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NCAA Vote Transforms Volunteer Assistant Coach Into Full-Time Position

The NCAA’s Division I council on Wednesday approved legislation that transforms the volunteer assistant coach position in all sports and into a full-time, paid assistant coach. A separate measure, which would have added an additional assistant coach for baseball, hockey and softball, did not pass the council.

The votes mean that, starting in July when the NCAA’s new fiscal year begins, baseball coaching staffs will be allowed a head coach and three assistant coaches, all of whom will be allowed to perform on-field coaching and off-campus recruiting.

While the measure to add a fourth assistant coach ended in defeat, the day was still an overall success for college baseball. The sport’s efforts to add a third assistant coach stretch back years. The American Baseball Coaches Association has long campaigned for it and in 2015 found that 85% of Division I head coaches supported the measure. A proposal to transform baseball and softball’s volunteer assistant position into a full-time, paid assistant coach was voted on by the Division I council in 2019, but was narrowly defeated.

This time, however, the same body came to a different conclusion. So, what was different four years later? Chiefly, the recommendation came from the NCAA’s Transformation Committee, which was formed a year ago following the adoption of a new NCAA constitution. The Transformation Committee was tasked with looking at all aspects of Division I and examining ways to modernize the organization and streamline the way it operates. Volunteer assistant coaches were one of the areas the Transformation Committee highlighted for change.

The term “volunteer coach” is a misnomer created by the NCAA rulebook. NCAA rules allow teams to have three full-time coaches—typically that means one head coach and two full-time, salaried assistants. Each team is also allowed a volunteer assistant, who cannot be salaried or receive benefits. But they are not true volunteers either. Their position is funded by revenue generated by events like camps and clinics.

At a school that can hold big camps (usually those in a major conference or near populous areas), the volunteer coach can make a solid living, albeit a benefits-free one. But at a school without those advantages, the volunteer assistant often makes more of a spartan existence to break into coaching. Many are earning less than $15,000 a year.

The organization unilaterally creating rules that restricted the earnings of volunteer assistants created potential legal concerns. Now, the designation will go away, and hundreds of coaches will be allowed to receive benefits, a potentially life-altering change, and will be allowed to recruit off-campus, which will give them valuable experience as they look to advance their careers.

Following the failed vote in 2019, the issue of volunteer assistants became a flashpoint in baseball. At the 2019 College World Series, Mississippi State center fielder Jake Mangum and Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin both used time during their press conferences to speak passionately about the need for change. But the pandemic and the NCAA's own Constitutional process pushed most other legislation to the back burner.

The Transformation Committee brought the issue back to the fore, leading to Wednesday’s vote. For many in college baseball, the sentiment is better late than never. Still, it’s important to remember that Wednesday’s decision will have potentially life-changing impact for many assistant coaches and those who would like to become assistant coaches, but weren’t sure they would be able to financially chase those dreams.

Hunter Hollan (Photo By Wesley Hitt Getty Images)

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