Mitch Karraker’s typical day starts between 8:30 and 9 a.m. at the Oregon baseball offices.
Karraker will watch film on the Ducks’ upcoming opponents and work on the day’s practice plan. At PK Park, he’ll throw batting practice to the hitters and work with the catchers, his designated position group. Then he’ll spend the evening conducting camps and clinics before going home to his wife and 4-month-old daughter around 8 p.m.
That’s a lot of work for someone who’s technically a volunteer.
“It’s pretty much a full-time gig,” Karraker said.
Karraker was watching closely last week when the NCAA’s Division I council voted on a proposal that would allow schools to hire their volunteers as a third paid assistant coach. The “no” vote came as a disappointment to almost everyone in college baseball, but especially to the volunteers trying to scratch out a living while chasing their coaching dreams.
Karraker, a catcher for the Ducks from 2009-11, has held a variety of roles at Oregon since the end of his playing career. He’s been a student manager, an undergraduate assistant, an administrative assistant, a pitching coach, first-base coach and a volunteer assistant — pretty much everything but a full-time, paid assistant coach.
Karraker married a coach’s daughter, so his wife understands the sacrifices he’s making for his career. At some point, though, he’ll have to turn his passion into a paycheck.
“I feel like we’re ready for the next step, and obviously this vote would have been huge for me to not only step into that next role but also stay here in Eugene, which we absolutely love,” Karraker said. “With that vote not passing, most likely my next job would be somewhere else unless I stay in the role that I’m in.”
The final tally hasn’t been released, but it’s been reported that both the Big Ten and the Big 12 voted against the proposal. The Pac-12 voted yes, but support within the conference wasn’t unanimous.
Oregon State athletic director Scott Barnes told The Oregonian he supported the third baseball assistant but opposed lumping baseball and softball into the same legislation. As written, the proposal would have allowed — but not mandated — the hiring of a third full-time assistant in both sports.
“When they proposed the legislation, my assumption is that they thought including softball in the legislation probably gave us a better chance,” Oregon coach George Horton said. “What I’m hearing is it probably gave us a worse chance.”
Like so many things in college sports, the debate comes down to one thing: money. Athletic directors who opposed the legislation didn’t want to commit the resources to hire two more full-time assistant coaches, even though the positions were optional.
The argument is that if you allow schools to fund those positions, everyone will have to do it or risk falling behind. The fact that schools would oppose the measure on those grounds says quite a bit about priorities in college sports.
It’s easier to outlaw something for everyone than it is to permit it for a few. Nevermind that the losers here are the coaches who can’t find a job and the players who aren’t getting the attention they’d receive in other sports.
“For the student athletes, I think they need another coach,” Karraker said. “Sometimes we’re a little outstretched with what we can do and the amount of time we can spend with them.
“Two of our coaches are out recruiting right now. That makes it difficult for us. We’re down two coaches and trying to get ready for a big series.”
Recruiting is one of the few things Karraker hasn’t done for the Ducks. Volunteer coaches aren’t allowed on the road, which makes it nearly impossible for them to develop one of the skills head coaches value most.
“When you pick up the phone to call someone to recommend coach Karraker or anyone else in his role, typically the coach wants to know about his recruiting prowess,” Horton said. “He can’t recruit, so it becomes a very difficult stepping stone for those guys to get a paid assistant job at the Division I level.”
Baseball coaches argue, with some justification, that their sport often gets shortchanged compared to others.
With a 35-man roster and only two assistant coaches, baseball’s ratio of coaches to players is among the worst in collegiate sports. The math in college football works out to one full-time coach for every 9.5 players, and it’s essentially a 1:3 ratio in college basketball.
With 11.7 scholarships to divide among their players, baseball coaches also have one of the smallest pools of grant money relative to their roster size. I don’t know that anyone should be feeling sorry for them, but when you see the kind of money being thrown around for contracts and buyouts in college football, it makes you wonder why baseball and other sports have to operate with so much less.
Oregon isn’t exactly the poster school here, because the Ducks have invested heavily in baseball since relaunching the program in 2009. It tells you something that, despite losing millions on baseball each year, Oregon thought funding another coaching position was the right thing to do.
“Our administration supported that initiative,” Horton said. “The fact that some of those that voted no will be in somebody’s house down the road asking for money to build facilities from somebody who played baseball in the Major Leagues, and yet they continue to turn their back on them? If I was that Major League player, I’d say no thanks.”
The failure of this proposal was a setback for coaches who pushed hard to make it happen. All they can do is try again, and hope next time the athletic directors will do right by the volunteers who do so much.
Until then, guys like Mitch Karraker will have to keep grinding.