Ray Tanner meets with MLB Brass in Vegas

South Carolina baseball coach Ray Tanner is one of 12 coaches who were invited to the Major League Baseball winter meetings in Las Vegas to participate in meetings on December 10 to help improve the relationship between the NCAA and Major League Baseball. GamecockAnthem.com spoke with Tanner prior to the meetings about what he hoped to see accomplished while in Vegas.

This is the second consecutive year that college coaches are meeting as part of the scouting directors meetings, which are part of the larger Major League Baseball winter meetings, held this year in Las Vegas. The college coaches invited are among the most influential coaches in the game, including three coaches from the SEC: Ray Tanner of South Carolina, David Perno of Georgia, and Kevin O'Sullivan of Florida; four coaches from the West Coast: Rich Hill of San Diego, Mike Gillespie of UC Irvine, John Savage (UCLA) and Pat Casey of Oregon State; and two from Texas: Augie Garrido of Texas and Jim Scholassnagle of Texas Christian.

On the other side of the table representing Major League Baseball were all of the MLB Scouting Directors and their assistants; MLB Operations staff Joe Garagiola, Jr., Roy Krasik and Brian Porter, and other selected MLB personnel.

The objective of the meetings is to find some common ground between the two sides on issues of concern. Tanner told GamecockAnthem.com that he didn't feel the two sides could reach agreement yet on what he felt was the biggest issue of concern, that of college players best interests being served when making the decision to stay in college or going pro. "Many if not most of the players who sign contracts with Major League Baseball never make it to the big leagues," Tanner said, "Yet they've given up their scholarships, and if they return to college, must pay their own way. In a perfect world, a fund by MLB should be set up for players leaving college before their eligibility is up to pay for their college expenses when they return after their pro career is over."

Since the NBA passed their minimum age rule, college baseball is the only one of the three major sports in college that still has to compete head to head with the professional league for players coming out of high school. Once a baseball player has entered classes in college, they are locked into college for three years.

College baseball players do have more flexibility than their football and basketball peers at that point. They can allow their name in the MLB draft, and choose to return.

Tanner is concerned that the majority of players who choose to leave college early or choose the pros over college after high school are not having their best interests looked after, and that there should be some way that MLB and college officials could sit down and evaluate recommendations for each player, but acknowledged that won't happen any time soon, if ever.

One area the college coaches and MLB have agreed on is on trying to set up a medical combine, and they are aiming for 2010 as the first year for it. There is still a lot to be worked out first for that to happen, such as whether the combine would happen in January before the season or in June before the draft.

An area of concern by the big league scouts is the ability to correctly identify players they are scouting, and want all college players to wear numbers on their jerseys during batting practice and infield drills, which many teams do not do.

Though professional baseball has a minor league system, College baseball in many ways serves as a minor league system for MLB as well. While the college coaches feel that it would be in college baseball's best interest to have a more synergistic relationship with pro ball, the dollars involved cause the other side to have conflicting interests with their collegiate counterparts that may never be resolved.

There is however, a clear trend that more pro scouts are beginning to put their emphasis on college stars. The structure, discipline, and support players receive at the college level from both the athletic and academic sides can be argued as providing a better environment for players to mature as individuals and as players. College students learn time management skills and life skills that affect every area of their life, including their performance on the baseball field. Programs like those in the SEC that provide strength and conditioning training and a level of coaching that exceeds what many players receive in the minor leagues frequently turn out a better equipped athlete for the major leagues than the minor leagues do.

Tanner feels there is an opportunity to make those points in ongoing meetings like the one in Las Vegas. "That's why we go (to the meetings)." He said. "We just have to keep making the arguments about what is in the players' best interest, and hope they listen."

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