Around this time of year in college athletics, there is no shortage of football coaches making moves to different schools across the country. Whether its coaches getting hired, fired, promoted, or demoted, the informally titled “coaching carousel” spins out of control. Sticking to that theme, another group of coaches decided it was time for them to make a major move for their careers. However, these aren’t football coaches looking for the next big-time job for their careers. They’re volunteer baseball coaches seeking much-needed respect when it comes to their pay.
While major college football programs employ ten on-field coaches and an unlimited number of “analysts” in off-field roles, the NCAA imposes a limit on how many on-field coaches a baseball program can have. Currently, college baseball programs are only allowed to pay three coaches: the head coach and two assistants (usually a pitching coach and a hitting coach). Because of the demands of developing players, preparing scouting reports, recruiting, and other organizational responsibilities, many programs employ a fourth coach to help handle the load. However, because of the NCAA rule, these coaches are prohibited from receiving payment and are often referred to as “volunteer assistants.”
While these volunteer assistant roles can often serve as a springboard for younger coaches to develop their skills and hopefully land full-time roles in the future, the compensation of $0 in no way reflects the responsibilities and time demands of the position. While volunteer coaches are prohibited from recruiting away from campus, many of them perform essential functions that help a college baseball program run at maximum efficiency. When you flip on the College World Series every summer and watch programs like Vanderbilt or Ole Miss win national championships, the volunteer coaches likely played a major role. However, they don’t see a dime from their respective schools.
Hopefully, the unfortunate reality could change in the near future. This week, Division I volunteer baseball coaches filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of California alleging the NCAA illegally limits the number of paid baseball coaches a team can hire and also illegally price fixes a volunteer coach’s salary (at $0).
Long before this lawsuit was issued, there has been a push by many involved in college baseball to add a fourth paid coach. But each time the issue has gone to vote at the Division I Council, it has been shot down. If power conferences that invest heavily into baseball had their druthers, the cap on paid coaches would’ve been lifted long ago. But because many athletic administrators at schools where baseball isn’t as big of a deal to have shot it down, it hasn’t received a majority vote.
This lawsuit though can and hopefully will put an end to this mess. The plaintiffs for Smart et al. v. NCAA, which is seeking class certification, include Arkansas coach Taylor Smart and UC Davis coach Michael Hacker.
Our own Dan Lust told Front Office Sports’ Amanda Christovich that the NCAA’s rule “could potentially be seen as an unlawful restraint and baseball provides a potentially appealing case for two reasons. A successful class action needs to have a “narrow” group, which is aided by limiting the lawsuit to one sport. And given that baseball coaching salaries are higher than many other sports, the potential damages for limiting compensation are higher. Lust also added that NCAA v. Alston likely paved the way for the complaint to be filed now because it ruled that the NCAA is subject to antitrust scrutiny.
I’ve written about this issue in the past for our site before there was even a lawsuit involved. The expectation back then was that the three-paid coaches cap would likely be increased soon. Lawsuits like these make that speculation even more valid. It will be interesting to follow this case as it develops.
Brendan can be found on Twitter @_bbell5