In 1998, for my Master’s Thesis at San Diego State University, I chose to study the “Decision-Making Factors Governing High School Players’ Choice of a College or Professional Baseball Opportunity.” I wanted to know what factors were most important to high school seniors who were drafted and had to choose between signing or going to school as I had known many players who regretted their choices years after they made them. I revisit my research and discuss my findings with friends and colleagues each year as the First Year Player Draft draws near. Last week, as the Draft was taking place, I decided I would post my entire thesis in an effort to learn more from coaches, parents, and players who have recently been involved in this decision. I’ll be posting a new chapter every few days and will also include pages and pages of subject answers to open-ended questions, which are very interesting and shed lots of light on this process. I’m going to leave out the statistics, surveys, tables, and most appendices, but if you’d like a full electronic copy of my thesis, please just email me and I’ll be happy to send to you.
Warning…a few of these sections can be a bit dry, to say the least, but most of the reading is interesting stuff and I would be glad to discuss my past and current thoughts on the draft process either on the blog or offline. And please keep in mind that these data are 12-13 years old, so some of the dollar amounts need to be taken in context. I would encourage anyone and everyone who would like to offer feedback and stories so we can all learn more from each other. Chapter II is a review of the literature that provided structure for designing my surveys.
Click Here for Chapter I, Introduction
REVIEW OF LITERATURE
Decision-making was defined as “a process by which a person, group, or organization identifies a choice or judgment to be made, gathers and evaluates information about alternatives, and selects from among the alternatives” (Carroll & Johnson, 1990, p. 19).
For the subjects studied in this thesis, the choices have been identified. One of two alternatives had to be selected: playing college or playing professional baseball. It was important to understand more about how subjects gathered and evaluated information about these alternatives. Exhaustive searches of baseball texts, popular media, and academic media were conducted to locate important selection factors.
No academic studies were found that examined career choices in baseball. Informational searches were performed on the following databases: ERIC, MLA bibliographies, PsychInfo, Uncover, and Dissertation Abstracts OnDisc. Key words used included the definitions relevant to the thesis as well as sport-career decision-making and similar combination phrases. When sport and decision-making were cross-referenced, some studies emerged that could be linked indirectly to the topic. One thesis studied a similar decision making process. Reed-Draznik (1988) surveyed job applicants to determine which job attributes and recruiter characteristics were important when selecting an employer. A player who signs a professional contract has made a career selection.
Blum (1993) believed that the Amateur draft has “put pressure on young athletes who spend months soul-searching about their education and career plans and negotiating with professional teams” (p. A36). Therefore, it would stand to reason that a college scholarship opportunity or professional offer would include job attributes and recruiter characteristics as the bases for decisions.
Emmett (1990) studied factors for career decision-making in 30 academically gifted students from a prestigious college preparatory academy. These students were not only asked which factors were involved in deciding on a career, but what difficulties and learning experiences were associated with those factors. Twenty factors were identified, including sensitivity to others’ expectations, finances, ability, and geographic location. The importance of that study is the derivation of the subject pool. The baseball players in the present study were gifted young adults, but in the athletic arena, not an academic one.
Career decision-making in baseball has been studied in a post-hoc fashion (Haerle, 1975; Sowcik, 1990). Haerle (1975) surveyed 335 retired major league baseball players to assess whether or not athletic scholarships had any bearing on post-retirement careers. He found a negative correlation between baseball success and college education. It was attributed to a later start to careers as well as earlier retirement decisions. He concluded that college educated players were less attached to the game and possessed more versatility when choosing a career upon retirement.
Sowcik (1990) conducted three case study interviews on current major league baseball players to determine their levels of post-career planning. All three players had attended college and two held bachelor’s degrees. Furthermore, each player’s parents had attended college. However, only one of these subjects had engaged in any post-retirement career planning. That player had specific plans related to the degree he held.
In summary, indirectly linked topics offer evidence that learning more about the decision-making process is a vital necessity, but is normally overlooked in this dimension. Studies have determined selection factors in job applicants and gifted youths, but not baseball players. Studies devoted to baseball career decisions focus on after the baseball career has ended, not before it has begun.
Anecdotal literature revealed a diverse subject matter devoted to high school seniors who had been drafted. The signing bonus was a common topic (Curtis, 1990; Doyel, 1997; Shaiken, 1997). A signing bonus is the amount of money an athlete is offered to sign a professional contract and relinquish other options. The average bonus awarded to 1997 first round draft picks was $1.2 million, five times that of the average at the beginning of the decade (Shaiken, 1997). If a high school athlete cannot qualify to attend college due to poor grades or poor standardized test scores (Yim, 1997), he loses the option of receiving a college scholarship. Many players enter into pre-draft negotiations (Manuel, 1997; Price, 1997; Schwartz, 1997) with high signing bonus expectations and their scholarships as bargaining chips (Blum, 1993). Some athletes play more than one sport and use the chance to play multiple sports in college for leverage while negotiating (Simpson, 1997).
To counter the trend of increasing signing bonuses, major league teams began to evaluate players based on “signability” in addition to physical skills (Schwartz, 1997; Shaiken, 1997). Signability is best described as the likelihood that an athlete will sign with the club that drafted him. Schwartz (1997) noted that teams selected less talented players “specifically because their bonus demands were low” (p. 1).
To summarize, the signing bonus demands of an athlete determine his signability. The more money an athlete is expected to demand, the less willing a team is to draft that athlete. Differences in skill level are less important than the compatibility of a draft pick’s demands with the organization’s resources. Test scores, grades, and scholarship offers enhance options for high school seniors and potentially lower their signability.
Social influences are commonly cited in the literature as directly affecting an athlete’s signability. Many high school seniors are less than 18 years old and are neither legally nor socially independent. Parental influences loom large in negotiations both before and after the draft (Curtis, 1990; Price, 1997). Price (1997) related a talented high school player whose bonus demand was so high that he slipped to the second round instead of being drafted in the first. The athlete’s father was present during negotiations and was even interviewed for the story, stating, “No matter what round he goes in we’re not going to change our tune” (p.3). Curtis (1990) revealed that he did not even speak with scouts before the draft, referring them to his father. Financial advisors and coaches shape opinions and decision strategies with more influence, sometimes, than parents (Blum, 1993; Doyel, 1997; Price, 1997). However, an athlete cannot acquire the services of an agent or he surrenders his amateur status and is, therefore, ineligible to play college baseball (Filter, R.; personal communication, 11/20/97).
In basketball, Snyder (1972) investigated the influence of high school coaches on their players’ choices of whether or not to attend college and which college to attend. He found that when correlated with educational backgrounds of players’ mothers and fathers, the coach ranked just behind parents as persons cited as most important during the decision-making process. This may also be the case with this sample of baseball players.
It is certain that the choice made by an athlete is not autonomous even when complete freedom is given by parents and coaches to make independent decisions. These people have shaped the lives of the athletes in question and influence how a decision is formulated.
A final set of factors involves the benefits of playing for a reputable college team and/or coach (Blum, 1993; Nolan, 1995; Price, 1997). Nolan (1995), while interviewing a prominent college coach, reported that aside from developing baseball skills and earning an education, college players could display their talents in the College World Series and the Olympic Games. The coach saw these as attractive selling points for players to choose to play college baseball before playing in the professional ranks. Playing for school or national colors would then have to be factored into an athlete’s decision.
The decision to play college baseball and turn down a signing bonus or forgo college and play professional baseball is a career decision. The reviewed literature pointed to signing bonuses, educational abilities, signability, social influences, and college influences as possible decision factors. No evaluation tools or guidelines for making this decision exist. Because of the paucity of research on this topic, any developed tools would have to include the opportunity to add extra factors that have not been covered in the literature.
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