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NCAA rule expands coach salaries as player compensation remains unchanged

Teams can now have 11 coaches making six-plus figures each, while athlete compensation has barely changed in decades.

There is never enough money to pay college football players. It’s one of the more common refrains from those who oppose athletes getting increased compensation. We’ve heard it from NCAA and team admins in court and in the press for years, even as the new College Football Playoff expanded one of many revenue streams.

Yet on Friday, the NCAA Division I Council approved a package of legislation, part of which allows teams to each hire a 10th assistant coach.

Adding a 10th coach isn’t a bad thing, in and of itself.

As Nick Saban has pointed out, football’s ratio of players to on-field coaches has always been out of whack, when compared to other NCAA sports (though Saban also leads the nation in finding ways to add off-field coaches). At the top level, nine coaches for 85 scholarship players compares unfavorably to the other major-revenue sport, basketball, which allows four coaches for 13 scholarship players. Some smaller sports have one coach for every couple players.

Football players getting more specialized instruction is a good thing, but more on that in a second.

Still, it’s a little hypocritical for schools to keep paying coaches more while fighting athlete compensation changes.

FBS head-coaching salaries now easily average seven figures, some elite assistants now make what head coaches made at the turn of the century, and contract bonuses and apparel deals top coaches off even further.

Meanwhile, players have seen their compensation increase only by way of modest stipends and by benefits that are designed to help the school maximize on-field production, such as advanced nutrition programs or eligibility-focused academic support. The NCAA’s member schools have even fought compensation increases that wouldn’t come from the schools’ budgets, such as player rights licensing or Olympic-style endorsements.

But how much will these assistants be paid?

USA Today collected data on every publicly available assistant coach in FBS. Of the nearly 1,200 nationwide, 963 salaries were public.

Per the database, 81 percent of those assistants made six figures or more, and 41 percent made over $250,000 in base pay. In 2016, every full-time Power 5 assistant at a public school made six figures.

That doesn’t even get near the numerous performance bonuses coaches can earn and supplemental pay from apparel companies.

While these 10th coaches aren’t going to be making top dollar right away, they are going to add millions to the total money spent on coaching staffs across the country. We could soon see 20 or so schools each spending eight figures on their staffs.

The paying players debate is rarely about the bigger schools, but a non-power proposed this rule.

Many Power 5 schools could foot the bill for increased player compensation without much of an issue. Some big conferences have even called for expanding player comp. Texas’ digital lockers are the latest sign there’s more than enough money flowing around.

But many smaller P5s and mid-majors have cried poor, despite most FBS non-power conferences including plenty of teams that already spend $2 million-plus annually on coaches. Yet Group of 5 conferences didn’t put a block up against the 10th assistant rule; they simply asked for it to be delayed. The proposal that was approved came from the MAC, a G5 conference.

The question wasn’t about if (especially since the American Football Coaches Association backed the measure) but when, so that schools can budget for it.

Some of these newly minted 10th assistants will be hired almost exclusively to recruit minimally paid athletes.

On college staffs, not everyone has unique expertise on the field or with a playbook. There are some who have made careers just for their recruiting prowess. So expanding coaching staffs won’t necessarily benefit players at every school anyway.

At the time the original proposal was introduced, the head of the Football Oversight Committee, Bob Bowslby, said: “There was unanimity around the table on the addition of a 10th assistant coach being allowed (in FBS). We feel it is appropriate from a student-athlete welfare standpoint. The ratio of coaches to student-athlete is much higher in football than other sports, and this helps address that.”

It has been and always will be clear what the NCAA concerns itself with, as far as student-athlete welfare goes. Yet again, dozens of non-players are set to make more money off the sport, while those generating the income see no increases.

Once schools expand their coaching staffs and then continue their facility arms races, it’ll be as clear as ever: money should be reallocated.