Who makes up an NCAA coaching staff?
The GIST: A program’s most visible representatives, other than its players, are its coaches. But it’s not just the head coach (HC) leading these squads — for many teams, there’s a whole crew supporting the skipper, and graduate assistants do most of the grunt work.
How it works: Unless you’re a prodigy like UNC field hockey HC Erin Matson, those aspiring to helm a major university sports program usually begin as grad assistants. They pursue graduate degrees while supporting a team’s coaching staff, doing anything and everything required of them. It’s tough work with long hours, and it’s notoriously low-paying.
- Despite being college grads and, sometimes, even former pro athletes, grad assistants earn little more than minimum wage — if they’re paid at all.
- This is, in part, because the NCAA regulates the number of coaches a team can have and what duties those coaches may perform. A part-time coaching corps helps skirt these regulations, but the terrible hours and pay are becoming major labor concerns.
The challenges: This is an especially tough look for the most affluent programs, who often pay their top HCs ungodly amounts of money. Legendary Alabama football HC Nick Saban took home a cool $10.9M last season alone, while his Texas A&M peer Jimbo Fisher earned $9M (good for seventh in the country) despite his Aggies' abysmal 2-6 SEC record.
- Elite coaches’ exorbitant salaries have long been a point of contention in the debate over athlete compensation, but they’re also appalling in the context of their grad assistants’ near-poverty wages.
Zooming out: The problem of grad assistant pay reaches far beyond the fields and the courts, permeating academia as a whole. Just this spring, Michigan’s academic grad assistants went on strike, seeking a measly 60% increase on their existing $24K salary, plus free tuition — while football HC Jim Harbaugh pocketed $8.11M last year. Shameful.
- The common thread in all three of the aforementioned roles? From the desperate attempts to comply with NIL rules to the number of trainers on Grotts’ staff, big money rules college sports, and the gap between the haves and have-nots is only widening.