Jack Burkes, foreground, and Cole Catalano swim in the water in the outfield following heavy rainfall at Oxford-University Stadium before the start of the Missouri State vs. Tennessee Tech game for the NCAA Oxford Regional, in Oxford, Miss. on Friday, June 1, 2018. (Bruce Newman, Oxford Eagle via AP) Credit: Bruce Newman, Oxford Eagle via AP


Jack Burkes, foreground, and Cole Catalano swim in the water in the outfield following heavy rainfall at Oxford-University Stadium before the start of the Missouri State vs. Tennessee Tech game for the NCAA Oxford Regional, in Oxford, Miss. on Friday, June 1, 2018.

OXFORD – The Friday afternoon thunderstorms that passed though here – ever so slowly – dumped so much rain on Oxford-University Stadium the outfield turned into a two-acre lake and the dugouts into small ponds. Yes, ponds. Players actually were swimming and splashing where they usually stand or sit.

The Oxford Regional of the NCAA Baseball Tournament is on hold, meaning that Friday’s scheduled games have been moved to Saturday when the forecast is: hot as Hades but mostly dry.

Rick Cleveland

Baseball will be played then. And this city is ready.

Oxford motels and hotels are jam-packed. All reserved tickets are sold. ESPN cameras are here. Restaurants are slammed.

There will be much money made here, as is happening across the nation at NCAA Regionals. While the rain poured here, your dutiful reporter flipped channels and watched games around the country. At Arkansas, it looked as if 15,000 Hog fans were crammed into 10,700-seat Baum Stadium for Arkansas’ predictable dismantling of Oral Roberts.

College baseball has become much, much more lucrative over the last 20 years – unless, of course, you are a player. And you know where this is headed … back onto my college baseball soapbox, 2018 version.

College baseball coaches are still forced to split 11.7 scholarships among a roster of 35 players. Of those 35 players, only 27 can receive scholarship aid.

It is absurd. In college baseball, you play 10 players at a time, including designated hitters. You do that with 11.7 scholarships. Compare:

When it’s dry, a packed Oxford-University Stadium provides quite the scene.

In college basketball, you can play five players at a time. You have 13 scholarships to do it with. In college football, you play 11 players at a time. You have 85 scholarships to do it with. College hockey teams get 18 scholarships. Lacrosse teams get 12.6. Women’s basketball gets 15. Women’s equestrian gets 15, too, and that doesn’t count the horses. Women’s rugby gets 12. Softball gets 12.

College baseball, which has grown by leaps and bounds and then some in recent years, still gets 11.7.

College baseball players, who are generally among the smartest athletes and best students in most athletic programs, can do the math. I can, too – with a calculator. College baseball players receive an average of about 43 percent of a full scholarship.

Many All-SEC baseball players get the equivalent of a half scholarship. Meanwhile, a third string nickel defensive back gets a full.

College baseball teams – even the ones that don’t make the post-season – play 55 games in the spring. They also practice all fall. They don’t have time for part-time jobs to help pay their way.

It. Is. Not. Fair.

These scholarship limits date back to the advent of Title IX in the early 1970s. And I am all for women getting the same academic/athletic opportunities as men.

But much has changed since 1972, especially where college baseball is concerned. Back then, college baseball was played at small venues where admission was rarely charged. It was, in every way, a non-revenue sport. If you were going to cut scholarships for men’s teams, it made more sense to cut baseball than it did football or basketball, which paid all the bills.

That’s not the case now – particularly in Mississippi, where Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Southern Miss are all among national leaders in attendance and where there are waiting lists to lease luxury suites at the stadiums.

Do college football teams really need 85 scholarships? If you have to cut somewhere to help baseball, cut there. Hell, NFL rosters are limited to 53 players and they play many more games.

It’s time – no, it’s past time – for the NCAA to do more for college baseball players.

And now I’ll step off the soap box – and try to avoid the puddles.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.