JUCO, which is an abbreviation for Junior College, represents the schools that make up the NJCAA. JUCOs are two-year schools that are not associated with the four-year schools of the NCAA and NAIA but compete against each other in various divisions and conferences across the country.
A lot of high school players write off JUCO as an option for pursuing their college baseball goals, but that should not be the case. JUCO can be a great fit for players that need extra time to develop and can even be a stepping stone to a player’s dream school. Players that don’t meet the academic standards of the NCAA could also consider JUCO as a suitable option.
We hear it all the time that high school players don’t consider JUCO because they think it won’t be athletically or academically challenging enough. Or, it could be simply because they can’t picture themselves there since it’s not their ultimate goal of playing at a four-year school. In this article, we will discuss the reasons why high school players may want to consider JUCO as an option for their college baseball careers.
A Stepping Stone to D1 Baseball
Most high school baseball players dream of playing at an NCAA DI school when their high school playing days are over. While this is understandable and a reasonable goal for some players, the reality is there are going to be a lot of players that don’t quite have the ability to play at the DI level out of high school, but are still talented and college-ready athletes.
JUCO can be a stepping stone for players to reach their ultimate goal and dream school. There are a few scenarios where JUCO could be a great option in this case. Say a high school player has offers from small DI schools but really wants to play in a major conference. An extra year or two playing in JUCO can be enough time for them to develop their skills to reach this next level. Another common scenario is when a high school player is more of a DII or DIII level player but is dead set on achieving their goal of playing for a DI school, JUCO can be the necessary step to accomplish this.
Four-year NCAA schools in every division recruit JUCO players heavily. Almost all rosters of NCAA schools are a mix of high school and JUCO players. Let’s take a look at the 2022 NCAA DI College World Series participants and note their breakdown of high school versus JUCO recruits.
Roster Breakdown of NCAA DI College World Series Participants
|School||High School Recruits*||JUCO Recruits||Total Roster Size|
Spending a year or two at a JUCO can open up significantly more opportunities. We would imagine that the players that end up on College World Series teams are pretty satisfied with where they are, even if it took them an extra year by going through JUCO. Recruiting from JUCO is not just reserved for big-time DI schools though. NCAA and NAIA schools at all levels recruit JUCO players as well. It is not uncommon for some smaller DI or DII schools to have rosters with the majority of players being from JUCOs. Whatever the goals of a high school player are, JUCO is an option to increase their stock after high school and gain the necessary skills to reach the next level.
More Time to Develop
High school athletes cover a broad spectrum in terms of physical and mental maturity. Some players might be gifted athletes but aren’t quite ready for the emotional challenges of playing at a four-year school far away from home. Other athletes might be great high school baseball players but their size and strength are preventing them from having opportunities at four-year schools.
JUCO can provide players an extra year to mature, and sometimes with the option of staying closer to their hometown. College is a culture shock for everyone, let alone athletes who suddenly have to balance the responsibilities of being an athlete while keeping up on their school work. JUCO helps ease the transition for some players who might not be ready for such a jump yet. That’s not to say playing at JUCO will be easy, there is still a lot to balance, but removing some of the stress of a four-year school can go a long way.
A Cost-Effective Option
It’s no secret that college tuition is expensive and continues to rise. One year of full-time tuition at some four-year schools can easily exceed $50,000. If players are interested in attending a private university or an out-of-state university, their financial commitment will be a strong consideration for many families.
JUCO can offer both educational and athletic opportunities at a fraction of the cost. A lot of players discredit JUCOs academically, but it is important to remember that after transferring to a four-year school and graduating, the student-athlete will receive the same degree as every other student who graduates from that school. Spending two years at a JUCO does not prevent a player from having the opportunity to graduate from a four-year school with a valuable degree.
MLB Draft Eligibility
Without diving deep into some of the nuances, the general MLB Draft eligibility requirements are as follows:
- Players graduated high school but have yet to attend or start college
- Players that attended a JUCO during the previous school year
- Players attending an NCAA or NAIA school who have completed their junior year of athletic eligibility
- Players attending an NCAA or NAIA school who is at least 21 years of age or older
High school players that choose to attend a four-year school are not eligible for the MLB draft until after their junior season unless they are 21 years old before that. However, JUCO players are eligible for MLB Draft immediately following their first year of JUCO baseball. So in general, JUCO players are eligible for the MLB two years sooner than players that attend a four-year school out of high school. While this may not be a deciding factor for many high school athletes, there are certainly some that are focused on reaching professional baseball as soon as possible, and JUCO can be a way to do that.