A little more than three years ago, I was at an alumni event at my alma mater and was speaking with one of my former coaches, who at the time was a head coach at another University. I was speaking with him, the current coach and one of my teammates when he made a comment that stuck with me ever since. He said that if I were in High School today, and he was still the coach at Wake, he wouldn’t recruit me. When I asked why, he said “money”.
Growing up, our family didn’t have much money; but I never felt poor. We lived in a nice home, always had clothes on our backs (granted mine were hand-me-downs!), and food on the table. But, I always knew we didn’t have as much as some of the ‘other kids’. I’d go over friends’ houses and always came back home speaking of how big their house was; or how many TVs they had; or the pool tables, ping pong tables, etc they had in their basements. However, money NEVER kept me from baseball.
I graduated High School in the Spring of 1997. Getting in front of College Coaches consisted of playing in a Southeastern PA High School All-Start tournament (which is where I first got noticed by the coaches at Wake); attending local Showcases; and travel ball, yes, travel ball. From what I remember, the idea of playing on a travel team first surfaced when I was 17, my Junior Year in High School. Up to that point, I thought everyone played American Legion as I remember it being very competitive with great talent. However, my father soon discovered that coaches were forming “All-Start” teams that would play against other similarly rostered teams (that had no boundaries) and would drive a few hours to play. I soon realized just how many great players were out there as we played other teams from New York, Connecticut and other Mid-Atlantic and Northeast States. Our Travel team from Philadelphia would mostly drive a few hours each weekend to play with no overnight trips. We’d leave in the early morning hours and get back as the sun was going down. There were no overnight hotel stays; at least not yet.
Fast forward 20 years and the landscape has changed significantly. Parents aren’t just paying THOUSAND dollar registration fees just to join a team; but they are paying thousands for the travel expenses. It seems some families are staying in hotels every weekend. Figure $500 for a weekend at a hotel; $120 in gas; and another $200-$300 in food. You’re now spending just shy of $1,000 on travel weekends. And this is where I would have fallen short. I don’t see how my parents would have been able to afford getting me in front of College Coaches in today’s environment.
Another College Coach recently made a comment to me that really paints a troubling picture. “It’s a rich man’s game now.” There’s a large population that simply cannot afford the fees I mentioned above. So what do they do? They either stop playing or they play in a rec league that stunts their growth. And unfortunately there are many parents who feel they have to keep up with the Joneses. They incur debt just so they can partake in the travel world; not really knowing WHY they are doing it. I’ve spoken with plenty of parents who, without saying it directly, don’t know why they are following the crowd.
The financial gap is widening. The Tournaments and Showcase events that many FEEL they need to attend are available for everyone; but many simply can’t afford to attend. Parents are literally BUYING rankings. In my next post I’ll dive a bit deeper into this issue. Until then, I think all parents should truly perform an ROI analysis…what are you truly getting for your money?