Watching TCU stampede into the national scene over the last few years has been fun, don't you think? The little team from Fort Worth, with its all metal stadium and massive ballpark, winning conference championships like it's nobody's business.
Then recruiting, and getting, some of the best prospects in the game... every year.
Then hosting a regional... and winning.
Then going to a super regional... In Austin... and winning.
via US PRESSWIRE
Then Omaha, and the College World Series, and the fans at Rosenblatt... And this...
And now, the Big 12, and a whole new set of challenges and opportunities to experience.
The worst kept secret about this team is that hard work, and a chip on their shoulder got the Frogs to where they are today.
The best kept secret is that they did this, all of this, with one hand tied behind their back. And the problem is getting worse, not better, for the Frogs.
The problem is money, the problem is affordability, the problem is a college system in the United States that has priced itself out of the market.
The problem is TCU not investing in scholarships as much as they invest in buildings, dorm rooms, or... yes... football stadiums.
Most fans don't realize that when TCU walks into a living room of a high school senior, they already have a major stumbling block to overcome, and they don't always make it. Instead, Texas/Rice/Texas A&M/Vanderbilt/Baylor or any number of other universities swoop in, make their case, dump on the "costs" of being a Horned Frog, and win.
And, if one thing has been proven true over the years in college athletics, it is that a championship level program cannot sustain itself without talent. If you can't recruit, you die.
When a TCU Baseball coach recruits a player, the typical order of events is as follows:
1) Evaluate the player's talent and potential
2) Gauge player's interest and families financial limitations
3) Determine possible eligibility for academic or financial aid
4) Get them on campus for an official visit
5) Make them the best offer we can
In football or basketball, you can take steps two and three out of the equation. In baseball, they are incredibly essential to your success as a recruiter. And, recently, it has become even more of a road block than ever before.
TCU has grown tremendously over the last few years, increasing popularity and demand at what was already a small, private university. Last year, TCU had an effective acceptance rate of about 37%.
Translated: Smarter and smarter kids are coming to TCU, and there is less and less aid to be found. Unless you come from such a background that you qualify for financial aid (and for those who have done this dance, you know how high that bar is and how little is available), you have only one option left.
"Private schools are at a distinct disadvantage in baseball (and other equivalency sports) because of the large difference in cost between a private and state school," said Jim Schlossnagle. "TCU, next year, will cost roughly $48,000, and continued success is greatly dependent on your ability to find other means to get kid's more scholarship."
So, let's try this hypothetical: A high school senior is interested in coming to TCU to play baseball and earn an education. He is a mid-level prospect, somebody coaches like but he isn't elite (AKA, he won't get drafted right out of high school). His family is "middle-class," they make just enough to live a great life, but too much to qualify for financial aid... And not enough to pay for TCU out of pocket.
So, the family is left with two options: Take out loans (student, parent or both) to pay for what the baseball scholarship does not, or choose another school. Every school that recruited him has offered a .25 athletic scholarship.
At Texas, the cost is 1/4th that of TCU, the family could swing it.
At Baylor, he would receive enough academic aid and financial aid to cover 90% of his yearly costs, he can swing it.
At Ole Miss, he would receive enough academic aid and financial aid to cover 100% of his yearly costs without costing the baseball team anything in scholarship money, a free player to the university.
This player loves TCU and Fort Worth... But, at the end of the day, he is a Rebel, because money talks... "Free" is a powerful word.
Let's continue the hypothetical from above... TCU gets word that the player is leaning towards the Rebels, now the baseball coaching staff has a decision to make: Do we overpay in athletic scholarship to bring him in, or do we move on to a player with better financial means.... Or, do we take the recruit we like less as a prospect, because we know he will get a lot of academic aid.
The decision isn't simple, and in effect is not one the TCU coaching staff is allowed to make, it is instead made for them.
And don't think the above scenario is not likely, or misleading. This discussion has been had every year for the better part of a decade in the Lupton Stadium offices, it continues today.
What does this mean? It means TCU, more so than most universities, has to excel at talent evaluation, projection, finding the guys who will be great. And yes, finding the guys that fit the financial model of TCU.
The consequences of missing on a player are great, greater than most universities. A few years ago, TCU recruited what was thought to be a talented pitcher, offered him a scholarship, and got him to sign. His first year on campus didn't go well, and he left the program without leaving any kind of meaningful impact.
TCU made a choice to commit to him instead of somebody else, and they got it wrong. In effect, TCU lost two players, the guy that couldn't cut it, and the player they never knew.
Other schools don't have this problem. Texas can load up with 35 mid-level or higher prospects and never miss a beat... The benefits of an affordable public education, and a massive university endowment.
"The tipping point was moving to the Big 12 where any depth issues, injuries, or a given year where we get smoked in the draft," said Jim Schlossnagle. "You aren't going to be able to hide that in the Big 12 like you might be able to in the MWC."
"The expectation we have created in the program is good, but will be harder and harder to live up to as the competition improves and our resources stay the same or get worse."
While TCU has been walking this fine line for years, will it soon be too much? Will TCU effectively price itself out of 80% potential recruits before they ever bother making a phone call? It isn't so farfetched, says coach Schlossnagle.
"Right now, that number is probably roughly half, 50% of the players we would love to recruit we don't simply because the cost/benefit equation doesn't make sense."
There are other problems too: With the NCAA now requiring a minimum .25 scholarship for every baseball player on athletic aid, you spread out a thin pot of money over a wider piece of bread. In other words, players who don't need aid due to their financial background, but are good enough to warrant a scholarship, end up being offered aid that would could have gone to another athlete, somebody who needed more aid to afford TCU.
Maybe that other athlete is a bullpen catcher.
Or maybe that athlete was Matt Purke, or Bryan Holaday, or Kevin Cron, or Alex Young... And maybe, because the math didn't make sense in the end, they picked OU instead of TCU for their college experience.
To put it in perspective, during the 2007 regional game vs. Rice University, six of the nine starters in TCU's lineup that day were receiving as much as or less than a .25 scholarship. In 2012, that number was reversed, with almost every player starter receiving at least a .25, and many were receiving more.
Who was it that said money and college athletics don't go hand-in-hand? I find that laughable, at best.
In short, there isn't one. Or at least, there isn't an easy one.
I offer no solutions here, and this isn't an article meant to slam any one person or institution. The only purpose is to shed light on a growing problem for schools like TCU when it comes to "equivalency sports" and how scholarship restrictions and rising tuition affect a schools ability to compete.
Maybe this is a better way to say it: There are no easy answers.
The NCAA is not likely to increase the scholarship cap on baseball anytime soon. Why?
A) Title IX
B) Baseball is not a revenue sport in college athletics. For maybe a handful of schools, they break even or earn a slightly positive margin, but for the majority it is a financial loser. TV networks agree, coverage of the sport is sparse in comparison to football or basketball. Try convincing ADs, Presidents, and thus the NCAA that more money should be spent on a sport that loses money...
One thing the NCAA could do is start addressing the state scholarship's that have started to pop up in Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, giving further aid to those programs and student-athletes that other states, namely Texas, do not enjoy. But, seeing as they are still trying to figure out just how Manti Te'o got fooled, I wouldn't get your hopes up.
Financial and academic aid is not likely to increase dramatically anytime soon... At least not in any meaningful way that would touch student-athletes. Costs continue to go up in a dramatic way, pushed by a boom in construction, new technology and a demand for the TCU education like we have never seen before.
And, in case you were wondering, it is not currently possible to designate non-athletic scholarships specifically for baseball players. After the 11.7 scholarships have been given out, every player is nothing more than a student; everybody is in the same pool.
Fans, you are helpless too. Please, give to the Diamond Club which helps support the costs associated with TCU Baseball. But, understand, 30% of the money raised goes directly to the Frog Club, and 0% can be used to fund any further scholarships or aid.
TCU could do something... They could work to stop the rise of tuition beyond normal inflation. They could dynamically refocus their yearly investments away from new buildings and into scholarships for their students.
And, to their credit, they have done a lot. The biggest reason TCU has seen academic and athletic success is because of the beauty of this campus, the wonderful town it resides in, and the wonderful people who make up our university.
Without this foundation, we wouldn't be here.
But, as we look ahead, the path is not clear. Right now, TCU Baseball relies on athletes and families to pay their own way, often not receiving any aid upfront and only a little in years two, three or four (if it can be spared).
And these aren't the bench players or bullpen catchers; these are often the elite level athletes who are the true difference makers for TCU year in, year out.
So, when you tune in this Friday/Saturday/Sunday to watch TCU square off against Ole Miss, remember this... While Ole Miss should be commended for the incredible job they do every year to build a solid program, how many of their guys pay $48k a year to wear that jersey?
Conversely, how many of the guys in purple are? How many young men (and their families) sacrificed a lot, often times a free ride elsewhere, just so they can say they are a Horned Frog, and maybe one day hold a diploma while shaking Victor Boschini's hand.
There may not be any easy answers, but one reality is true: As long as tuition rises and available assets and aid fall, the problem is not going away.
So enjoy what you have, and understand that on the field success for the Frogs is dynamically harder than at most major universities. And, for now, we continue to be able to put a winner on the field and compete at an elite level.