Growing up and being a Division 1 athlete was always the goal. At the time, I set my sights high for a Power 5 conference program. I loved North Carolina baseball and always saw myself playing ball there. My athleticism was improving at a young age and I was better than most kids. My growing stalled out throughout high school, so I had to work on my speed and strength. In high school, I still believed I was a top recruit in the nation. The offers didn’t come as I expected however, being a D1-athlete was the main goal. I accepted an offer to play baseball from Oakland University located in Rochester Hills, Michigan.
I haven’t really shared this story out loud and I wanted to describe my experiences, so athletes after me can read this and choose a school accordingly.
Mid-Major athletics is way different than Power 5 athletics. The NCAA is already suspect, but I think Mid-Major schools take most of the heat when it comes to their antics. I came into Oakland waiting to be treated like a king. My first semester was a tremendous learning experience which most athletes can attest too. I will say, there is less help academic at Mid-Major schools because of the smaller market and the facilities. You’re much more on your own than if you were a football player at Ohio State or a school of that caliber. However, I appreciated this because it made me a better organizer and more independent. Staying on the school conversation, there are definitely some benefits. These include smaller class sizes, more one on one “question and answer,” and being able to email your teachers that know you by name.
The big changes that occur between Mid-Major and Power 5 conferences is the money. This means long bus rides, a lower budget for meals, and cheaper hotels. Not to knock my school at all, but the budget for food was borderline ridiculous. I remember every Sunday going home with a Domino’s pizza and smelling those things the entire bus ride home. Flights didn’t really happen unless it was our spring break trip or a regional birth. How it works for Mid-Major schools is if the big schools want to play you, they’ll pay you to come to their school and basically beat up on you. I like this because it gives the smaller schools a chance to beat big programs. College basketball is where this is seen the most. As a smaller school, you travel to these awesome schools with nothing to lose. If you win, it becomes national media, but if you lose, it was expected.
Another thing to consider when choosing a school is the facilities. Some Mid-Majors are better than others, but at my school the facilities were sub-par. I remember having to take care of our field as a team more than any other program at the school. We had one grounds guy and his crew never worked with baseball before. They didn’t know what they were doing when it came to dirt. They were tremendous on the soccer field, but as everyone knows, a baseball field has a lot of obstacles. I remember shoveling ice off our field just to play a home game in March. Northern schools have a massive disadvantage if you don’t have turf.
Typically, mid-major schools put most of their money into one sport whether that’s football, basketball, or soccer. Power 5 schools have the advantage of taking all the profits from basketball and football to pay for the other sports. At my school, we didn’t have football and relied on basketball to create all of our revenue. So, if the basketball team doesn’t perform and make a regional, the other sports suffer. I’m not saying their can be much done about this, but I’m just here stating the facts.
The positives of going to a Mid-Major school is that you get to travel the country and play in intense atmospheres against the top teams in the nation. You get the D1 experience on the field. You get to play with and against great athletes, and I’d say the only sport that has a massive disadvantage is football. It’s a fact that guys are going to be bigger, faster, and stronger. Baseball, basketball, and soccer are sports where the talent is better, but the games can be swayed by mental errors, not as much physically. A lot of Mid-Major guys have a chip on their shoulder because they believe they could play at that higher level. As you grow throughout college, some guys turn into that great athlete they have always wanted to be.
Mid-Majors differ more than Power 5 conferences depending on where you are in the country. Northern teams that play outdoor sports have a disadvantage to where a southern school have more “in shape” playing surfaces because the weather isn’t as fierce during the winter months.
Overall, I wanted to give athletes and parents an outlook of what a Mid-Major program will look like. There’s no question you get the D1 playing experience on the field. However, it’s all the glamor and shit off the field that isn’t talked about. That’s the difference. If you go to a Mid-Major program that wins, you’ll have no question about where you belong. It’s the Mid-Majors that aren’t up to par with the others, that make athletes consider JUCO or walking on to a dream school. Again, it’s about how you fit and where you see yourself growing the most athletically and physically. Athletes need to set goals for themselves while going through the recruiting process because it can be hectic. I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything. I just want to give insight to people that don’t really get to hear about the Mid-Major experience.