Craig Keilitz, Kevin Lennon, Anthony Holman and Ray Tanner

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ABCA Rallies Support For Third Assistant

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — College baseball has the worst coach-to-player ratio of any Division I sport, and finally there is a proposal in the legislative pipeline that would do something about it. But unless coaches mobilize in force to lobby their athletic directors in advance of the April Board of Directors vote, the proposal is doomed to fail.

That’s the message American Baseball Coaches Association executive director Craig Keilitz is working hard to spread this fall. College baseball programs finally have a real chance to add a third full-time assistant coach to their staffs, and it is imperative that coaches capitalize upon this opportunity, for the good of coaches as well as players.

Under the proposal submitted by the SEC and approved last week by the student-athlete experience committee, D-I teams will have the option to replace their volunteer assistant with a third full-time assistant coach, or turn that position into a graduate assistant job or a part-time job, whatever the school can afford. Currently, volunteer assistants can receive income generated by camps, but they receive no benefits and they are not allowed to go out recruiting, leaving more of a travel burden upon the two full-time assistants and the head coach. Adding a third full-time coach would spread out that travel burden, and help keep assistants at home to spend more time with their players, as well as their families.

Currently, college baseball is allowed three full-time coaches for a 35-man roster — a 12:1 player-to-coach ratio. The next-worst ratio is men’s and women’s soccer at 8:1 — so even if this proposal passes, college baseball will still have the worst ratio (8.75:1). That data should help coaches sell this proposal to their ADs.

“The numbers don’t lie, our ratio is so bad. Baseball has done such a great job academically, TV-wise, our national championship, on campus, I just can’t imagine people voting against this when you look at that. … I was talking to a coach the other day, he said, ‘I know my AD’s gonna say, Well, once we add this for baseball, all the other sports will ask for another assistant. How do I answer that question?’ He can say, ‘Our ratio is still worse than the other sports.’ So an AD can tell his track or volleyball coach, ‘Hey listen, your ratio is fine.’ We want to arm our coaches with things they can say to their AD.”

This is a baseball and softball joint proposal, which helps alleviate any concerns about gender equity (although softball’s player-to-coach ratio is currently 7:1, far better than baseball’s 12:1). Keilitz is optimistic that the joint venture with softball will make this proposal more likely to pass, even though it doubles the cost of the proposal.

But recently, Keilitz has detected some pushback from smaller-budget programs that are afraid this proposal will put them at a further disadvantage, because they can’t afford to add another full-time position (indeed, plenty of programs already have fewer than the two full-time assistants they are allowed).

“This is not a haves and have-nots issue, this is the right thing to do for our student-athletes,” Keilitz said. “Where our sport of baseball has come so far, we deserve to have another coach.”

South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner, a former coach and now the chairman of the Division I Baseball Committee, helped spearhead this proposal. Now another SEC coach, Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan, has emerged as a prominent, vocal supporter of the proposal, helping Keilitz lead the charge to educate coaches about it and prompt them to discuss it with their ADs.

“To not pay another assistant, have somebody else on the road — they keep talking about quality of life. Where’s the next generation of coaches going to come from?” O’Sullivan said. “I’m just shocked no one has raised a stink about the 12:1 ratio.”

O’Sullivan said Cal State Fullerton coach Rick Vanderhook suggested picking out some influential coaches from all 31 conferences and calling them directly to generate more support.

“I’ve been telling them, ‘You’ve got to talk to your ADs, we can’t let this thing go,’” O’Sullivan said. “This is the first piece of legislation we’ve ever tried to pass tied to softball. It’s the right thing to do. … Even if you don’t have money, you still get the advantage of having another set of eyes on the road. It’s better than the position we’re in.”

It’s very important to note that under this proposal, schools that hire a third full-time assistant are not gaining an additional coach — they’re simply converting their volunteer position into a full-time role. There really is no real downside for smaller-budget schools. There is only upside for the sport, by creating more opportunities for young coaches to make a living, by taking some of the recruiting burden off other coaches, and by improving the student-athlete experience through a reduction in the player-to-coach ratio.

“The one thing that we’ve talked with head coaches about is taking the volunteer to a full-time assistant doesn’t change anybody’s situation if it passes or doesn’t pass,” Keilitz said. “So if your school is not paying for it right now, and an SEC school is paying a considerable amount out of their summer camps for that coach, they’re still going to do that if it doesn’t pass, and if it does pass they’ll probably pay the same amount, I would think. So you’re still in the same situation.”

“We know it’s the right thing to do for the benefit of our student-athletes, but this is one of the most important things the ABCA can work towards to help assistant coaches get that next opportunity, so we’re really excited about this. I don’t think this has any chance of passing — any chance — unless the coaches talk with their ADs and talk about the current situation and say that you have options. You have options to make it a GA or a volunteer or a lower-paid part time or make it full time, you all have that option. Nobody is getting a competitive advantage if it doesn’t pass or passes, it’s only better for baseball.”

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