The Upward Mobility Potential in U.S. Intercollegiate Athletics: A Critical Examination of NCAA Division I College Baseball Players’ Hometown Demographics
Keywords:College sports access, Youth sport opportunities, Meritocracy, Class Reproduction, Baseball, Athlete demographics
American meritocratic ideology positions sports as level playing fields in which individuals, regardless of their background, can ascend with the right combination of ability and effort. Yet few studies challenge the sport-meritocracy ideology by empirically examining the socioeconomic backgrounds of college athletes (Allison et al., 2018). Studies of youth sport participation show that community-level income shapes athletic opportunities suggesting class is a strong barrier to physical activity (NWLC, 2015; Sabo & Veliz, 2008; Tompsett & Knoester, 2022). Class inequalities are exacerbated in sports with robust privatized youth systems like baseball (Klein et al., 2020; Post et al., 2022). Utilizing a unique quantitative dataset of NCAA Division I college baseball players (n = 19,987), we consider the extent to which a community’s socioeconomic levels and racial demographics shape the chances of someone becoming a college baseball player. We compare college baseball players’ hometown income levels and racial demographics to their home state and to U.S. averages. We also consider differences across competitive divisions (i.e., Non-Power 5 vs. Power 5). Findings show that college baseball players—regardless of conference affiliation—commonly come from affluent, nonminority cities, with high education and income levels, indicating that socioeconomic status is a significant predictor of college athletic participation.
Allison, R., Davis, A., & Barranco, R. (2018). A comparison of hometown socioeconomics and
demographics for black and white elite football players in the US. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 53(5), 615-629. https://doi.org/10.1177/1012690216674936
Baxter-Jones, A. D. G., & Maffulli, N. (2003). Parental influence on sport participation in elite
youth athletes. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 43(2), 250-255. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12853909/
Beamon, K. K. (2008). “Used goods”: Former African-American college student-athletes’
perception of exploitation by Division I universities. Journal of Negro Education, 77(4), 352–364. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25608704
Brown, B. & Bennett, G. (2015). “Baseball is whack!”: Exploring the lack of African American
baseball consumption. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 39(4), 287-307. https://doi.org/10.1177/0193723514561550
Coakley, J. (2015). Sport in society: Issues and controversies (11th ed.). New York: McGraw-
Dubrow, J. K., & Adams, J. (2012). Hoop inequalities: Race, class and family structure
background and the odds of playing in the National Basketball Association. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 47(1), 43–59. https://doi.org/10.1177/1012690210384660
Dunn, C. R., Dorsch, T. E., King, M. Q, & Rothlisberger, K. K. (2016). The impact of family
financial investment on perceived parent pressure and child enjoyment and commitment in organized youth sport. Family Relations, 65(2016), 287-299.
Eckstein, R. (2017). How college athletics are hurting girls' sports: The pay-to-play pipeline.
Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Edgerton, L. (2009). Perfect game USA and the future of baseball: How the remaking of youth
scouting affects the national pastime. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.
Eitzen, D. S. (2016). Fair and foul: Beyond the myths and paradoxes of sport (5th ed.). Lanham,
MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Farrey, T., & Schreiber, P. (2017, March 17). The gentrification of college hoops. The
Friedman, H.L. (2013). Playing to win: Raising children in a competitive culture. Berkeley, CA:
University of California Press.
Gregory, S. (2017 August 24). How kids’ sports became a $15 billion industry. Time.
Hawkins, B. (2013). The new plantation: Black athletes, college sports, and predominately white
institutions. New York, NY: Palgrave-MacMillan.
Hextrum, K. (2018). The hidden curriculum of college athlete recruitment. Harvard Educational
Review, 88(3), 355–377. https://doi.org/10.17763/1943-5045-88.3.355
Hextrum, K. (2019). Reproducing sports stars: How students become elite athletes. Teachers
College Record, 121(4), 1–38. https://doi.org/10.1177/016146811912100404
Hextrum, K. (2020a). Amateurism revisited: How US college athletic recruitment favors middle
class athletes. Sport, Education, and Society, 25(1), 111–123. https://doi.org/10.1080/13573322.2018.1547962
Hextrum, K. (2020b). Socializing sport and socially constructing race: How academic exclusion
and athletic inclusion draw Black youth to sport. Journal of Contemporary Athletics, 14(4), 281-305. https://www.proquest.com/openview/d5530326b96b3f9c8b468a024638416b/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=2034846
Hextrum, K. (2021). Special admission: How college sports recruitment favors white
suburban athletes. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Hextrum, K. (2022). White property interests in college athletic admissions. Journal of Sport
& Social Issues, 46(4), 383-403. https://doi.org/10.1177/01937235211015352
Hextrum, K. (2023). Ideology of athletic merit: Transmission of privilege in college athlete
admissions. Sociological Perspectives, 66(3), 565-584.
Kanters, M. A., Borcarro, J. N., Edwards, M. B., Casper, J. M., & Floyd, M. F. (2013). School
sport participation under two school sport policies: Comparisons by Race/Ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 45(1), S113-S121. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12160-012-9413-2
Karabel, J. (2005). The chosen: The hidden history of admission and exclusion at Harvard, Yale,
and Princeton. New York, NY: HMH Books
Klein, M., Macaulay, C., & Cooper, J. (2020). The perfect game: An ecological systems
approach to the influences of elite youth and high school baseball socialization. Journal of Athlete Development and Experience, 2(1), 14-35. https://doi.org/10.25035/jade.02.01.02
Lareau, A. (2011). Unequal childhoods: Class, race, & family life (2nd ed.). Berkeley, CA:
University of California Press.
Macaulay, C., Cooper, J., & Dougherty, S. (2019). High school football and the athletic-market
economy: Recruiting, producing, and manufacturing talent. Sociology of Sport Journal, 36(3), 203-212. https://doi.org/10.1123/ssj.2018-0102
McGovern, J. (2018). “You have to have money to be good”: How capital accumulation shapes
Latinas’ pathways to college sports. Journal of Intercollegiate Sport, 11(2), 149-171. https://doi.org/10.1123/jis.2018-0038
Meier, A., Hartmann, B. S., & Larson, R. (2018). A quarter century of participation in school-
based extracurricular activities: Inequalities by race, class, gender, and age? Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 47, 1299-1316. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-018-0838-1
Merkel, D. L. (2013). Youth sport: Positive and negative impact on young athletes. Open Access
Journal of Sports Medicine, 4(2013), 151-160. http://dx.doi.org/10.2147/OAJSM.S33556
Messner, M. (2009). All for the kids: Gender, families, and youth sports. Berkeley, CA:
University of California Press.
Moore, L. V., Diez Roux, A. V., Evenson, K. R., McGinn, A. P., & Brines, S. J. (2008).
Availability of recreational resources in minority and low socioeconomic status areas. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 34(1), 16–22. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2007.09.021
Musto, M., & McGann, P. J. (2016). Strike a pose! The femininity effect in collegiate women’s
sport. Sociology of Sport Journal, 33(2), 101-112. http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/ssj.2015-0034
National Federation of State High School Associations [NFHS]. (2022). 2018–2019 high school
athletics participation survey results. NFHS.
National Women’s Law Center [NWLC]. (2015). Finishing last: Girls of color and school
sports opportunities. Washington D.C.: NWLC. Retrieved from https://nwlc.org/resource/finishing-last-girls-of-color-and-school-sports-opportunities/
National Collegiate Athletic Association [NCAA] (2015). Baseball: Probability of competing beyond high school. NCAA Research. Retrieved from https://www.ncaa.org/sports/2015/3/6/baseball-probability-of-competing-beyond-high-school.aspx
National Collegiate Athletic Association [NCAA] (2022). Coach and student-athlete demographics by sport: Baseball. NCAA Demographics Database. Retrieved from https://www.ncaa.org/sports/2018/12/13/ncaa-demographics-database.aspx
Ogden, D. C. (2000). African-Americans and pick-up ball: The loss of diversity and recreational
diversion in midwestern youth baseball. NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture, 9(1), 200-207.
Ogden, D. C., & Hilt, M. L. (2003). Collective identity and basketball: An explanation for the decreasing number of African-Americans on America’s baseball diamonds. Journal of Leisure Research, 35(2), 213–227. https://doi.org/10.1080/00222216.2003.11949991
Ogden, D. C., & Warneke, K. (2010). Theoretical considerations in college baseball's
relationship with youth select baseball. Journal of Sport Behavior, 33(3), 256-275.
Pascarella, E. T., Pierson, C. T., Wolniak, G. C., & Terenzini, P. T. (2004). First-generation
college students: Additional evidence on college experiences and outcomes. Journal of Higher Education, 75(3), 249–284. https://doi.org/10.1353/jhe.2004.0016
Post, E. G., Rosenthal, M. D., Pennock, A. T., & Rauh, M. J. (2022). Attitudes and beliefs of
little league baseball parents regarding sport specialization and college scholarship availability. The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 50(6), 471-477. https://doi.org/10.1080/00913847.2021.1949251
Project Play (2022). Youth sport facts: Participation rates. Aspen, CO: Aspen Institute.
Rothstein, R. (2017). The color of law: A forgotten history of how our government segregated
Sabo, D., & Veliz, P. (2008). Go out and play: Youth sports in America: Women’s Sports Foundation. http://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/go_out_and_play_exec.pdf
Sack, A., & Staurowsky, E. (1998). College athletes for hire: The evolution and legacy of the
NCAA’s amateur myth. Praeger.
Stephens, N. M., Hamedani, M. G., & Destin, M. (2014). Closing the social-class achievement
gap: A difference-education intervention improves first-generation students’ academic performance and all students’ college transition. Psychological Science, 25(4), 943–953. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797613518349
Tompsett, J. & Knoester, C. (2022). The making of a college athlete: High school experiences,
socioeconomic advantages, and the likelihood of playing college sports. Sociology of Sport Journal, 39(2), 129–140. https://doi.org/10.1123/ssj.2020-0142
U.S. Census Bureau. Quick Facts. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045221
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [USDHHS] (2019). National Youth Sports
Strategy. Washington, DC. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-10/National_Youth_Sports_Strategy.pdf
Weis, L., Cipollone, K., & Jenkins, H. (2014). Class warfare: Class, race, and college
admissions in top-tier secondary schools. University of Chicago Press.
Zarrett, N., Veliz, P.T., & Sabo, D. (2020). Keeping girls in the game: Factors that influence sport participation. New York, NY: Women’s Sports Foundation. https://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Keeping-Girls-in-the-Game-Executive-Summary-FINAL-web.pdf
Zdroik, J. & Veliz, P. (2016). The influence of pay-to-play fees on participation in
interscholastic sports: A school-level analysis of Michigan’s public schools. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 13(12), 1317–1324. http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/jpah.2016-0099
How to Cite
Copyright (c) 2023 Kirsten Hextrum, Jeremy Kim
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Copyright is held by the authors.