Should the NCAA have the ability to regulate football staff sizes?
Perhaps that’s the question that should be asked instead of the now nearly ubiquitous query of “Will the NCAA limit staff sizes?”
The NCAA has dabbled in the restriction of the free market economy in relations to football programs in the past. In 1991 it attempted to limit the amount of money coaches could make by instituting “restricted earnings coaches” that sought to regulate big schools from loading up on off-the-field coaches to fill staffs. Restricted earnings coaches were paid no more than $16,000 per season.
The move was met with pushback, a legal challenge and subsequent loss in federal court.
Now the NCAA is setting its sights on staff sizes, and the general consensus is that it’s using the University of Alabama as its portrait of staff sizes that have ballooned.
It is widely believed, though no one has reported an exact number, that Alabama has the largest staff in the country. Bob Bowlsby, the chair of the Division I Football Oversight Committee, recently said one school “employed a football staff of 97.”
Bowlsby didn’t name a school, but to the reporters he relayed the information to, there was a strong indication he was looking toward Tuscaloosa.
An accurate count of Alabama’s staff size has never been revealed, though a recent NCAA survey published by cbssports.com put the number at 31.
An examination of the A-Day spring game roster showed a total of 66 staff members, but even that number is murky at best. That total was comprised of 10 on-the-field coaches (Nick Saban and his nine assistant coaches), 16 staff members listed as offensive/defensive coaches, six strength coaches and 34 individuals listed as “staff.” Of the 34 listed as staff, included were trainers, academic advisors and media relations.
Which leads to the pertinent question “What roles are considered or should be considered to count toward a staff for a football program?”
Is an administrative assistant counted the same as an analyst? How about trainers and student workers? And who defines what staff is counted and what staff isn’t?
The survey obtained by cbssports.com listed staff in five categories: on-the-field coaches, strength and conditioning, graduate assistants, football operations and off-the-field/recruiting.
What seems certain is the NCAA appears determined to address staff size limits, and big schools like Alabama are likely to stand their ground.
“I think that door has been open for a while,” Bowlsby said. “We’re seeing very large staffs. We see non-coaching personnel doing coaching duties. It is one of our two priorities for the Football Oversight Committee for the coming year … looking at personnel and how personnel should be deployed in the football coaching staff environment.”
Saban, who is weary of overreaching legislation changing the game, countered that these changes stem from fear not bound in reality.
“A lot of the things that happen in college football — this is no disrespect to anyone — is there’s a lot of paranoia that someone else has an advantage on someone else, whether it’s a conference, whether it’s one team versus another, whether it’s one conference versus another,” Saban said. “So if we can sort of create some rules that sort of, some kind of way negate that advantage that somebody creates or pass a rule that creates some advantages for us… I think there’s some of that that goes on.”
Saban has correctly pointed out that football has the lowest coach-to-student-athlete ratio of any collegiate sport. To that end, recently passed NCAA legislation will soon allow programs to add a 10th on-the-field assistant.
At Alabama, an analyst is assigned to each assistant coach to help shoulder the burden of the coaching staff, which is charged with not only developing the talent already on campus but to add to it by constantly recruiting the next student-athlete.
That pressure to recruit is immense, especially if you’re going to coach for Saban. Recruiting is essentially non-stop. And Saban gives his coaches resources via the analysts, which help break down film and game plan.
From the NCAA’s perspective, it’s wrestling with the question of should Alabama and deep-pocket programs of the same ilk be allowed to have an “advantage” of a bigger staff?
The question the Alabamas of the world will soon have to address is should they allow the NCAA to institute rules that govern them the same as schools with less resources.
Alabama Director of Athletics Greg Byrne, who has been both at big budget and lower budget athletic departments, understands the debate and he clearly understands Alabama’s position.
“Well, I think Coach Saban and how we’ve structured our program has worked really well for Alabama and for Coach Saban,” Byrne said at SEC Spring Meetings. “I’m very respectful of that fact as you can see in the results.
“I think what’s important is to make sure that we have a seat in the table in discussions, if there are discussions, and it’s important to find that right balance, but I’m extremely respectful of the fact that we have a model that works very well at Alabama.”
Other schools, especially in the SEC, are catching on, too. The race to add support staff to catch the Crimson Tide has taken off.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said addressing the issue is difficult.
“I think it’s hard to pick a number,” Smart said. “I think that’s why we’re all talking about it. It’s no different than, are there four teams in the playoff, are there six teams or are there eight teams?
“I certainly think when you look at the player to staff ratio, football is usually the most under(represented) because we’ve got 130 guys. It’s hard to manage 130 guys when you’re talking about class, off-field, behavior issues, everything. Just support. We need the support that we have. Picking a number on that, I think that’s tough.”
Reach Aaron Suttles at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0229.