Commentary

Force out

Scholarships here today are often gone tomorrow for college baseball players

Updated: January 28, 2011, 11:36 AM ET
By Jeff Bradley | ESPN The Magazine

WALKING INTO ARIZONA STATE'S PACKARD STADIUM for the first time as a recruited baseball player in September 2001, Erik Averill read the names emblazoned on the outfield wall: Barry Bonds, Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando. He saw the five national championship banners. And he was dutifully awed by all of it. "They do a great job selling the legacy," he says. Averill had just started his senior year at Villa Park High in Orange, Calif., and the crafty lefthander intended to make all five official campus visits allowed by the NCAA. But after visiting ASU, his plans changed. "If they wanted me," Averill says, "that was my clear first choice."

When Averill met former coach Pat Murphy and was offered an 84 percent scholarship, he was flabbergasted. To get a 50 percent scholarship in college baseball is significant; 84 percent means you're big-time. Averill committed to ASU a week later. "You want to get as much as you can, because you think it is validation," he says. "But once you are a part of a team like Arizona State, no one cares how much scholarship you're on. It's all about winning."

Alex Nabaum for ESPN The Magazine

And that's why, after going 8-2 and earning freshman All-America honors, Averill decided to give back some of the scholarship. He saw that his 84 percent was keeping Murphy and his staff from signing the players needed to build a stronger team. The move also reveals a sneaky, dirty secret of college baseball: Scholarships come and go faster than a 3-2 fastball, thanks to strict NCAA rules that force coaches to treat grants as commodities to be traded among players and recruits. Some players, like Averill, can afford to surrender money. But often coaches must force the issue, robbing Peter to reward Paul as part of an intricate diamond juggling act. This constant need to rearrange a program's limited funds makes baseball the trickiest recruiting gig in college sports, and its problems can be traced to five factors.