Sport Specific: Playing Baseball in College

Baseball is one of the most popular sports in America. In some states, baseball is bigger than American football and basketball, and as a result the exceptional number of student-athletes trying to receive a sporting scholarship has intense competition.

A highly favorable route into college baseball for many international baseball players may well be through the NJCAA, the organization which runs athletic championships at junior college level. Precisely because of its popularity, the number of scholarships per team available in junior college baseball is by far the highest among all sports.

Junior College teams are allowed to award 24 scholarships per year and since most teams consist of about 30 players, the percentage of scholarship players on every team is likely to be very high. Two years of junior college might be exactly what an international student-athlete with less experience might need to develop their game before transferring on to a 4-year university, where they will have the opportunity to finish their degree and continue playing college baseball.

Many baseball coaches actually look for international players, who although less experienced, might have this one special talent that can then be developed into a real asset for their team, Speed, a strong arm, or simply having great power with the bat are just a few attributes that a baseball college coach might be looking for when recruiting new athletes.

The number of baseball teams and scholarships:

  • NCAA Division I Baseball teams – 299
  • NCAA Division II Baseball teams – 269
  • Total Number of baseball teams (all divisions) – 1673
  • Total number of college baseball student-athletes – 57,000
  • Scholarship limit per team: DI – 11.7, DII – 9, NAIA – 12 and NJCAA – 24

Division I: The highest level of college sport

Consider the following factors when deciding if DI is the right choice for you:

  • Student-Athletes will compete against some of the best college-level baseball players in the country. This means high visibility for the school, the team and for the athlete. Division 1 baseball teams are most likely to catch the attention of professional scouts. Are you able to handle the pressure?
  • DI schools have some of the best training facilities and stadiums. Athletes will be spending a lot of time in these facilities and in stadiums. Commitment levels can range around 40 hours a week and that doesn’t include your academic expectations.
  • Division I schools tend to have large campuses and class sizes. This is also an important consideration for student-athletes who feel they may be more comfortable in a smaller campus environment.

Division II: Needing the balance

Perhaps Division I is not the right fit for you and you need more balance:

  • Division II college baseball programs are generally not as high as it is at Division I schools, but are still very competitive. Climate is an important factor; better baseball programs tend to be located on the west coast and the south where weather is warm year-round.
  • Division II schools tend to be smaller institutions. According to the NCAA, about 36 percent of Division II universities have 2,500–7,500 students, while just over half have fewer than 2,500. There is a stronger focus on academics at Division II schools, and with a somewhat less demanding baseball schedule, there is an opportunity for a better sports-academics balance.
  • Another possible advantage to playing at a Division II school is the opportunity for more playing time. An athlete who can embrace a “big fish in a smaller pond” mindset should consider a Division II school.

Division III: It’s all academic

Division III is the NCAA’s largest division, but its baseball programs do not usually come with the bells, whistles and they do not offer any sporting scholarships:

  • The majority of Division III schools are smaller, private liberal arts colleges and are located mostly in the Northwest and the Midwest.
  • There is a strong emphasis on academics.
  • The quality of Division III baseball varies more widely than at Division I and Division II schools. The 40-game season tends to start earlier than the other NCAA divisions. Division III coaches have comparatively smaller recruiting budgets and will not be major presences at showcases and other recruiting platforms.

NAIA: Smaller campuses, bigger opportunities

National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) schools are generally not as large or as well-known as schools in the NCAA, but they have much to offer in terms of competition and academics:

  • In terms of competition, higher-level NAIA colleges are comparable to mid to high-level NCAA Division II schools. An NAIA school could offer more opportunities for consistent playing time.
  • The NAIA recruiting process is less regulated than in NCAA baseball. There are no restrictions on when student-athletes can begin communicating with a coach. Unlike NCAA Division III schools, the NAIA does offer athletic scholarships.
  • Smaller class sizes and a more laid-back social atmosphere are more conducive to balancing academics and athletics and making the most of the college experience.

Junior college: Good starting point

One of the main draws of playing junior college baseball is opportunity. Incoming freshmen tend to have an opportunity for consistent playing time on a roster consisting of only freshmen and sophomores. Take the following into account when deciding whether a junior college is right for you:

  • They offer opportunities for athletes to improve their grades and their athletic skills in preparation for transferring to a four-year college.
  • Junior college baseball provides two more chances to be selected in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, as players can be drafted after their first and second years. Student-athletes at a four-year college must wait until after their junior year (or until they turn 21) before being considered eligible.
  • On the academic side, students whose high school grades were lacking have a second chance to take their studies seriously and improve their GPA to meet NCAA eligibility requirements. Upon graduation, student-athletes may transfer these credits to a four-year institution.
  • As with the NCAA, junior college schools are divided into three divisions. Division I can offer full athletic scholarships and Division II financial aid towards tuition, fees and books. Division III schools do not offer athletic scholarships.