Kevin Cooney is in his 18th season as head coach at Florida Atlantic
University of the Atlantic Sun Conference and 22nd overall. A former pitching
star at Montclair State, Cooney has led FAU to an average of 46 wins per season
the past six years. He as guided the Blue Wave to a 273-106 record and five NCAA
Regionals in the past six years. This is the second year he has offered his thoughts on
baseball - and other things - for CollegeBaseballInsider.com.
Dec. 8, 2004
Dustin Hoffman’s graduation present was getting seduced by Mrs. Robinson, the
40-something mother of his character’s girlfriend. It’s funny. Anne Bancroft
looks a lot better to me now at my current age than she did back then.
My graduation from Montclair State College didn’t present me with anything
like Hoffman’s reward; as a matter of fact, it went largely unnoticed in the
Cooney family. I can’t blame my parents. Seven years is a long wait for your son
to graduate from anywhere but medical school.
One of the problems with the NCAA and its fixation on graduation rates is
that all sports are not the same. College baseball presents problems that are
not found in other sports, and at many schools receives fewer of the benefits
accorded football and basketball.
When you see a football player on television being praised for “graduating in
four years,” remember that the young man probably attended summer school each
year while he worked out in the school’s off-season strength and conditioning
program. Remember, too, that these are full scholarship athletes whose summer
expenses are subsidized by their schools.
So, in reality, that athlete’s “four years” likely consisted of at least 12
semesters of classes instead of the normal eight semesters.
The average college baseball player spends his summers playing in NCAA
sanctioned summer baseball leagues. This is an integral part of a player’s
development. The only reasons that someone might not be in summer ball would be
because of injury or academic deficiencies. This fact prevents college baseball
players from gaining additional credits in the off-season, practically ensuring
that the student athlete will not graduate in a timely manner.
But here comes the big problem…Professional Baseball!!!
If a kid is a great player, he is likely to be drafted high enough to leave
college after his junior year and sign a pro contract. It’s hard to argue the
point of staying in school when life changing money is offered to a 21-year-old,
along with the promise to fund the balance of the player’s education.
Many players aren’t signed until after their senior year. At least these
players are closer to graduating than the big-money guys. Once a player has been
eligible more than four years, he is usually between a semester, and a year from
At Florida Atlantic, we have had 28 seniors sign professional contracts over
the last six years.
The NCAA decrees that if these players do not graduate within six years of
entering school, they are counted against our graduation rate. But what happens
to baseball players makes this a tough task.
If a player has a great rookie season he is often invited to Instructional
League. This is usually a six-week period beginning in late September, right in
the middle of the fall semester. Guess what? No school that year.
The next year, the Florida State League season doesn’t end until
mid-September. Guess what? School started in August, and three weeks of missed
classes is unacceptable to most professors. This player has now missed two
off-season opportunities to return to school and meet the six-year NCAA
requirement to be a counter. That leaves him one fall to get it done. Not a very
realistic measurement of an individual’s ability or desire to graduate, is it?
Yet, as we approach Friday’s graduation ceremonies at Florida Atlantic
University, three former FAU baseball players will walk across the stage, shake
President Frank Brogan’s hand and proudly wave to Mom and Pop.
Evan Brannon finished playing last June by helping FAU win a conference
tournament championship after winning a regular-season title the previous year.
He is currently in the Orioles’ farm system. Evan had a couple of cooperative
profs who let him in late this fall.
Tim Burton transferred to Florida Atlantic after playing his freshman year at
Miami in 1996. He was one of our main bullpen guys on the ’99 team that won 54
games and tied Texas with 34 straight wins. He played five years in the minor
leagues before retiring and helping as our manager last year and this fall. He
might not count in the eyes of the NCAA, but he does to Ken and Margaret Burton.
The last guy also signed professionally and encountered the same difficulties
in graduating outlined above. Or perhaps it was a genetic flaw.
Jim Cooney was a freshman pitcher on that ’99 team, but his time really came
in 2002. It was then that his coach kept putting him in clutch situations at the
end of the year. Jim responded by not surrendering a hit or a run over his last
nine innings pitched in an FAU uniform. Those innings included a conference
tournament, an NCAA Regional Championship and a Super Regional.
It seems like a long time since I sat in Jim’s house and attempted to
acquaint his Mom with the quality of an FAU education. Having been her husband
in a previous life, I thought I knew how she felt. It was a Florida school, and
she was from New Jersey. I figured Bernadette Cooney didn’t think Florida
Atlantic would measure up to northern schools. (Of course, the Princeton coach
wasn't knocking down the door.) She assured me that since I was his father, she
trusted that I wouldn’t send our son to a bad school.
So much of my life has been here at FAU. Friday will be a special day for a
lot of us parents in the FAU gymnasium, but I had a unique perspective of the
college life of one of the graduates. Those years gave me more than most parents
have gotten from their children’s college experience. Six years or four, I’m
glad it was six.
I never attended my own graduation. What was the point?
Once I became a parent and a coach, I realized the mistake I had made in not
allowing my parents the satisfaction and the pride that comes in seeing your
grown child walk across that stage and be handed the fruits of so many years of
I have made it a point to pop into the gym over the years and see some of my
special players on that special day. The pride and joy of the kids and their
parents reflects the dreams of long ago as parents rocked crying babies to
sleep. It’s a great day.
to all of you who are graduating, and to those of you with miles yet to go,
remember that you are not making this journey alone. Keep plugging along. It’s
worth the wait.
Thanksgiving in Palm Beach County (11/25/04)
An Empty Seat (11/10/04)
Fall is in the Air (10/21/04)
Hurricane Carmen (9/24/04)
(photo courtesy of FAU Media Relations Office)