College vs. The Pros - What is the College Experience Worth?

by Administrator

Very few seventeen year-olds are faced with the choice of either, accepting a full-ride athletic scholarship to a prestigious Division One college or opting for a the attraction of huge signing bonus and a life playing professional baseball. Those fortunate few do however face an agonizing choice.

College Experince  Before we get to that particular dilemma, the D1 Prospect is inundated with choices. Should I play high school baseball or enter one of the more challenging spring leagues? Do I need an advisor? How do I prepare for the draft both mentally and physically? How can I tell the scouts what I want to do when I have no idea myself? 

If you are truly a draft prospect, the scouts will come to your house in their droves. You will be required to complete reams of paperwork, often multiple times in different iterations for the same clubs. You will be able to commit your medical history to memory after you have completed a multitude of forms for a variety of clubs. Some of the clubs will require you to complete psychological tests. Area scouts will be at your high school games. They will in turn invite regional crosscheckers and if you continue to perform, they will hopefully invite the national scouting directors. It's a six month long job interview with as many as thirty prospective employers. Don't be daunted by their presence, continue to do what got you to this point and continue to work hard at your game. You should only be concerned if they stop coming to your games. If they are still around in May, you are on their draft list. 

The one factor that will provide you with the greatest leverage come draft day, is to keep your high school grades as high as possible. If your grades are not good enough to secure a D1 scholarship, your options diminish along with your bargaining power. No matter how good you are, you will slip down the draft order as clubs look to entice players away from college scholarships with bigger signing bonuses.

MLB Draft  Unless you are likely to be drafted in the top ten picks in the first round, an advisor could simply be regarded as an expensive accessory to tout at showcases and tournaments. No doubt it's pretty cool for a seventeen year-old to be able to talk about "their advisor". At that age everybody likes shiny things. The reality is that given the new collective bargaining agreement, there is precious little impact that the advisor can have on your negotiating process. 

The contract you will sign, should you elect to be drafted, is pretty much a standard template with two variables; the signing bonus, which will be based on your draft slot, and the amount of money that will be allocated for a four-year college education. The latter is likely to be based on the cost of an education at the school where you signed your National Letter of Intent. Aside from the inherent risks to your amateur status by dealing with an agent masquerading as an advisor, ask yourself if the minimal negotiations required warrant a fee that could be in excess of $75,000 (based on the negotiation of a signing bonus at least equal to the estimated value of a college education)? If you are looking to an advisor for advice on which option to select, take into account the inherent bias in their motivation. They don't make real money unless you become a professional. 

The college option comes with the much vaunted "College Experience" and the safety net of a college education. In most cases, this will be your first experience of life on your own. If you have chosen well and are fortunate enough to attend a "Baseball School", you will burst onto campus as a D1 College Athlete revered by many and cheered on by thousands. You will have the benefit of tutors and advisors keeping you on track academically, state-of-the-art workout facilities and wholesome meal plans. You will represent tens of thousands of students during games and proudly assume the identity of the school. 

However, college coaches are paid to win, and to win now. Their salaries and job security depend on results. If you are able to help the program win, you will play. If not, you will sit on the bench. The focus is not really on developing players for the next level. Looking at it from a pitcher's perspective, if you take the mound for a game and do not produce the expected results, the coaches will look elsewhere for someone that can win, regardless of whether you are there on a full ride scholarship or not. If you attend college as a catcher, don't expect to be able to develop your ability to call the game. Signs will be coming from the dugout. There is too much at stake! Also bear in mind, that whatever your verbal commitment, the National Letter of Intent only guarantees your scholarship for one year. If you get injured and did not opt for or were not eligible for NCAA insurance, you get to hobble around without the benefit of a signing bonus. I was unfortunate enough to witness a highly talented player's career end, along with his ability to walk, when he slid head first into second base in only his third game as a college freshman.

Pro Baseball  If you opt for professional baseball, expect an immediate immersion into a rigorous schedule where your entire life revolves around baseball. You will work out during the day with other high school graduates and international players and play games later the same day. You are likely to live in a hotel across the street from the ballpark and live, eat and sleep baseball until October when you return home and are left to your own devices until spring training. The minor league affiliates will be in places you have never heard of and you will get to live with host families and, if you are lucky, drive a clunker to the field everyday. 

The good thing is that your progress will be closely monitored and you will receive feedback on your development as a player. You are being groomed to play at the next level. As a starting pitcher, you will be handed the ball every five days, regardless of how you fared in your previous outing. As a catcher you will be allowed to call your own pitches so that you can develop the ability to call the game at the next level. Winning is appreciated but the mandate is to produce major league baseball players and a return on the club's investment in you as a player. 

The college scholarship that you negotiate with the Major League club does not form part of your signing bonus and is for the full four years of study. You also have the option of starting your studies during the months of downtime you will have every year and you could arrive in the big leagues with both professional baseball experience under your belt and a partially completed degree. 

When making your decision as to which slot will induce you to sign a professional contract, take into consideration that the more a club has invested in you, the more chances you are going to be given to develop in the minor leagues. In a toss-up between you and someone who signed for a significantly higher bonus, where do you think a club will want to focus their attention? 

Before you bemoan the difficulty of your choice too loudly, realize that you are not going to receive a great deal of sympathy from the masses. Although it may be attributed to a combination of hard work and athletic ability, your fortunate position is so rare that it is difficult for others to comprehend let alone provide advice. 

A recommended route is to take into consideration the school you have chosen and place a monetary value on the experience you will forgo should you opt for an immediate start to your professional career. As mentioned you should keep up your grades so that you retain the scholarship as leverage. The general consensus is that a college education adds somewhere between $1.2m and $1.5m in earning power over a person's working years. Surprisingly, mega-agent Scott Boras is a proponent of college and encourages athletes to attend, particularly if the signing bonus does not match this amount. Once you have settled on an amount, stick to your guns. The day of the draft is going to be frenetic and you are going to be inundated with calls from your area scouts. Even though they might indicate that their club is looking at you in a particular round, their scout on the other coast is probably saying the same thing to his prospect. Keep an open mind, the draft is notoriously fraught with disappointment due to the fluid nature of the myriad negotiations. 

Don't settle. This is the time in your baseball career when you have the most leverage. If you get what you wanted, sign without regrets. If you don't, go to college, get an education, improve your game and make them pay a healthy premium three years later.


By Wayne Williams

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