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Coaching Confidential: What Should The Next Proposal For A Third Assistant Coach Entail?



Baseball America this spring surveyed 90 head coaches on a wide-ranging list of topics to get the pulse of the profession. Over the next several weeks, we’ll post the results of that survey.

This week’s question has been one of the sport’s most hot button topics for several years: the quest for a third full-time assistant coach. The issue has been discussed at length for the last several years, as the American Baseball Coaches Association made a concerted effort to pass NCAA legislation to address the issue of baseball’s coaching staffs.

Coaching staffs are structured with a head coach, two full-time assistant coaches and a volunteer assistant, who earns money through holding camps, but is not paid a salary, does not receive benefits and cannot go off-campus to recruit and evaluate. In early iterations, the aim was to add a third full-time assistant coach to that structure to address baseball’s ratio of players to coaches, which is among the worst in college sports.

By the time the final legislation reached the Division I Council to be voted on, however, it had been changed and instead of adding a coach, it would make the volunteer position a full-time one. It also would do the same in softball. That proposal failed last April in a close vote of the Council.

That defeat hasn’t led to the idea going away. Craig Keilitz, executive director of the ABCA, promised not to let the issue die. NCAA rules prohibit it from coming back up for a vote at the Council level until 2022.

When the proposal can be brought forward again, how would baseball coaches like it to read? This spring, we asked our panel of coaches if they would like to see legislation add a full-time position to staff and keep the volunteer position or convert the volunteer position to a full-time role.

Add full-time position and keep volunteer71 percent
Convert volunteer to full-time only19 percent
Other10 percent

Most coaches said they preferred to add a full-time position to staff. Coaches have long overwhelmingly favored a third full-time assistant coach, but in this survey made it clear their preference is to add a position to their staff, not just convert the volunteer position to a full-time one.

“Rather than simply making the volunteer full-time I think we need a fifth body for a couple reasons,” one coach said. “No. 1, we have worst ratio of coaches to student-athletes of any sport. No. 2, it’s really hard in our profession to develop young coaches. Having an extra full-time position and a volunteer in addition, it’ll allow us to grow the game and develop young coaches better.”

Those two points are the two most cited issues by head coaches when making the case for a third full-time assistant.

With three full-time coaches for 35 players, baseball’s player-to-coach ratio of 12-to-1, well behind basketball’s 4-to-1 and even softball’s 7-to-1. That number is a bit disingenuous, however, as volunteer coaches typically spend as much time with the players as anyone on the coaching staff – because they are not allowed off campus to recruit, meaning they never miss games or practices. But even counting them only drops the ratio to 8.75-to-1, which still rates below all other major team sports. Adding another assistant coach would allow for more and better instruction, as well as a better division of labor among the coaching staff.

Many programs make use of student assistant coaches to expand their coaching staffs, typically relying on former players who are finishing up their degrees for those positions. In recent years, former big leaguers Mark Davidson (Clemson) and Robin Ventura (Oklahoma State) have returned to campus in such a role.

But those positions are transitory by design and exclude anyone who has already completed their degree. That combination is prohibitive to some who would be otherwise interested in the profession. Adding a position to staff would keep more people in coaching.

“The potential of a third paid assistant and then a non-paid coach, whether it’s a volunteer or whatever, that would be beneficial because of the numbers we deal with,” another head coach said. “You’re not funding the (non-paid) position. You’re paying for it the same way we do now.”

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No matter which proposal coaches prefer, nearly everyone agrees that it is vital to allow more coaches the opportunity to recruit. Coaching’s entry level position is the volunteer role, but because they are not allowed to recruit off campus, they are unable to develop one of the most important skills to move up in the profession.

“One of our jobs as head coaches is to develop our assistants so they can move on, especially at the mid-major level,” said one coach who is in favor of converting the volunteer position to a full-time role. “(Recruiting is) how they’ll get experience. You want someone with that experience, so you know what they’re doing out there on the road.”

Ultimately, what direction the future of the third full-time assistant coach issue takes is going to have a lot to do with money. Adding a salary and benefits to a budget is costly, an issue that came up repeatedly during the last legislative fight (though the proposal wouldn’t have required schools to hire a third full-time assistant, it simply would have made it possible).

Many of the coaches who said they preferred converting the volunteer position to full-time did so at least in part due to pragmatism, believing that proposal is more likely to be approved, or because they know their school won’t expand its budget for a third full-time assistant and therefore couldn’t support a volunteer coach as well.

One coach lamented that adding a third full-time assistant in addition to the volunteer assistant would be the best option but said mid-major schools like his own wouldn’t fund it.

College baseball has time to figure out how it wants to proceed with any third full-time assistant proposal. But after last year’s defeat, it must find a proposal that will be approved by athletic directors around the country.

Head coaches have individual preferences, but one coach came up with perhaps the best answer to the question of whether future legislation should add a full-time position to staff and keep the volunteer position or convert the volunteer position to a full-time role.

“Any and all of the above,” he said.

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