Smoking Baseball

Sports World Silent on Elite Talent Rejecting College

There was little to no surprise in the Major League Baseball Draft last week when high school phenom Hunter Greene was selected second overall by the Cincinnati Reds. Greene is so wildly talented that he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated a couple of months ago despite only being 17 years old. His fastball has been clocked at 102 miles per hour. He is said to have hit balls up to 450 feet in batting practice.

As a result of entering the draft, Greene will not be playing baseball in any capacity at the collegiate level. According to the Sports Illustrated article, he was offered scholarships to both UCLA and USC when he was just 14. Yet he will never play for them or any other college team. Knowing he would be drafted as highly as he was, this decision seems to make sense.

But what has been the reaction from the sports media and sports fans throughout the country as a result of Greene’s opting to forgo college and pursue a professional baseball career? Has there been a national hand wringing and asking of why Greene would choose against college? Is there a lamenting of how college baseball’s quality will suffer as a result of not having someone of Greene’s talent there to make those baseball games better and more entertaining? Is there a clamoring for MLB commissioner Rob Manfred to “do something” with regard to keeping players from going to the professional level too soon and making them more likely to go to college and stay there longer?

Of course, the answer to all of these questions is a resounding “no.” Sports fans who know who Greene is are largely not bothered by the fact that he won’t be playing college baseball. There is no effort that I am aware of to raise MLB’s age limit in order to get players of Greene’s caliber to play collegiately. There is virtually no lamenting over how the level of play in college baseball is hurt by Greene (and other high schoolers like him) opting to enter the draft instead.

Contrast this attitude with what we hear about college basketball seemingly every year. Sports fans and talking heads all over the country can’t stop complaining about how the “one and done rule” (the stipulation that basketball players entering the NBA Draft must be one year out of high school and be at least 19 years old) is ruining the college game. Many fans desperately want elite players to stay at their universities longer in order to improve the sport’s quality. There has recently been talk about raising the age limit even higher.

So why is there such a contrast in the desire to see elite athletes to play at the college level in one sport but not another? Well, take a look at the interest level and attention paid to college basketball versus college baseball. March Madness captivates the nation every year for about three weeks to the point that there are even medical procedures scheduled so that people can watch more of it. Whereas college baseball is barely a blip on the radar for most American sports fans. Seriously, how many people even know that the College World Series is currently entering its final two weeks?

If this seems a bit unfair, there’s a good reason. Simply because of people’s personal sports preferences, athletes coming out of high school in baseball and basketball who would easily be signed to a professional contract are treated in vastly different ways. Hopefully one day the sports world can put aside their individual tastes and allow elite basketball players coming out of high school the same freedom to professionally contract that their baseball counterparts of the same age enjoy. Let’s all hope it happens sooner rather than later.