A little less than a year ago, I wrote a feature piece examining the plight of private schools — USC specifically — in college baseball. That plight is this: an NCAA Division I baseball team is allotted 11.7 scholarships to allocate amongst 27 players. If divided equally, that’s a little less than half of a scholarship per player, leaving the remaining half of tuition to be paid out of pocket. At a public school such at Cal State Fullerton or UCLA, that’s $5,500 or $16,000, respectively. At a private school, such as USC, that skyrockets to more than $22,000.
Put yourself in the position of a recruit. USC baseball coach Dan Hubbs says his program can offer you a half scholarship to play for him. Pretty sweet, right? You’re getting some $90,000 in free education over four years. But your family will also have to pay that same amount out of their own pocket. Across town, UCLA baseball coach John Savage is also offering you a half scholarship to play for him. Now all of the sudden your family will “only” be asked for around $65,000.
Or, think about it this way: your family can afford $25,000 a year for school. To play at USC you would require more than half of a scholarship. At Cal State Fullerton, that’s the entire cost of attendance out of pocket, freeing up that half scholarship for someone else.
And so the question begs: is it possible for USC to be a national power in baseball anymore? Why would the average recruit choose to pay $90,000 for college when he could pay half that?
As I approached various members of the baseball staff and the athletic department about the story — from then-head coach Frank Cruz to athletic director Pat Haden — I was met with some resistance. It would be hard for them to talk about this and not sound like they were trying to make excuses.
In fact, that’s exactly what an online commenter called the story, “Nothing but excuses.” When you’re talking about the single most successful program in the history of the sport (USC baseball’s 12 national championships are the most all-time by double over Texas’ six), it’s hard to call it anything else. Plus, there are quite a few private schools around the country (Stanford, Rice, Vanderbilt) that are constantly among the top tier of college baseball teams, something that cannot be said about USC for at least the last decade.
There are many reasons those schools have been more successful than USC, not the least of which is their respective endowments, which per student range from double to more than 10 times that of USC. And yet, their performance has slowed in recent years too.
“Of all of the sports in college athletics, statistics show that baseball is the most difficult one for private schools to be consistently competitive in on a championship level,” Haden told me for that story a year ago.
As Haden said, the numbers back that up. Rice was the last private school to win a College World Series, back in 2003. In the 10 series since then, private schools have made the CWS a total of 11 times, including just twice in the last five years. The last time more than one private school made it was 2008, when Stanford, Rice and Miami all made their way to Omaha. None have been back since.
Yet, while the performance of those schools may not be what it once was, none have experienced the headfirst plunge in both success and national relevance that USC has over the last decade. Scholarship limitations do prevent the Trojans from being the superpower they once were, but those limitations alone don’t cause the program to suffer as it has. There is absolutely no reason they should continue to.
Nick Burton has probably spent more time at Dedeaux Field over the last three years than he has in class. He plans to focus quite a bit on USC baseball in his column, “Any Given Saturday,” this semester. To plead with him to do otherwise, visit dailytrojan.com or email Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org.