It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that there is no athletic program at USC with loftier expectations than baseball.
Twelve College World Series championships, the most all-time by twice as many as Texas’ six. Third all-time in wins over 117 seasons. One of, if not the most famous, baseball coaches in NCAA history: Rod Dedeaux.
In short, USC baseball has plenty of pedigree to its name. And a lot of history too. But as of right now, history is about all the USC baseball program can claim.
As the Trojan baseball program nears the completion of its twelfth decade in existence, 2012 concluded what was unquestionably the worst 10-year span in its history. Of the 1,354 losses USC baseball has suffered in its 123-year history, 277 have come in the last 10 years. That’s 22 percent. USC has had a winning record just once in the last 10 years.
That’s an awful lot of numbers, none of them very good. And the program will be hard-pressed to get those numbers to change.
Per the NCAA and Title IX, a college baseball team is allowed 11.7 total scholarships to divvy up as the program sees fit among a maximum of 27 players. And each player receiving scholarship money must be awarded at least a quarter scholarship. As such, the majority of players on a team will be paying for a significant portion, if not all, of their time on the team.
That poses an issue for all college baseball programs, none of which can come close to fielding a full team of full scholarship athletes. But the problem is compounded at private schools such as USC, where tuition is often two or three times as much as those of its public counterparts.
“Of all the sports in college athletics, statistics show that baseball is the most difficult one for private schools to be consistently competitive on a championship level,” USC Athletic Director Pat Haden said. “And the numbers are trending downward.”
In Southern California, the top college baseball programs are currently Cal State Fullerton and UCLA. According to each school’s website, the estimated total expenses for a year at Fullerton is $25,000 and $31,000 at UCLA. At USC, it’s $60,000.
Though UCLA can split a scholarship among two players and leave them about $15 thousand per year to pay out of pocket, USC can award just one player a 75 percent scholarship to leave them with a similar cost. And if a player’s family has money to afford $25,000 per year, it will cost USC more than half a scholarship, while at Fullerton they can pay full tuition and not count against the 11.7 limit at all.
“We have a ton of guys -— significant role players and even some starters — who are walk-ons,” USC head coach Frank Cruz said. “But we’re also lucky in that this is USC. We have a lot of people who want to come play here and are willing to pay to do it.”
Private schools are able to make up for the competitive disadvantage against public schools because of the amount of need-based aid the school gives out. However, competition for need-based aid is among all students, not just athletes. And the same goes for academic scholarships too. It becomes a never-ending mix-and-match game for coaches who try to give as much help as they can to as many players as they can.
“We’ve got some guys who certainly had the GPA (out of high school) to get some sort of academic scholarship,” Cruz said. “But they didn’t have the same resumes as the students who get those packages. They’ve been too busy playing baseball.”
This issue is further compounded because a student receiving even a portion of an athletic scholarship is not eligible for any need-based financial aid. And while the 11.7 scholarship limit is equal among all schools, the amount of financial aid schools give is most certainly not.
Eight teams make the College World Series every year. In the last decade, just 14 of 80 have been private schools. The last time a private school won or even made the finals of the College World Series was Rice in 2003. Rice has a considerable endowment of $4.5 billion, and that manifests itself in the financial aid packages the school gives out. According to the College Board, students from families that make less than $75,000 in income pay an average of just $10,000 per year at Rice, compared to the full cost of $52,000.
The last private school to make the College World Series was Vanderbilt in 2011. At Vanderbilt, all students who are eligible to receive loans simply receive an academic scholarship of the same value instead of the loan they are eligible for.
Stanford’s $16.5-billion endowment is the fourth largest in the country and far and away the largest endowment of any non-Ivy League school. All students from families making less than $100,000 per year receive free tuition. Students from families making less than $60,000 per year receive free tuition and free room and board.
USC gives out a good bit of financial aid too. While the university doesn’t offer quite the same packages as Stanford, both Haden and Cruz believe that the program can still be competitive.
“The expectation is certainly there by all of us at private schools to win national championships in all of our sports,” Haden said. “But baseball programs at private schools have to work hard, be creative in their approach and have some luck and good fortune come into the equation.”
Cruz echoed Haden’s sentiments.
“It can be a challenge, but we’re still just as capable of getting great players as any other program,” Cruz said. “We’re a great school with great facilities. I mean, this is USC baseball after all.”