Dawson Classic offers visibility to HBCU athletes

Tournament creates opportunity for underrepresented college baseball programs

February 20th, 2022

NEW ORLEANS -- The main attraction at the Andre Dawson Classic is the on-field action, but as is the case with every diversity-focused event that Major League Baseball supports, there is a lot of important work going on behind the scenes, too.

The effort to add players into the talent pipeline never ends. Scouts and evaluators are stationed wherever there are prep or college athletes playing in an organized event, and players involved in the Dawson Classic -- a tournament involving seven Historically Black Colleges and Universities plus the University of New Orleans -- were closely watched throughout the weekend.

For ballplayers who have the athletic gifts that enable them to play at an advanced level, tournaments like the Dawson Classic provide a chance to display those skills to evaluators who can help them take that important next step.

Kerrick Jackson, the former head coach of Southern University and current president of MLB’s newly formed Draft League, is one of those evaluators. He has been in the stands all weekend at the Dawson Classic, watching games and taking notes.

Jackson, whose résumé includes four years as a pro scout with the Nationals and two years working for agent Scott Boras, is not looking just for surefire Major League talent. His focus is on finding young athletes who may be candidates to play in the Draft League or other programs focused on development at the college level.

“It’s an opportunity to obviously look for kids for the Draft League, but also be in a position to give these kids who are playing for HBCUs a chance to be evaluated,” Jackson said. “We’re looking at current Draft-eligible kids, but also looking at the younger kids who are coming up, and how we can help them get placed in different areas, be it summer leagues, [the Appalachian] League, Team USA … that creates some visibility for them.”

The Draft League is a collegiate baseball summer league, created in 2021 as partnership between MLB and Prep Baseball Report. It serves a showcase for top draft-eligible prospects leading up MLB’s Draft every summer.

HBCUs typically have fewer resources than bigger schools, which can lead to a development gap and missed opportunities. The goal is to narrow those gaps -- preferably, to eliminate them all together -- by providing more exposure for athletes who chose the HBCU route.

“I think the visibility for the HBCUs is helping with that,” Jackson said. “One of the things that we always struggled with was kids feeling that if they came to an HBCU, versus going to a predominantly white institution, that they weren’t going to get as much exposure. I think things like this are helping with that.”

MLB having a greater presence at HBCU tournaments has sped up the process, and seemingly created a trust among athletes that they’re getting more of a fair shake.

The seven HBCU schools participating in the Dawson Classic are Alabama State, Florida A&M, Grambling State, Jackson State, Prairie View A&M, Southern and University of Arkansas Pine Bluff. Four teams received national exposure when MLB Network televised two games Saturday. Broadcasts serve two purposes -- they expand the viewing audience, and also can pique the interest of youngsters who might want to someday play baseball for an HBCU.

And when they do get there, they’ll know they will be noticed.

“Scouting HBCUs hopefully will also create some rejuvenated interest -- saying, ‘Hey, listen, you will be seen, you will be evaluated and you can get just the same things you want to get anywhere else if you go to these institutions,’” Jackson said. “If we can create that while getting them into a good summer leagues, I think that helps them in that development curve. When we shorten that curve, then that makes them more appealing the 30 clubs that are drafting each year.”