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 month, 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 V looks at my results and discusses the most relevant findings.
Click Here for Chapter I, Introduction
Click Here for Chapter II, Review of Literature
Click Here for Chapter III, Methodology
Click Here for Chapter IV, Survey Results
This study was undertaken with two purposes in mind: to determine factors considered by high school seniors when choosing between college and professional baseball opportunities and to compare recent college and professional baseball players on the discovered factors. A valid and reliable set of factors (N = 21) was determined and several (N = 9) were considered differently by players who chose to play in college versus those who chose the professional route.
Determining Selection Factors
Although locating eligible subjects was a difficult task, convincing them to participate was not. Most subjects expressed intrigue with the topic and demonstrated their interests and willingness to participate with extensive open-ended responses. This was also the case for coaches and scouts who participated in the content validity procedure. The interest shown by the subjects was an indication that a formal investigation to document the parameters of the decision was indeed warranted and welcomed.
Results of the content validity and reliability procedures left 21 factors remaining from the original item pool. Those factors made up the selection factors considered by high school seniors when choosing between a college or professional baseball opportunity. When compared, 12 factors were similar among both groups and were deemed common factors. The other 9 factors were deemed discriminating factors as answers on these items provided enough information to discriminate between college and professional players.
It is clear that the amount of the signing bonus offer is a considerably important factor for all high school seniors. However, when studied alone, it is not a determinant of whether a player will sign a professional contract or opt for a college scholarship. More players turned down bonus offers of over $100,000 than accepted them (see Appendix I) and the frequency of professional players who signed for less than $100,000 is almost equal to that of those who received higher dollar offers. Open-ended responses demonstrated that neither group of players considered their bonus offers differently. Both groups were interested in how much they would be offered, but both cited numerous other reasons why they made their choices, including feeling ready or unready to play professionally, regardless of the size of the bonus. A small group of professional players signed for little or no money, emphasizing that money is not necessarily the driving force behind their career choice.
It does not seem to make any difference whether players speak with scouts prior to the draft or what information they disclose to those scouts. Twenty-two percent of all players always told scouts they were going to college, but were still drafted and almost half of those players elected to sign professional contracts. This is important because it demonstrates the magnitude of the decision. Players may tell scouts they will be easy or hard to sign, that they are set on attending college, or tell them nothing at all, but they may still get drafted and are then forced to reevaluate their options.
High school Grade Point Averages (GPA) and standardized test scores (SAT or ACT) do not have a definite bearing on whether a player will attend college or sign a professional contract. Both groups reported respectable GPA’s and SAT or ACT scores and both groups answered that they planned on earning their college degrees. Open-ended responses illustrated some interesting dynamics in this section.
When speaking of their college experiences, players discussed going to college for three years instead of four. This suggests that while they still plan to continue and complete their educations, they were looking forward to being drafted again as juniors and signing at that time. In this regard, college is used as a vehicle primarily to get drafted again, and secondarily to earn a degree.
The observation that most professional players plan to earn their degrees is explained well by one subject who reasoned that he would “always have his brain” and “wasn’t getting any younger”. It seems that this player signed because he believed that when his physical abilities declined and his baseball career was over, he would employ his mental abilities in college. Another player was influenced to play professionally because he knew he could concurrently attend college.
Parental influence was viewed similarly by both groups. Open-ended responses revealed that many players sought advice from their parents or were given guidance, but were told they would be supported with either choice. One professional player reported that his father put pressure on him to sign. Noting that exception, it seems that parents allow their children to make their own decisions. A total of 14 players from both samples reported having a family member who was currently or had previously played college or professional baseball.
Social opportunities were similar between groups, however, the practicality of this factor should be considered. Social opportunities associated with college life were commonly referred to in open-ended responses and explained why college players were attending college and not playing professional baseball. Likewise, many professional players listed missing out on social aspects of university life as a regret. This topic deserves more attention and is complex enough to warrant study in its own right.
Playing in the College World Series was an important consideration for both groups. Most college players reported they had strong aspirations to play in a College World Series. The magnitude of this event is demonstrated by the equally large number of professional players who strongly considered college careers for a championship opportunity.
The round in which each subject was drafted strongly influenced whether that subject chose to play college or professional baseball. Sixty-nine percent of the professionals were selected in rounds 1-10 of the draft, while only fourteen percent of college players were drafted as high. One sixth of college players were drafted above the 40th round, while only one professional player signed after being drafted that low.
Each subject’s expectation of where he would be drafted also had a large influence on his decision. College players were frequently drafted much lower than expected. Professional players were drafted in the rounds they anticipated.
The practice of professional teams offering money for college is similar to offering a scholarship. Players agreed to put their educations on hold and play professionally with the organization’s agreement to pay for school during off-season semesters or once the player’s career ended. Professional organizations make these offers to counter the college coach’s offer of an athletic scholarship. Many of these offers were made to both groups. The determinant here is that, generally, when college money is not included in a bonus offer, the player does not sign a professional contract. College players were commonly offered money for college by professional organizations, but still declined such offers.
Discrepancies in bonus offers differentiated the two groups. College players (58%) felt they deserved at least $100,000 or more than they were offered. Half of the professional players chose not to answer this question. Most of those who did reported they would not have signed a contract for any less than they were offered. Three players stated they would have given up all of the money they were offered and still signed.
Full college baseball scholarships are difficult to earn. Each college program is allowed to award only 11.7 scholarships to its players. Many coaches divide these scholarships into halves or quarters in order to help out as many individuals as possible. An athlete who receives a full baseball scholarship is most likely in great demand. Many times, coaches commit full scholarships to highly touted players and are forced to wait to find out if these players will sign with the professional team that drafted them. The results of this study indicate that this is indeed true, with 75% of professional players being offered full scholarships. The college group, unlike the professionals, includes only 19% of players receiving full scholarships. This could be explained by the timing of the draft.
Coaches attempt to secure talented players throughout the year and often reach agreements with players before the draft. When a player offered a full scholarship signs with the professional team that drafted him it is usually too late for the college coach to find another top line player to offer a full scholarship for the next season. The coach may divide the vacated scholarship and award it to deserving current players.
It is intriguing that players’ perceptions of parental influence did not discriminate between groups, but parental education did. Of college players surveyed, 72% had at least one parent who was a college graduate or had done college post-graduate work compared to only 31% of professional players with parents in those categories. Although parents did not exert direct influence on their children’s decisions, their examples may have indirectly influenced their child’s choice. This is reinforced by college player open-ended responses that described being raised with goals to attend college.
The influence of locations of colleges considered by players was a sensitive indicator of group affiliation. A majority of professional players felt that college locations would not have any influence on their decisions. College players believed that some or most of their decisions would be partly based on locations of schools. When asked to explain how this would influence their decisions, 28% of college players reported that they wanted to stay close to their hometowns. Only 9% of professional players felt similarly, meaning they sacrificed their desires to be near home to play professionally. Each group included four respondees wishing to go away from home. These results indicate that it would be easier for college coaches to recruit players from surrounding geographic locations than from distant ones.
Many players who signed professional contracts did not care about playing in an Olympic Games. College players reported that this was a consideration in their decisions. The affiliation with a reputable college coach or program was an even stronger indicator of group membership. College players (42%) answered that this was definitely important to them while professional players (34%) reported that it was definitely not.
The typical college player in this study can be discriminated from the typical professional player by nine factors.
- He was drafted later than the typical professional player.
- He was drafter later than he expected.
- He was sometimes offered money for college from the team that drafted him.
- He requested at least $100,000 more than he was offered.
- He received at least a partial scholarship.
- He has at least one parent who graduated from college.
- He was influenced by the location of the college he attended.
- He wanted to play for Team USA.
- He wanted to play for a reputable college baseball program and coach.
The typical professional player in this study can be discriminated from the typical college player by these nine factors
- He was drafted earlier than the typical college player.
- He was drafted where he expected.
- He was offered money for college from the team that drafted him.
- He would not accept less money than he was offered.
- He did not have a parent who graduated from college.
- He was offered a full scholarship to a university.
- He was not influenced by the location of the colleges he considered.
- He did not consider it important to play for Team USA.
- He did not consider it important to play for a reputable program or coach.
Independence of Factors
The correlations listed in Appendix P demonstrate the uniqueness of the majority of all the factors. The weak correlations show that these factors are largely independent of each other. Each discovered factor is an important component to be included in the decision-making process under consideration. SAT and ACT scores were correlated highly and are thought of almost interchangeably in most academic matters. However, some regions of the country prefer to use ACT testing rather than SAT and vice versa. Therefore, it may be necessary to offer subjects in the future a chance to report either score even though they are highly correlated. Subjects’ differences in bonus requests were correlated highly with scholarship offers. This suggests that most subjects who were satisfied with their bonus offers also received full scholarship offers. While association is high between these two variables, both items should still be included on surveys, as a method of stimulating correct responses. The trends of answers on both items should be expected to be similar. However, they should be considered together when assessing overall importance of these answers to the other seven discriminating factors.
Three additional factors arose from responses to inclusionary open-ended items. First, both groups evaluated their physical and mental maturity levels when making their decisions. Many players who chose to play college baseball did so to improve their skills. Professional players believed they were talented enough to succeed immediately after high school. Many players chose to attend college so they could pitch and play a field position. Professional teams do not allow for their players to assume such a dual role. Finally, players evaluated the risk of becoming injured while playing college baseball and missing opportunities to earn money with their baseball talents after college. Many professionals wrote that they signed to protect against this possibility of injury. Any future studies that wish to investigate this study’s topic should include these factors as quantitative items.
Twelve factors that did not discriminate between groups were: bonus offers, three factors related to communication with scouts, GPA’s, SAT or ACT scores, degree plans, parental influence, social opportunities, family members, and desire to play in the College World Series. Nine factors suggested differences between groups and should be considered when developing strategies for talking to high school players. Those factors were: round drafted, draft round expected, contracts including money for college, differences in contract demands, scholarship offers, parental education, college locations, playing for Team USA, and playing for a reputable program or coach. Three extra factors were discovered, but not evaluated qualitatively or quantitatively in this study. They were opportunities to mature, opportunities to pitch and play a field position, and risk of injuries.
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