The NCAA Council last week voted against adding a third paid assistant coach in baseball and softball, which prompted Arizona State baseball coach Tracy Smith to tap out this message on Twitter:
“Wow, just wow. … What a joke.”
“It’s ridiculous,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri.
This is a story with some deep roots.
When Arizona won its first NCAA baseball championship in 1976, the UA athletic department had 54 full-time employees. Jerry Kindall, who coached the Wildcats to the title, had two paid assistant coaches, Jim Wing and Mark Johnson.
Now the Arizona athletic department has 243 full-time employees — and two paid assistant baseball coaches. It’s about the only thing that hasn’t inflated in college sports over five decades.
Given the bloated salaries and excessive spending in college sports, it seems trivial that any NCAA voting bloc would argue cost containment on anything in 2019.
The Washington Huskies, for example, fund 38 full-time employees in their football department, including four strength and conditioning coaches, three quality control analysts, a coordinator of sports sciences, an on-campus football ambassador and a creative director for football.
And college baseball and softball teams can’t pay a third assistant coach?
There’s another side to this.
Mike Candrea has won eight NCAA softball championships, all with two paid assistant coaches. That seems about right, doesn’t it? The No. 3-ranked Wildcats have 21 players and a strong presence in volunteer coach Ray Camacho, former head coach at Pueblo High School, who grew up in one of the most accomplished softball families in Tucson history.
It’s not like the UA softball team doesn’t already receive the best coaching in the game.
The issue here is Big vs. Small. It’s a tricky business when schools like Alabama, with 2017-18 fiscal year revenues of $181 million and 343 full-time employees, are governed by the same book as, say, New Mexico, which had 2017-18 revenues of $41 million and 148 full-time sports employees.
To its credit, the NCAA has held to its coaching staff limits in everything but football, which has become an only-the-strong-survive money game that pays for everything else.
In effect, the NCAA has protected the New Mexicos and the Wyomings by not allowing runaway growth in non-revenue sports.
Baseball coaches from the Power 5 conferences argue that the player-to-coach ratio of about 12 to 1 doesn’t allow them to give proper attention to each player. But if you vote to fund another baseball coach, you’ll have to add another track and field assistant coach. Or more.
Arizona’s men’s and women’s track and field/cross country programs are by far the largest on campus, with 192 participants this year. Head coach Fred Harvey has five full-time assistants, which is basically a 30 to 1 ratio.
Football coaches used the coach-to-player ratio when they were successful in adding a 10th full-time assistant coach a year ago. But because football pays the bills, it is judged from a different book. The same argument for baseball, softball and track doesn’t fly.
The fascinating part of this add-a-coach conflict is that it puts focus on the unforeseen growth of college athletics.
If someone had told you 20 years ago, in 1999, that Arizona would expand from 181 FTE to the current 243, you’d have questioned their sanity, especially when attendance for football and basketball games has not grown.
But here’s how it happened, bit by bit, funded by mega-media rights contracts:
Arizona went from three full-time compliance officials to six.
It went from three strength and conditioning coaches to 10, plus one nutritionist.
It went from six fundraisers to 18.
It went from 14 full-time football employees to 22.
It went from five academic counselors to 13.
It went from six associate athletic directors to 26 administrators with varying titles: senior associate AD, associate AD and assistant AD. (A 27th, Dennis Polian, is Arizona’s assistant AD for football).
It created a new department — human resources and information technology — with seven FTEs.
Can you imagine what the UA’s athletic department might look like in another 20 years, in 2039? It might have 300 employees with annual revenues of $150 million. And that’s a modest estimate, given the expansion at mid-level Pac-12 schools like Arizona State.
In the fiscal year 2017-18, ASU had 287 FTEs. It reported revenues of $122 million to the U.S. Department of Education, blowing away Arizona’s 92 million.
The Sun Devils have added non-revenue sports like hockey, lacrosse, water polo and beach volleyball during an era when adding a baseball or softball coach — at maybe $125,000 per school — has created a national debate.
Does any of this make sense?
When Arizona entered the Pac-10 in 1978, the athletic department was so small you didn’t need a staff directory. Chuck Magness was the money guy, Stub Ashcraft was in control of facilities, Warren Lee ran the medical office, Ed Thomas issued helmets and baseball gear, and academic support was handled in Dan Winters’ office.
If you needed to talk to a baseball coach you phoned Jerry Kindall. His home number was in the book.