Prep Baseball Report

Recruiting Essentials: The Science of Scholarship Management

By Brandon Hall
North Carolina Scouting Director

To enter the mind of a college baseball coach is a very dangerous thing.  When you step back and look at it, they are making their living, and feeding their families, based on the actions of 18-21 year olds,  many of whom are away from home for the first time.  No matter the danger, we will wander this path to see if we can enlighten and unlock some of the dark mysteries surrounding their management of a program.  The hope is to gain a better understanding of how college coaches are building their rosters year after year, giving players and families a better feel for the recruiting process.

The Rules
For this exercise, we will work with the NCAA Division I rules, governing scholarships and roster limits.  The main rules in place are as follows:

+ 35 Player Roster Limit (Activation date is in February)

+ 27 Players are allowed to receive Baseball Aid (Scholarships)

+ 11.7 Scholarships are available to disperse to the 27 players

+ If Baseball Aid is offered, a minimum of a 25% scholarship must be offered

Managing a roster is a very difficult part of the process for college coaches.  Along with the rules stated above, coaches must deal with injuries, the MLB Draft, and their athletes are still students and must maintain eligibility.  As players enter into their recruiting process, they must understand this is a business.  Relationships are important.  Coaches want good people and good players in their program. Coaches care about the players they are recruiting and the players in their program. Players and families must understand the roster management leans toward the business side much more than it does the personal side.  Decisions can be difficult, to work within the rules, but they must be made.

Managing Scholarships

Many programs, at all levels, must deal with two factors in managing their scholarships.  The first is the NCAA’s 11.7 scholarship limit on teams.  Schools will turn in their scholarship numbers at the beginning of each semester. Managing the 11.7 can be tricky enough, without any other rules.  Let’s look at a few examples to see what you would do:

Scenario 1:
In the course of a year, you as a coach have recruited up to your 11.7 limit with an understanding that Johnny Allstar is a projected Top 5 round pick in the upcoming MLB Draft.  Johnny is a junior at your school and eligible for the draft.  He and his parents have expressed Johnny’s plan to sign if he is taken in the Top 15 rounds.  As part of your recruiting, you have spent Johnny’s scholarship on an incoming player.

Early in the spring season, Johnny suffers an injury that will take eight months to rehab and it is not clear if he will go in the Top 15 rounds, and he’s definitely out of the Top 5 rounds.  As a coach, should you find a way to keep Johnny’s scholarship available for him?  Should you be able to call one to two of your incoming recruits and rescind your scholarship offers to them?  Or should you explain to Johnny that the money is gone, but you will work to have a roster spot available for him if he returns?

Scenario 2:
As a college coach, you make all of your scholarship offers in percentages, meaning if the cost of PBR University is $10,000 per year and you offer Hank Aaron 50%, you are offering him $5,000.  PBR University is becoming more and more popular, leading to an influx of admission applications and PBRU decides to increase the cost of its tuition, housing, and meals.  As the school grows the fees tacked onto the cost of attendance continue to grow.  In the next four years, the cost of PBRU will grow from $10,000 to $20,000 (this is a very high increase but it keeps the numbers clean).

As a coach, every player that is on scholarship will have to maintain the minimum level of 25%.  The minimum level in Year 1 is $2,500 (25% of $10,000).  By Year 4 the minimum level has grown to $5,000 (25% of 20,000).  In Hank’s case, would you continue to increase his scholarship with the cost of school, meaning by the fourth year, Hank is still receiving 50%, and now $10,000 in scholarship money?  Or would you keep Hank’s scholarship dollar amount consistent, meaning that by year four he is still receiving $5,000, but it is only worth 25% now?

Keep in mind that if you keep Hank on the $5,000, you are increasing your scholarship budget.  By keeping him at the $5,000 level, you have opened up another 25% in your scholarship allotment that can be used immediately.

Scenario 3:
Harry Highschool is a top-ranked player looking to commit during his sophomore year.  He is physically developed and calling the schools he has interest in telling them his decision will be made in the next month.  As a coach, you bring him in and offer him a scholarship.  Lucky for you, he accepts!

In the next year, Harry, already physically mature, continues to work hard and play well, but there are players in his high school class that are beginning to grow and get stronger.  The gap that existed last year is closing.  As Harry enters his senior year, he is still a good player, but he is no longer a top-ranked player.  Harry has continued to work and has a 4.0 GPA.  As a coach, the scholarship that was offered to Harry is too high in terms of the player he is today, compared to the other options in his class.  Should you just move forward with Harry and hope it works out or should you be able to rescind the offer and find the better player, possibly at a cheaper offer?

There is not a “right” answer to any of the scenarios above.  Hopefully each allows you to think of some of the things college coaches are dealing with as they build their roster and decide who is being offered and who they may pass on at the time.

The second area a lot of Division 1 schools deal with in managing their scholarships is their budget.  Schools inside the Big 5 Conferences probably do not have this issues as much as mid-majors and smaller schools.  The NCAA sets the limits at 11.7 scholarships.  Universities will have a line item in the baseball budget for scholarships.

To be truly fully funded, meaning that PBR University has a complete set of baseball scholarships, PBRU would need the cost of school multiplied by 11.7 as their scholarship budget.  So, if PBRU costs $10,000, in the PBRU Baseball budget they would have $117,000 (11.7 x $10,000).

For most private schools, the issue of being fully funded is easy, their budget should match the cost of scholarships.  For state sponsored schools, this can be a little tricky.  Let’s say PBRU is a state school.  The cost of school for in-state students is $10,000.  The cost of school for out-of-state students is $20,000.  To be truly fully funded, PBRU’s budget would need to reflect 11.7 scholarships at the out-of-state cost, or $234,000.  If the budget is less than $234,000, but more than $117,000, PBRU can still reach 11.7 scholarships on their roster, but they are forced to recruit in-state to reach that mark.  This is how a lot of in-state schools across the country reach their 11.7 max.

Build Your Roster

Last week, in the Recruiting Essentials Re-Boot, you were given homework.  We do not plan on giving a lot of homework, but the exercise to build your own roster is one we used with new coaches while I was on staff as a recruiting coordinator.  The exercise allows you to fully understand the allocation of money, and get a feel for the actual cost of attending school while playing baseball.  It also allowed our current staff to rip the new guy, because there is not a right answer on how to do the exercise, and you can poke holes in just about every scenario that is built.

A couple of areas to consider as you look at the rosters built below.  You do not have to have 35 on the roster.  You do not have to have 27 players on baseball aid.  You can load your scholarship money on 23 players.

Players that you deem to be “All-American” type players do not come for 25% or 50%.  They are typically on higher scholarship percentages because there is a demand for their services.  As a coach, you can bridge the scholarship gap by developing players in your program, once they arrive.  When we look at teams in Omaha at the end of the year, most of those teams have pro prospects.  Many of those players were highly regarded out of high school.

Roster 1 – High End, No Depth 

+ 23 players are receiving Baseball Aid

+ Average scholarship given is 51%

+ 46% of scholarships given are to pitchers

+ 10.6 of the 11.7 scholarships are spent on players that can play in the middle of the field

When going this route, there are a couple of glaring issues.  The first is that you will have to fill holes with walk-on players.  And while there are a lot of really good “walk-ons,” they are not typically pro prospects when they arrive on campus.

Ten pitchers will not be enough.  Typically 12 pitchers will throw 75% of a college teams innings in any one year.  Major innings will be going to non-scholarship players.

Versatility will be needed as well.  Players recruited as middle infielders may have to play the corners or the outfield.  This team may need to develop a fourth catcher, especially if any of the three have a chance to be in the lineup when they are not catching.

This type of roster can provide great results, but it may bust as well.

Roster 2 – Depth and Development

+ 27 Players on Baseball Aid

+ Average Scholarship given is 43%

+ 47% of scholarship money is in the pitching staff

+ At least 9.65 scholarships are invested in the middle of the field

When comparing the two rosters, you can see the differences. There are strengths and weaknesses to each roster.  This roster provides more options to the coaching staff, but options may be a necessity as the talent level will force more roster management.

With 27 on baseball aid, there are still eight built in “walk-on” spots.  These spots are very valuable to the team.  As you look at the two rosters, see if you can build a practice plan with full scrimmages.  Even at the full capacity of 35 players on the roster, it can be difficult to build intra-squad scrimmages when 15 of the 35 players are pitchers.  Add in any injury or eligibility issues and the day-to-day task of practicing can be challenging.

How Does All of This Apply Prospective Student Athletes & Their Families?

Going through the recruiting process can be a lot of information overload.  Just reading through some of the information above may start to spin your head.  A good place to start with any school is their current roster.

+ How many players are on the roster?

+ How many seniors will be leaving?

+ How many draft-eligible players are there… Will any be projected to sign?

+ How many players play my position?

Looking even deeper, players and families can take a peek into the schools recruiting practices.  With the information that exists in the Prep Baseball Report Commitment Database, you can look back at what schools have done with their recruiting in the last several years.

+ Does the school recruit players like me?

+ How many players are they recruiting each year?

+ Is the school recruiting based on need, or is it a similar plan each year?

+ How many players are carried on the fall roster (remember the 35-man roster limit becomes active in the spring semester each year)?

+ Does the school develop players like me into All-Conference / All-American / Pro Drafts?

+ What is the retention rate of players from the school’s previous recruiting classes?

The other area players and parents should have a firm grasp on is their own value, within the landscape of college baseball.  Supply and demand matters – if you are a player with premium tools, you will get premium offers.  Players and families should understand what an average scholarship offer is and where most teams are likely to spend their scholarship allotment.  The biggest question families should have answered on scholarship offers is:

+ How much will school cost the player and family each year?

This one question will eliminate a lot of the mystery around scholarship offers.  It eliminates percentage calculations and any of the mystery surrounding “offers”.  It can eliminate any mix-up as the National Letter of Intent arrives during the Senior year to make the commitment official.  This one question allows families to budget the future, as most baseball players will pay a large percentage of their tuition and fees.

As we move forward into the coming weeks, we will discuss more about building a relationship with the schools you have interest in and moving forward with schools as they show interest.

Prior to becoming the PBR North Carolina Scouting Director, Hall spent 18 years coaching at the Division I level in North Carolina. Raised in Raleigh, Hall coached 14 years at UNC Charlotte, including seven years as associate head coach and 11 seasons as the recruiting coordinator. Prior to joining the coaching staff at Charlotte, Hall spent four seasons as an assistant coach at his alma mater, UNC Wilmington, where he also worked with the pitchers. In his 18 seasons as an assistant at the two schools, Hall's teams have won eight regular-season championships and seven of his pitching staffs have been ranked nationally in ERA, including the top spot in the nation in 2007 (at 2.64).

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