Inside Pitch checked in with ABCA Executive Director Craig Keilitz on the current state of college baseball…
Inside Pitch: What’s the process that the ABCA follows when it comes to making legislative changes?
Craig Keilitz: Whenever we make legislation, we gauge interest or hot topics from coaches. From there, we speak to additional coaches, the Division I Committee, and so on. We then put out surveys. For most surveys, a good response rate is 20-25%, but here at the ABCA, we’re getting a response rate of 80 to 95 percent. Whatever the numbers tell us, that’s what the ABCA’s position is, regardless of what we may be feeling.
We are not a legislative body, so we cannot put a piece of legislation forward. That has to be a conference or an individual school. A lot of times, coaches will want to put something forward, and their Athletic Directors/Presidents won’t do that.
IP: How close are we to adding an additional paid assistant coach for Division I programs?
CK: Most coaches have agreed that it’s time to start pursuing a third paid assistant coach at the Division I level, even though a lot of coaches said that their schools weren’t likely to pay for an additional assistant. The Southeastern Conference and Ray Tanner really helped us from there; after meeting with the NCAA Division I Baseball Committee, this legislation was put forward in conjunction with women’s softball.
From there, we put out another survey for two reasons- I wanted to get people’s thoughts on this one last time, and I wanted to encourage coaches and their athletic directors to get together and talk about this issue. A lot of times, athletic directors may not be as informed on individual sport’s issues as they may need to be. I said that all the time as a former athletic director- there’s no possible way to know all the issues that are out there without help from the coaches.
The response has been very positive in terms of what coaches think the schools will vote on. Ultimately, each conference will take a stance on it based on what its member institutions think.
So that’s where we are right now; coaches are behind it, I think athletic directors are lukewarm on it, but at least they’re learning that even if their school may not be able to pay for an additional assistant coach, they will still have the option to make it a full-time, part-time, G.A. or even a non paid position. I like that, because a school can do what is in its best interest based on budgets.
IP: Now that the coaches have ‘spoken’ through your conversations with them and their response to the surveys, what is your personal stance on adding another paid assistant?
CK: My question is why should baseball have one of the worst figures when it comes to player-coach ratio and be so important on each individual campus? It just doesn’t make sense. We’re not asking for more than what other sports have, we’re asking for what they have, and that’s a more equitable coach-to-player ratio, which would get us to 1:8 or 1:9, which puts us in a fairly workable situation.
We want more opportunities for coaches, we want better opportunities for coaches, and we want to assist them to do their jobs. I try to always keep in mind that I work for the coaches. They tell me what’s important to them and I try to gather it and distribute it in a concise fashion to athletic directors and conference commissioners.
IP: You mentioned the importance of coaches speaking with their administration about current issues…
CK: Coaches have done a tremendous job talking to their athletic directors about what we have going on. That’s such a big help, because AD’s don’t want to hear from Craig Keilitz or the ABCA, they want to hear from their own coaches about how these issues will affect their own schools on their own campuses. That message has gotten out; I think that coaches have done a tremendous job talking to athletic directors, letting them know their position, the issues, and why it’s important to our student-athletes.
IP: Where do you stand on the number of ejections in college baseball?
CK: It’s very similar to a personal foul in football or a technical in basketball. It’s too bad… with baseball, there’s no in between – it’s nothing, nothing, nothing, and then you’re thrown out of a game. It’s very unique. I think coaches represent their schools and their student-athletes in a very positive manner, but they’re competitive, and when there are missed calls, they’re going to express some frustrations and there may or may not be a quick hook, but that’s part of our game. I’d like to see no ejections, but I don’t know if that’s possible.
IP: How are the umpires doing, in your opinion?
CK: It’s a tough job. I have a theory on umpiring – there’s only a certain percentage of our society that thinks well on their feet, understands the game particularly well, handles criticism correctly and can make quick judgment calls. Then you have to choose to be an umpire and on top of that, you have to have a job that allows you to do it. So all of a sudden, that pool gets pretty small, so it makes it tough. I think our umpires do the best job they can possibly do. They’re not always perfect and they’re certainly not always right, but I think the biggest thing is how they communicate.
IP: Every summer, it seems that several professional coaches are showing interest in college vacancies. Do you anticipate that trend continuing?
CK: I’m proud of that. I love the raise in pay that’s happened around our sport. It wasn’t too long ago that six figures as a head coach was the upper echelon, now it’s over a million dollars a year and sometimes it’s up to $1.5 million. For assistants, it wasn’t too long ago that $50,000 was really doing well, and you were trying to scrape up some extra money through camps and private lessons. The pro guys aren’t doing that well. I think they also see how well we’re developing talent, and they want to be a part of that. We have a unique thing going in college baseball with the way it’s growing in popularity and the excitement surrounding that. We’re seeing universities putting millions of dollars into the sport, and we’re really in a good position right now.
IP: How do you try to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to maintaining the popularity of college baseball?
CK: I don’t know that we have a huge role in staying ahead of the curve when it comes to the popularity of the sport. What we do is try to provide educational opportunities through our convention, Barnstormers, podcasts, ACE Clinics, our video library- we try to give coaches the opportunity to get better. All of the credit goes to the coaches when it comes to that; they’re at the convention, they’re listening to the podcasts, they’re taking part in the clinics. I think we’re at an all-time high with the quality of coaching in our game, and I don’t see that slowing down.
IP: Some of the biggest coaching names in the history of our game have recently retired (Augie Garrido, Mark Marquess, Pat Casey to name a few), with Mike Martin announcing his retirement at the end of the 2019 season…
CK: There’s no way to put into words what those great coaches you mentioned and so many others have done for our game. It all starts with a love for the game and love for their student-athletes. There’s no way you can become a great coach if you don’t love baseball and if you don’t love your players- they see right through the coaches that don’t love it. Great coaches are looking for avenues to learn, and we’re happy to continue to provide some of that. We’re going to lose some great coaches- some of them have already retired- but there are so many great coaches right behind them that will fill in nicely. It’s a good time for great coaching, that’s for sure.
IP: If you had a magic wand, what’s one thing you would do?
CK: The one thing I’d do for baseball is provide more scholarships, which would give more kids the opportunity to play at that level. I think there are so many kids that would love to play college baseball that can’t afford to pay 50 or 60 percent- they can play football or basketball and not pay anything. I’d like to see us have 20 scholarships in Division I, and I’m hoping that someday we can get there. What that would do for Major League Baseball and opportunities for kids would be tremendous.
When you look at the number of MLB players that come through college versus high school- even though most of the top high school players are going straight into pro ball- it just doesn’t make sense. When you consider how well they develop players personally, mentally, physically and their skills on the field, what our coaches are doing is simply amazing.