October 12, 2003 - by

Baseball Players Return for Degrees, Not Stats

Oct. 12, 2003


by Mark Riordan

With a list of stats that boggle the mind – nine straight top 10 finishes, 12 trips to the College World Series, 20 50-win seasons, 23 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, 12 first-round draft picks and 49 All-Americans, FSU Baseball Coach Mike Martin is proudest of a stat you’ll never see: Nearly 90 percent of his players have earned their college degrees.

You’ll never see this stat because the NCAA only counts degrees for players who earned them within six years of starting their collegiate careers. The NCAA also won’t count transfers who earn their degrees at FSU and they actually hold student-athletes who transfer out against a program.

“Ninety percent of my players graduate, and yet I can never prove that to the NCAA’s satisfaction,” Coach Martin said.

From Martin’s vantage point, high above Doak Campbell stadium while renovations to Dick Howser Stadium are completed, his 24 seasons are as much about creating productive citizens and young men as they have been about managing winning baseball teams.

“Take Trent Peterson for instance,” Martin recently recalled, “Trent came in here a very shy, timid left-hander. The first time we gave him the ball in the fall program, you could literally see the fear in his eyes. By the time he was junior he was strutting off the mound nearly every time he won.”

Peterson, currently on break from the Oakland A’s bullpen, is working this semester to complete his marketing degree.

“That’s what you enjoy so much as a coach,” Martin said, “Working with young men and watching them grow and develop both as men and baseball players. “I mean, Trent had a personality when he left here.”

For baseball players, the call of professional sports is different than for the other major sports. After their junior years their stock with the professional organizations drops precipitously and usually means they will opt for a pro contract as juniors if one is offered.

This reality plays havoc with graduation rates, but as Amy Lord, academic adviser for the baseball team puts it, a reality that she and Coach Martin take into account when helping freshmen map out their collegiate careers.

“We tell them right away that they are students first, and athletes second,” Lord said.

Lord, along with the staff of academic advising, lays out a plan that takes into account the professional draft to get the players as far along as possible in three years. When players are drafted, she then works with their ball clubs to arrange for them to return in the fall off-season.

As for the 90 percent graduation rate, Lord takes a small exception from Coach Martin’s claim. In a study that academic advising conducted on four freshman classes from 1988 to 1991, taking into account transfers and removing the NCAA six-year time limit, the graduation rate was actually an astonishing 100 percent.

“They may not all graduate in six years or less,” Lord said, “But we like to measure their success over time at FSU.”

As for Martin’s philosophy it’s simple: “I made a vow in 1980 when I got this job that I was not going to allow myself to use a kid who was not doing what he was supposed to be doing in the classroom to win a game.”

And for good reason, he says. As few as three percent of ball players who sign a pro contract ever play in the Majors and less than 50 percent of number one draft picks ever play in the Majors for even three years.

“I tell them that they can’t take your education away from you,” Martin said. “I want my guys to know that we’re not going to tolerate baseball being put before their education, because that is not why they came to Florida State.”

The highly organized Martin can rattle off the long list of players who have returned to finish their degrees with the pride of a father having witnessed his son’s first hit.

“Some of these guys are really big names now, some are coaches and others are successful in business or other things,” he said. “I’m just so proud that after about three years of professional baseball it hits them and they think, ‘Hey, maybe that old, gray-haired guy was right. I need to finish my degree.'”

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