[New Orleans] – Dillard University, in collaboration with The Fox Foundation and the Rise 2 Greatness Foundation, will be launching its national Elite Development Combine Series (EDCS) this weekend in New Orleans. The free program is specifically designed to allow Black and underserved youth to measure and showcase their baseball skills for college coaches so they can compete for scholarships on a level playing field with players from wealthier families. The combine was designed and will be run by MLB and college scouts with assistance from several former MLB All-Stars and current college players.
Black athlete participation in baseball has plummeted in the past decade. The most recent UCF TIDES study showed only 6.2% of the players on MLB’s opening day rosters in 2023 identified as Black. That’s down from 18.7% in 1981. This is despite unyielding efforts on MLB’s part to diversify the sport. College is even worse. In D1 college baseball, only 3.9% of players and 1.1% of head coaches are black. HBCU programs even struggle with diversity. Currently, 60%+ of the baseball players at HBCUs across the country are non-black.
While there are many factors that have led to baseball’s diversity issues, the overwhelming factor is the cost of participation. According to the Aspen Institute, baseball is the 4th most expensive team sport, behind only ice hockey, field hockey, and lacrosse. The EDCS, as part of the larger Fox Foundation – Sports Diversity Initiative, seeks to address financial barriers for athletes to compete in their sport of choice. The EDCS is a crucial component that will identify, evaluate, and promote talented baseball players who have been overlooked because they lack the money to play in exclusive travel ball programs, travel hundreds of miles for college showcases, or attend expensive pay-to-play recruiting combines. The program aims to create pipelines for college scholarships, enabling student-athletes to use their athletic ability as a catalyst to obtain a college degree.
The event will take place at the state-of-the-art New Orleans MLB Youth Academy, providing participants with an exceptional environment to showcase their talents. Throughout the two-day event, youth from diverse backgrounds will engage in various skill assessments, including batting, fielding, pitching, and base running. The combine will be led by experienced coaches, college/MLB scouts, and former MLB players who will offer valuable guidance and feedback to participants. All footage and metrics captured at the event will be uploaded to a free personalized online recruiting profile created for each player by PrepStar that will be accessible to 700+ college and professional scouts across the country.
In addition to the on-field activities, participants will tour Dillard University’s campus and have a Q&A Session with former MLB All-Stars like Reggie Sanders, Brian Jordan, and Charles Johnson. These sessions will cover sportsmanship, teamwork, leadership development, and navigating equity barriers. Student-athletes will also have the unique opportunity to take Siena Consulting’s exclusive Sports Psychology Assessment, used by NFL teams and major college programs to evaluate and develop their players.
“We strongly believe that diversity not only enriches our sport but also strengthens our community,” said Bill Bavasi, Former General Manager of the Anaheim Angels and Seattle Mariners and Executive Director of the Baseball Diversity Initiative at The Fox Foundation. “Our goal is to create an inclusive environment where every player feels welcomed and has an equal chance to pursue their passion for baseball at a collegiate or professional level.”
Dr. Rochelle L. Ford, President of Dillard University, added, “As an HBCU, we are proud to be the academic partner for this initiative that aligns with our mission of promoting diversity and providing opportunities for underserved communities. By partnering with the Fox Foundation and Rise 2 Greatness, we can collectively make a significant impact on the lives of these young athletes and inspire them to excel in both academics and athletics.”
Rise 2 Greatness Executive Director, Jennifer Ford Chatfield, expressed her enthusiasm for the program, saying, “We believe that diversity should be celebrated and nurtured in all aspects of life, including sports. The EDCS represents a crucial step towards breaking down barriers and providing a fair chance for every talented athlete to pursue their passion.”
In addition to combining participation and the online recruiting profile, participants will receive ongoing support from the EDCS and its sponsors, including recruiting mentorship, educational resources, and access to behavioral health and other social services to help them navigate their athletic and academic journey. Select players will also be invited to join the Elite Development Academy (EDA). This exclusive national program provides next-level developmental support for the top baseball players in the country from lower-income families.
Following the inaugural New Orleans event, the EDCS will host events this year in Oakland, Atlanta, and Chicago. In 2024, the EDCS will return to each of these cities and 16 new communities across the country. With its core commitment to diversity and inclusion, the program has already garnered significant attention within the baseball community and will serve as a catalyst for positive change within the sports industry.