The Wall Street Journal recently ran an interesing article examining the lack of diversity in college baseball. Indeed, 86% of college baseball players are white. Of particular concern to the author is the relative paucity of Latin players: they make up just 5% of college rosters, whereas Latinos constitute 29% of the major-league population.
The reasons for this are many. As the article points out, college baseball teams must spread 11.7 full scholarships across a roster of 35 student-athletes. That means a healthy majority of college baseball players are paying at least a portion of their own tuition. Needless to say, this is going to impact the less-affluent Hispanic community. As well, there’s the fact that Caribbean and Latin American players outside of Puerto Rico can sign professional contracts as young as age 16. Obviously, this sets baseball apart from the NFL, which requires all draftees to be out of high school for at least three years, and the NBA, which requires draftees to be at least 19 years of age and to allow at least one NBA season to pass after they’re graduated from high school. As well, the NBA and NFL, unlike MLB, don’t exclude foreign players from their draft (although this makes no difference with regard to the NFL’s talent pool).
In baseball, the vast majority of international signings in the Western Hemisphere come from impoverished nations like the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Panama. As a result, the signing bonuses dangled in front of them at age 16 are, in many instances, crucial to the survival of their families and impossible to resist. For these reasons, college recruitment abroad approaches nil. Take that in tandem with baseball’s cultural descendancy among American blacks, and you’ve got a sport at the college level that’s both white and the province of the economically enfranchised. As the WSJ piece puts it:
What bugs many coaches most is that baseball, a sport that has a legacy of integration dating back to Jackie Robinson, has become at the college level a game for the privileged — a country-club sport. To be noticed by college recruiters, they say, players must participate in travel leagues and showcase tournaments, attend camps and work with well-known trainers and coaches. Only the families of wealthy kids can afford this, coaches say.
This is indeed regrettable, but it’s not a situation of college baseball’s making. Instead, the peculiar nature of MLB’s signing rules are largely to blame, as are the scholarship constraints placed upon baseball programs. Insofar as Latin players are concerned, even more factors are in play. The Hispanic population in the U.S. comprises a significant percentage of illegals, and another, not entirely overlapping group isn’t fluent in English. Obviously, membership in either group makes attending college in the States somewhat problematic.
In any event, if the NCAA is genuinely troubled by the racial makeup of college baseball teams, then about the only thing it can do is finagle more scholarships for that sport. Failing that, they must agitate for changes to MLB’s policy toward international talent. Neither is likely to happen.