, and our baseball programs for perceived academic underachievement based on APR results.
With 11.7 scholarships provided by the NCAA to NCAA-I college baseball programs, and with our coaches fighting to stay competitive in order to maintain their positions, coaches have had to resort to creative financing. Coaches who have families were not going to basically cheat the system, but they were working within the system to squeeze as much as they could within the 11.70 scholarships in order to field a competitive team.
Those schools that are fortunate enough to be in states that have a lottery through which every boy or girl who graduates from high school with a minimum grade point average receives free tuition at the in-state school of their choice have an edge. This might be a full benefits or partial tuition benefits that they can maintain as long as they meet a minimum grade point average at the respective in-state school they attend. What a tremendous advantage these colleges have in baseball, with baseball being a partial scholarship sport versus those schools in states that do not have a lottery, and thus, have no free tuition benefits for their boys or girls attending an in-state school. And, if those schools recruit primarily in-state kids, they have close to double the 11.70 of those in non-lottery states.
It is like the Kansas City Royals with a very small payroll having to play the New York Yankees with a very large payroll. The playing field is no longer equal. So...what are these coaches to do once they see that their scholarship allocations are far below those coaches they must compete against? They hope their recruited players can receive some academic scholarships or out-of-state tuition waivers based on the student's test scores and grade point averages. Or....unfortunately like in our profession, we have baseball coaches that were bringing students into their programs on scholarship aid in the fall semester. If these boys did not meet their expectations as baseball players, were removing them from their rosters. The players then would have to transfer to another four year school, or if they were a true freshman, to a junior college. We call it in baseball language the hire and fire rule. It was perfectly legal as long as the coach never went over his 11.70 scholarship allocation. He was getting more for his buck at the expense of young men being forced to transfer. In all my years of coaching, I never did this; for it is not in the student-athlete's best interest. Unless a player flunked-out of school or committed a serious violation of our school or baseball policies, I and other coaches like me "ate" our mistakes (kids who we thought were going to be fine baseball players, and then found them lacking in certain skills).
This practice of hire and fire would never happen if we, as baseball coaches, were receiving the type of scholarship assistance afforded our brother and sister sports. But it is happening, and for that reason, when the APR was established, these schools quickly found themselves behind the 8-ball. Unless they changed this lack of student-athlete welfare practice, their APR score was going to put their program in serious shape with APR penalties looming on the horizon.
The majority of our college baseball coaches want these coaches punished. And the great thing about the APR is that it was going to punish them. I would estimate, knowing what I know about college baseball recruiting and retention, we are dealing with between 30 and 50 schools out of the 284 schools playing NCAA-I baseball. It could be a few less or a few more.
Most of our baseball coaches care about their kids, not only for what they can do for them in winning more baseball games, but care about their young people and want to instill values in them that they can use for the rest of their lives once they leave college and their respective baseball programs. Baseball coaches are not born to be cruel people, but when a person is backed against a wall and must win to keep his coaching position, he will resort to any tactic he can to make his program successful in the eyes of administrators, fans, alumni, and the media.
So....the college average APR was taking a hit from these few coaches and most of our coaches were upset with this fact. What did the NCAA Board of Directors do when they saw that baseball's APR was hanging close to football and basketball, and yet the test scores and grade point averages of our baseball student-athletes coming out of high school reflected our kids were not achieving excellence in their class-work in college based on these factors? They panicked, knee-jerked, and over-killed our sport, which translates to our young men, our coaches, and our programs. Again, this was not reflected in grade point averages per classes attended.
Instead of allowing a little more time for those cruel coaches to clean up their acts (and they had to in order to evade APR penalties that would seriously hurt their baseball programs), the NCAA Board of Directors informed our baseball leaders: we are going to punish baseball, because their APR scores were too close to football and basketball. It is a fact that those coaches who dragged down our APR by their hire and fire mentality have now had to change course or else be severely punished by their respective APR scores. Already based on an NCAA news report, college baseball's APR has improved over the previous year. Of course it has; for those who resorted to this lack of student-welfare tactics have had to change the way they conduct business.
So.....even though college baseball's APR was hanging close to football and basketball with all the reasons I have related, we became a targeted sport by the NCAA. Comparing our APR with other sports is like comparing apples to oranges.
Can you imagine what football or basketball's APR would be if they had a liberal transfer rule like baseball and the majority of their players were on partial scholarships? Can you imagine what their APR scores would be if they were not able to go to summer school without having to foot most of the bill, or if their coaches did not require them to attend summer school? Can you imagine what their APR score would be (on average) if there were summer football leagues and a lot of summer basketball leagues for them to play on? Can you imagine what their APR score would be if they both had 50 rounds for each NFL and NBA team, and if their seniors signed after using up their eligibility, and they had a most difficult time returning to school quickly to get that degree to satisfy the graduation rates that are a part of the APR?
Did the NCAA Board of Directors, made up of college presidents, want to make a statement about how serious they are about APR results and want to punish our kids, our coaches, and our baseball programs for academic underachievement? Whether they did or not, it is now a fact that the punishment process will be starting soon, and we are not guilty. Sure we have some things we need to clean up with some coaches that made our APR what it is today. And....as I said before if they gave it a little time, they would have been impressed that college baseball's APR would increase each and every year.
This NCAA Board of Directors needed information as to why baseball's APR was what it was. They needed to be educated; none of them, I'm sure, were aware of what I have detailed in this letter.
So....the NCAA Board of Directors looked at the APR figures for all the sports and decided to act on baseball. They informed some of our leaders that if they did not come up with some solutions, the number of games we are allowed to play would be drastically diminished. They inferred that the APR score for baseball was because of the number of games we played in the spring semester. As you can see by all my arguments, this is certainly not a factor. Oftentimes at Mississippi State University, our team GPA is higher in the spring semester of competition than in the fall semester. The boys have to be more organized and focused on their class work. In the fall semester, they have way too much free time on their hands. This was the case for us last year with our spring GPA higher than our fall GPA.
Was the word punished used by the Board of Directors to our leaders? Maybe not, but that is what is going to happen very soon unless we can educate the uneducated.
So.....in order that our baseball games are not diminished, which would be something our boys do not want, nor their family members, nor our coaches, nor our fans, the Baseball Academic Enhancement Group was formed. I can not tell you who was responsible for the makeup of this committee that had presidents, athletic directors, faculty representatives, commissioners, and the Executive Director of the American Baseball Coaches Association assigned to tackle the issue of baseball academics.
All we know as baseball coaches is that there were 27 people on this committee, and only three of them were baseball coaches. That is just like what happened when they had the press conference in Omaha at the College World Series, and they had no baseball coaches represented as they talked about the "state of college baseball." Do you even dare to think what would have happened if this was an issue affecting college football, basketball, or a women's specific sport? Three baseball coaches on a 27 person committee (ouch!).
I know what I would have said, and I know what many of my fellow coaches would have said if we were told by the NCAA Board of Directors, "Your baseball players are underachieving in their academics based on the average APR scores for your sport."
"Wait one darn moment, and let's understand fully why the APR for baseball is where it is. We are going to 'draw a line in the sand' and we are going to educate you all, and if we can't, we are going to fight you on behalf of all our kids, their family members, and our coaches. We do not deserve to be punished by an organization that has treated us like second class citizens for many years in the way you allocate scholarships."
And ....boy, did this Baseball Academic Enhancement Committee punish all of us that participate as players and coaches in the sport of baseball. I can just imagine when the NCAA Board of Directors received the punishment report from those who should have been defending us; they said,"Well done committee, this will get their attention."
The prosecutors of our sport far outweighed our defense attorneys. There was no way a Ron Polk would have been allowed to be on that committee, or coaches like myself, who have to constantly fight the NCAA for crumbs. I am just waiting one time for a high level NCAA official to present himself to our American Baseball Coaches Association Convention held each January. I am just waiting for that person to stand up in front of all our head coaches and assistant coaches and say to our members, "How can we assist you baseball coaches to make your jobs a little easier and allow you to enjoy the coaching profession?" Or say, "We are thankful for what a great college sport baseball is, and we thank you for all the money you provide us at the NCAA. For that reason we want to assist you all in whatever way we can." Or say, "How can we, through our offices in Indianapolis, make your young men who play college baseball enjoy their participation a little more?"
I will not hold my breath for that to happen, but at each ABCA Convention, we do get a report on how much money the baseball championships bring in and what the ratings were for the ESPN broadcasts of our championships the previous season.
No, all we have is fires to put out. Now we have a real fire, and this fire is going to have a drastic effect on our sport, our kids, and our coaches. Some schools will be affected more than others, and the shame of it is, it will affect those baseball programs that have generated the most money for the NCAA...... the baseball programs that have brought college baseball to the level it is today. That level was achieved through the hard work of a lot of dedicated coaches who busted their butts to make their programs successful. Has the NCAA been a caring partner in this? I, and others in our sport, think not.
Allow me to finish this way-too-long of a letter with the punishment points that we are facing: punishment that should never have been allowed if we only stood up for our coaches, our kids, and our baseball programs and said, "We are not going to take this punishment without a fight." Our leaders buckled when the NCAA Board of Directors said, "We are going to take games away from your sport." I have, or I have had, some good friends on that Baseball Academic Enhancement Group that I and others hold responsible to get this thing fixed. We are not a broken sport academically. The APR is flawed for our large roster sport, with partial scholarships that had a liberal transfer year, our kids have a hard time going to summer school, our players having had the option to play summer baseball, and we have 50 rounds in the professional baseball draft. So there!
We can not expect many of the college presidents receiving this letter to understand what the Board of Directors with the assistance of the Baseball Academic Enhancement Group have approved as our collective punishment without seeing it in writing. And...we all know you have much more important things to deal with at your respective colleges and universities. But...if you lasted this long in reading this letter, wait till you see what very soon will take place with the plan of attack by the NCAA Board of Directors. And.....from an old coach what ramifications it will place on student-athlete welfare and coach welfare.
These are the four parts of the plan that will go into effect on August 1, 2008, unless somehow we educate those who have far more intelligence than us baseball coaches - our college presidents:
1. NCAA-I college baseball players must now be academically certified at the start of the fall term to be eligible to compete in the spring term, and there will be no mid-year transfers.
2. An athletic scholarship must be at least 25% of the cost of tuition and fees, room and board, and books. A baseball program can not have more than 27 players receiving aid in a given year (for the 2008-09 school year, the number on aid can be 30. From that time on, it is 27). The regular squad size will be capped at 35. The 35 must be determined no later than the day before the team's first game.
3. Baseball players who wish to transfer to another Division I program must be in residence for one year at his new school before being allowed to play.
4. Baseball programs with a 4-year average Academic Progress Rate (APR) under 900, will be subjected to baseball specific penalties, in addition to sanctions stipulated in the Academic Performance Program (such as scholarship reductions). Examples of baseball-specific penalties would be a reduction in team's number of contests to 50 and limiting the playing and practice season to 119 days.
Let me start with number 4 first, for it is the easiest. I firmly believe that baseball coaches do not want any penalties in our sport that do not occur in other sports, but if we can eliminate numbers 1, 2, & 3; we would welcome increased penalties on those not getting the job done with their kids' academic progress. Even with that statement, with the nature of our sport, and all the reasons I have related whereby the APR is flawed statistically for baseball, we all should be able to stay above the 900 APR mark.
In fact, many coaches with whom I have visited would rather take a reduced-game punishment and not have to face what is in store for them and their young men in numbers 1, 2, & 3.
(1) As related earlier, if this was to come to fruition, baseball would be the only sport where a student-athlete would have to be academically certified in the semester prior to their semester of competition. That will just about cancel any junior college recruiting unless the young man knows in advance what he will major in from the start of his freshman year and knows what school he will attend at the start of his junior year of eligibility. In baseball many of the junior college athletes are very well qualified to have chosen a four year school. Often, because of fewer scholarships in NCAA baseball, they will take a larger scholarship at the junior college. Some may say, let it happen for a boy should not be attending a junior college. And....if he does, then he will have to pay the price in baseball to be meeting the progression toward a degree standard set by the NCAA for junior status.
With this piece of legislation many of our young men will have to attend summer school. What other sport within the NCAA is a student-athlete forced to attend summer school if he happens to be a few credit hours shy of being eligible in the semester prior to his semester of competition. Because of smaller and fewer scholarships, many of our players need to work in the summer to be able to continue school. Many schools do not fund baseball players to attend summer school due to the strain it would place on their athletic department budgets. Those that do fund baseball players to attend summer school are not allowed to provide them with any additional aid over and above what they were receiving for the fall and spring semesters. Thus, as related earlier in this letter, baseball players and their families would have to come up with additional funding in order for summer school to be a viable alternative for eligibility.
Let me move on to Number 3 before I tackle the punishment that will have the biggest effect on student-athlete welfare and coach-welfare, and that would be Number 2.
Baseball will be the only partial scholarship sport that would preclude a young man from transferring to another NCAA-I school without sitting out a full academic as well as athletic year. We would assume that this for sure would drive baseball's APR off the charts, for this has been happening frequently due to partial scholarships (as low as just a book scholarship, and I have seven young men presently on our baseball team with just books in their scholarship).
What is wrong with a young man taking his hours he has achieved at one university and attending another university if he can better himself with a better scholarship or if he is stuck behind some better players in the program he is in? At the present time, a coach can prevent that young man from doing so by not granting him a release, but that is not occurring within college baseball circles. The NCAA frowns on any athlete transferring from one school to the next thinking he may lose some credit hours by doing so. The boy and his parents should be making that decision, not the NCAA.
I have had several cases, while employed at Mississippi State University, where I have assisted young men, by their choice, to attend another school where they would gain more playing time than I could foresee for them if they remained at our institution. It has worked out great for the boys, and they appreciated my assistance in finding them a school that could use their services as long as that new school met their academic major requirements.
With this rule in place, a boy is stuck unless he wishes to still transfer and have to sit out a year. This rule is in effect in football and basketball (full scholarship sports). If baseball had, just as one example, the same number of scholarships as women's crew (20), then put the no transfer rule in without sitting out a year, we would have ample scholarships for each boy in our program being treated fairly with scholarship funds. How can you tell a boy on one-quarter of a scholarship that he cannot transfer without sitting out a year? You talk about the NCAA not wanting sports specific legislation. Well....you got it here, and yes, it happens only in the sport of baseball. We must improve our scholarship allotments. A player who is not retained because of the "27" cut-off, must sit out a full year of residency and, in almost all cases, will do so without any scholarship assistance.
The Baseball Academic Enhancement Group had "on the table" a request to increase the baseball scholarships at NCAA-I institutions, but it was "pulled off the table" when they decided, and I am quoting a person on that committee, "When we got close to finishing the package to present to the NCAA Board of Directors, we were told that this was not the time to do it. So it was taken out of the package." When is the time to do it????? Was not this committee with three baseball coaches on a committee of 27 speaking on behalf of our kids and our coaches? It appears they were not. Put the increase of baseball scholarships in the package so we can better justify informing kids on partial scholarships the rationale that they can not transfer any longer for we have finally given baseball players their just due in increased scholarship. Allow the NCAA Board of Directors to turn down an increased scholarship request. To take this out of the package was a criminal thing to do for our kids who have fewer scholarships by far than any other sport within the NCAA based on average roster size. Yes, this is so important for you all to know; that I repeat myself again.
I could go on and on about scholarships and the transfer rules, but everyone's patience has to be running thin as they continue to wade through this soon to be chapter in a book.
And....now for Number 3!
We now are the only sport that has been given chump change by the NCAA, and now we are being told how to spend our chump change.
This is the one that will very soon prompt baseball players, their parents, and the coaches that sent the boys to us from high schools and junior colleges to write letters or e-mails to the presidents and athletic directors, "Can you believe what your college baseball coach has done to me? Can you believe what my son's college baseball coach has done to him? Can you believe what Coach Polk has done to the young man that I coached in high school or junior college and was at one time a member of his baseball team?"
For those of you who never played college baseball or coached college baseball, you must fully understand in order to field a competitive baseball team, recognizing that injuries will occur during any given season; baseball requires a larger roster than most sports. With a 56 game schedule condensed now into a shorter period of time, you must have a large roster in order to handle injuries, illnesses, family emergencies, etc.
Women's softball has more scholarships than men's baseball. As I related to the readers of this letter, more power to them and congratulations on having these scholarships. They should have 12 scholarships if not more. We have just 11.70. Softball can get by with 2-3 pitchers on their staff without any problem. We in baseball have to have at least 10, if not more, to not abuse a young man's arm by pitching him too many innings.
We are a sport that does sustain injuries, and 27 scholarship players (all on partial scholarships) does not allow us to feel comfortable going into a season. But yes, the new roster cap that no other sport under NCAA rules has will allow us to have eight additional players (walkons). Thank you for allowing us this luxury.
How does a college baseball coach get to the 27 scholarship roster each year is what will affect student-athlete welfare (and coach-welfare). I presently have 31 boys on this year's team that are underclassmen on partial scholarships. That means, unless some get drafted by professional baseball or transfer to another school (and sit out a year by this new plan), I will be over the 30 allowed on scholarship next year. I do not know at this point in time who will be drafted (could lose 5 or 6 possibly), so I must protect the baseball program by signing 4-6 more players. If I do not do so, I could easily get caught short on scholarship players. It gets even tougher the next year when the number of scholarships goes down to 27 players.
Now, if I'm a caring coach, I do not recruit a single new player on any type of baseball scholarship. If I am an uncaring coach, I sign 4-6 players, and then I will just face the music that possibly all 31 players want to return to school next year. I add, let's say 5 players, and I am now sitting on 36 players, and I must be down to 30.
I must then dump six young men, for we have exceeded our NCAA quota. The NCAA calls it roster management, but let's call it what it is: a quota. These six dumped young men in the past could transfer without sitting out a year but not anymore. They will be forced out of our program, and if they wish to transfer, sit out a year. And, what NCAA-I baseball program will take them if they are working themselves down to the 27 quota figure.
Yes, by dumping six boys it will affect that program's APR since a boy will be forced to transfer unless he decides to remain at the school and no longer take part in the baseball program. Some coaches have already told me they feel as though they can eliminate four to five boys each year from their program and still maintain their APR number to the point that APR penalties do not take effect.
Again, in past years, boys who are forced to transfer have some ill will to the coach who has asked them to leave their program, but they could move on to another school since there were no roster caps. But, they could have done so without sitting out a year. No more will that be allowed to happen. You will now have some very unhappy campers along with unhappy family members.
How about having two boys on your present team that sustained major arm injuries and are undergoing rehab so they can play again? In the past, you can hold onto them, for there was no roster cap. But, if these two boys are on a partial baseball scholarship, and the doctors inform you as their head coach that there is a chance they might not be fully healthy and able to participate, are you going to be the caring coach and chance two of your 27 scholarship slots tied with boys that might not be 100% physically? If you are forced to win at your school in order to maintain your job, you will have to call these young men and tell them they can remain at your school, but not on a baseball scholarship. The other choice they have is to transfer to another school but now must sit out another year, and they already used up their one time redshirt year.
What other school will take a chance on putting a rehab young man on their 27 scholarship roster, and since he has to sit out a year at this new school, put him on this most limited roster.
Allow me to use another scenario. A baseball coach has 24 underclassmen in his program one year. If all return the next year he starts with the number 24. Of those 24 boys, he thinks 4 will be drafted by professional baseball. So...he thinks he will be down to 20 players returning. To protect his baseball program, he signs 7 additional players on scholarship. The 4 boys he thought he would lose in the pro draft do get drafted, but throughout the summer the negotiations do not go well, and all 4 boys call the coach and inform him they are turning down pro baseball and are returning to school. Now...the coach finds out that all the boys he signed to protect his program are also coming to school even though maybe one or two of them were drafted out of high school or junior college. Now, that coach has 31 boys coming to school and is only allowed, under NCAA rules, to have 27 on scholarship.
What do you do with the 4 boys over your limit? You tell either 4 returning players they are off baseball scholarship and can become one of the 8 walkons. Or, they can transfer to another NCAA-I school and sit out a year before they are eligible to play.
The coach who does not care about student welfare will always have to go over his number in the recruiting process, for the only way he can ever hit the magic number 27 on the button is by protecting himself and his baseball program by signing more players in hopes that he somehow can work himself down to 27 players on scholarship. The caring coach interested in student-athlete welfare could be facing situations every year where he has well below the 27 scholarship players, for he refused to gamble with a student's welfare. Who is going to win more baseball games? The answer is very easy; the uncaring coach.
There is absolutely no reason for a roster cap, and for sure no reason for a scholarship cap. I and many of my fellow coaches are offended that anyone would even think of having a roster cap of 35 on baseball teams. What is the rationale, other than to make sure the cruel coach does not get into the hire and fire mode. The APR takes care of that if the NCAA would just let it run its course.
Very soon this old coach, after our fall practice season ends, will have to inform many young men that they better hit the road at the end of this semester, for after this semester; anyone transferring will have to sit out a full academic and athletic year.
I do not want them to leave. I know they do not want to leave. Many of them are young kids who I would like to redshirt and nurture their skills as we have been doing for so many years here at Mississippi State University. What purpose does a roster cap serve? Who does it benefit? Sure we all understand under Title 9 legislation the number of young men playing college athletics must be reduced unless we can all entice more girls to play sports by adding additional women sports. We certainly cannot increase the number of scholarships they receive per sport, for they already have whatever they need to meet the needs of their programs.
Does anyone on the NCAA Board of Directors wish to be present when I have to inform youngsters that they are no longer welcome on our baseball team, even though this is where they want to be as student-athletes?
It is so very easy for people to make rules when they do not have to live with the rules. Oftentimes, they make judgment rules like they have for college baseball, and soon have to change the rules, for they find out their rules are not appropriate. More than likely, if all these rules for baseball remain, in a very short period of time, they will be changed because there will be an inundation of kids, their parents, and yes, us coaches yelling, "Foul."
At my age, I will not be around as a baseball coach when these rules to be put in place very soon will have to be changed. I will not finish my coaching career having to be cruel to kids. In December of this year unless some sanity is brought into the equation, I will have to inform boys to pack up at the end of the semester and head to another school, and I am doing this in their best interest. For if they do not do it now; the rules are going to hit them hard. If they decide to remain, and then after the spring semester I tell many of them, "I am at my slotted number, and you must transfer." These boys have to sit out a year at their new schools, and many of them might have redshirted this year. Then it will be two years of them not stepping across the white lines to play college baseball, and as mentioned earlier, without a scholarship.
So much for student-athlete welfare.
And....this all happened because of a new NCAA equation put in place to make the student-athlete more of a student. We are all for that, but at what expense to college baseball, our young men, and our coaches.
The only solution is to recognize what is in this long, long letter. Nothing in this letter was meant to embarrass any person or the NCAA. It is a true fact: for some reason college baseball has been slighted for so many years in so many ways. Our defenders became our prosecutors. They did not do it on purpose, but they thought they were backed against the wall and baseball was threatened by the educated that are uneducated in what college baseball is all about and how the APR was flawed for one sport.
The solution is simple….LET THE APR RUN ITS COURSE FOR BASEBALL. THERE WAS A RUSH TO JUDGMENT. ACCEPT THAT A MISTAKE WAS MADE. THAT MISTAKE, IF ALLOWED TO LINGER, WILL HAVE SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES FOR YOUNG MEN PLAYING COLLEGE BASEBALL, AND EVEN FROM THIS OLD COACH WHO IS JUST TRYING TO EDUCATE THOSE WHO NEED TO BE EDUCATED ABOUT OUR UNIQUE SPORT. I DO NOT WISH TO FINISH MY 40-YEAR COACHING CAREER BEING A CRUEL PERSON.