Baseball’s Unique Place in College Athletics: Academics | The Golden Sombrero Baseball Blog | MLB, Fantasy, College & High School Baseball News

Baseball’s Unique Place in College Athletics: Academics

As opening weekend of NCAA baseball came and went, baseball fans, particularly those of the amateur and collegiate ranks, were once again swept up in the joy of spring and a return to normalcy.  We have been without the game since the end of the Arizona Fall League in many ways.  Although there is no such thing as the off-season for us here at The Sombrero, the recruiting season just isn’t the same as the spring and summer seasons.

The premier series of the weekend saw Vanderbilt travel to Stanford where Mark Appel, arguably the top talent headed into the 2012 MLB Draft, deal on Friday night.  This series also featured the loaded 2011 Draft’s only unsigned 1st-rounder, Tyler Beede, toss his first collegiate pitch.  Both of these teams rank in the top-10 and are absolutely loaded talent-wise.  What they also are loaded with are entire rosters of players devoted to academic excellence.  This weekend also saw Duke travel to 13th-ranked Texas in a game that also featured nothing but standout student-athletes.  Next weekend Texas travels to Stanford where the same applies.  These teams come from prime-time athletic conferences and perform well in sports other than baseball, but consider the fact that last year’s Texas squad hosted a series against Brown, a school in which no player on the field was receiving athletic-based financial aid, and actually dropped a game to the Bears.  They’re the University of Texas.  Just imagine for a minute the 40 or so kids that the Longhorns football team might send to the hospital if the Bears were to travel to Austin for a football game.  This hypothetical scenario reflects the idea behind this piece.

Baseball is unique in the world of collegiate athletics in that it provides academically inclined players and institutions many if not all of the opportunities that those players and schools where athletics must come first are provided, which quite clearly is not the case across the collegiate sports landscape.

How is it that players like Anthony Rendon or Mark Appel end up at schools like Rice and Stanford?  One of those schools is in the prestigious PAC-12 while the other plays in a mid-major conference, yet both have realistic chances at national titles annually.  What’s more, no one would be all that surprised if a player like Appel had turned down an opportunity at a place like Stanford or Texas or Florida to sign at a place like Rice or Vanderbilt or even Princeton.  And why should it surprise anyone?  This season Princeton travels to both North Carolina and South Carolina and will have numerous alums on Major League rosters.  In practically no way would a player like Rendon hurt his stock as a potential professional athlete by electing to attend a prestigious academic institution, which is exactly what he did and just one of the many reasons we here at The Sombrero are so high on him and what we think he can achieve at the professional level.  Yes, the Ivy League schedule is soft compared to the SEC or the ACC (as is the Patriot and Colonial for that matter), but the fact that outside of conference play teams can play whoever they want is something unique to baseball.

Were Texas or USC to play an Ivy school in football, they would all but be voluntarily eliminating themselves from the National Title conversation.  NCAA football is laughably misguided in how they determine a champion, but that is somewhat beside the point as well.  Basketball is awarded a little more flexibility, but eyebrows would rise if North Carolina were to play Harvard, even given the tremendous Crimson play this year, during the regular season.  Additionally, because of the shorter 3-point distance in collegiate hoops, novelty strategies like that employed at our beloved Grinnell College promote parity within that sport.  Baseball is on an entirely different wavelength in the parity respect, however.  Would anyone really be that surprised if a team from the WCC like San Francisco made a trip to Omaha?  We sure as hell wouldn’t.  And what do you want to bet that the guy gripping the rock in their first game will have a solid head on his shoulders as well?  You’d be right if you bet in his favor, because that guy is Kyle Zimmer and he’s pretty much a geek.  Oh yeah, he’s got a chance at the first round.

Because of the outstanding effort made by scouts and coaches to ensure that collegiate summer league rosters are comprised of the finest talent across the nation, Division 2 and 3 players, who might have foregone a “better” baseball program in exchange for an academic upgrade and more immediate access to the lineup, play alongside top caliber Division 1 talents as well for a couple months of the year.  Remember that Jordan Zimmerman might take the ball on Opening Day in 2012 and that Billy Wagner has a solid shot at the Hall of Fame, and both were Division 3 pitchers.  Zimmerman was a first-rounder as well!  Can you imagine a D3 kid going in the first round of the NBA or NFL drafts?  How about a kid from an Ivy school?

There is no hiding our extreme bias in baseball’s favor here at The Sombrero, but these points are obvious and all stem from within the nature of the game.  I have heard many people suggest that the baseball season needs to be shorter and that the postseason should be longer.  I respond with my own preferred notion: baseball’s regular season should be eternal and there should be no postseason.  One of the reasons that teams like Brown and Princeton can compete with teams like Texas is the fact that the schedule is so grinding in baseball, even in college.  Each game itself requires a tremendous amount of effort from around 15 players, several of which cannot even play in the subsequent day’s game.  At deeper levels, every team is far more similar.  The last guy out of every collegiate bullpen is usually a soft-tossing lefty, knuckleballer, or submariner, because those are all ways for walk-ons to stick around.

Academically talented and inclined baseball players can pursue both at a far more diverse array of colleges than other collegiate athletes.  Even the structure of the NCAA and its relationship to the draft promotes real academic standards.  It is very encouraging that teams like Stanford and Vanderbilt produce such quality baseball teams, and I annually find myself rooting for those teams because they also are so highly regarded academically.  That said I root even harder for those teams like Rice and USF because their programs are not bolstered by massive revenue generating football and basketball teams.  They could easily get by on their academic merit entirely independent of their athletic programs.  This all works to reinforce the game because those who graduate from the game are also far more likely to graduate with quality degrees and the ability to contribute to society in positive ways as well.  What’s more, they are far more likely to develop the means and motivation to reinvest in the game even after their days on the field are over.

I love collegiate baseball.

1 Comment

  1. Griffin Phelps says:

    FANFUCKINGTASTIC piece dawg!!!!! You put that shit on tha west and…boom! Blew it up!