ECU Chancellor Addresses Sports Club
Dr. Steve Ballard gave a rare glimpse of his college baseball career, today's landscape and the move to the AAC
By Trent McGee
East Carolina University Chancellor Dr. Steve Ballard was the guest speaker at Tuesday’s June 3 meeting of the Greater Greenville Sports Club. Ballard addressed a packed room during the hour-long meeting at the Hilton Greenville. Before Ballard began to narrate his collegiate baseball career experience he unreservedly recognized one of the best hires of his 10-year chancellorship, former ECU Director of Athletics Terry Holland who was in attendance along with his wife Ann. Holland now serves the role of Athletics Director Emeritus at ECU.
Born in Utah and raised in Galesburg, IL, sports were an integral part of the Ballard household. Ballard, like his mother and father, was a talented multi-sport athlete in high school. His uncle was a pro golfer and his grandmother was the catalyst behind the first women’s professional sports league in Salt Lake City, Utah. Ballard excelled on the baseball diamond and was very close to accepting a baseball scholarship to Tulane University before landing at the University of Arizona. As shortstop and captain of the Arizona baseball team, Ballard earned three varsity letters and played in the College World Series during his senior year. Ballard’s only at bat in the College World Series was a pinch hit single to left field against Ohio, but the Omaha/Rosenblatt experience and his entire collegiate career proved to be extremely valuable.
“I have very few regrets about my college career,” said Ballard. “It taught me a lot; it taught me a lot about the value of coaching and the value of teams.” Ballard went on to say that “teams usually win over talent.” An injury during Ballard’s junior year at Arizona nearly ended his college career, but a successful rehab and a bit of “good luck” resulted in a brief stint within the St. Louis Cardinals organization. Ballard played against the likes of Gary Matthews (1973 NL Rookie of the Year and ’83 NLCS MVP) and Bill Buckner (1980 NL batting champion) during his short-lived pro career and after “tasting the pros” for a short time, he decided to extend his education by earning his doctorate in political science from Ohio State University in 1976.
The game of baseball, now a “global sport,” has changed dramatically in Ballard’s eyes and he came to that conclusion after a recent visit with the Texas Rangers. During that visit, Ballard spent time with the Rangers Head Athletic Trainer Jamie Reed, a 1982 graduate of ECU. Reed provided Ballard with a first-hand look at just how differently players are treated in today’s game in regard to contracts and medical training. Ballard also observed the varying philosophies on hitting and pitching and how those two components of the game have evolved over the years.
Ballard transitioned from his affinity for baseball to his personal analyses, or “Rules by Ballard,” of the current landscape of college athletics. While highlighting his collegiate career at Arizona, Ballard made mention of the rivalry between Arizona and Arizona State and expressed botheration regarding the decline of collegiate rivalries. “If I’m really concerned about sports in the future it’s the loss of these great rivalries,” said Ballard. “Being in the College World Series was fun, but nothing came close to our six games per year with Arizona State. Those rivalries were the highlight of the year without question,” Ballard said.
Ballard went on to say that the challenges that collegiate sports face today are greater than ever before. “I think the collegiate model is under severe attack. It’s under attack from the power five, meaning the Southeast and Big Ten, they’re driving the show,” Ballard said. “I think it (SEC and Big Ten monopoly) threatens our entire sports infrastructure,” said Ballard. “The tectonic plates of college sports are under huge challenges and the money disparities get wider and wider.” Ballard pointed out that the Big Ten, to his understanding, is distributing $40 million per school this year from its TV revenues which is more than ECU’s entire athletic budget. “To me, that is not sustainable,” Ballard said. “Furthermore, I think they are making it very easy for the players to rightfully say that they are professionalizing this and who are no longer student athletes. I’ve been a supporter of the student-athlete collegiate model my entire career, but we’re at a tipping point,” said Ballard.
Ballard closed his message by answering a few questions regarding ECU’s baseball program, saying that ECU has suffered from the “competitive difference” in the game today which in turn affects a school’s ability to attract the best talent. Ballard also addressed ECU’s move to the American Athletic Conference and applauded the aggressiveness of AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco for putting together 12 schools that want to be together and work well together. “I think we’re the only conference that has a chance to be accepted as a conference into the power conferences,” Ballard said. “I think we’re doing everything we can, but we have to perform well.”
Ballard did not publicly address the recent decision not to renew the contract of former ECU head baseball coach Billy Godwin, saying only that he was not directly involved in the decision making, but supported Jeff Compher’s (ECU Director of Athletics) decision to move ECU’s baseball program in a different direction.