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Hey, Saban, NCAA is coming to limit your staff

Hey, Nick Saban, the NCAA is coming to limit the size of your football staff

Alabama is widely believed to have the largest staff in college football

by Dennis Dodd 


They're coming for you, Nick Saban. They're coming for you hard.

When NCAA Football Oversight Committee chairman Bob Bowlsby basically went out of his way Friday to say the association will take a "deep dive" into the size of football staffs, the NCAA's lasers were aimed directly at Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

No one really had to say that and -- in fact -- they didn't during a conference call to announce the early signing period. But it's a widely held assumption that Alabama has the largest staff in college football. We're not talking the nine on-field coaches allowed by the NCAA; we're talking about everybody.

Former Alabama offensive consultant Eric Kiesau provided a comprehensive inside look at the operation last year .

"It's a whole other section of the building," Kiesau told me. "There are guys, like students, who played football in high school and love Alabama. They watch recruiting film all day long. Then you have your top guys. They start making cut-ups so the assistant coaches are more efficient with their time."

The enduring image is of a highly-successful, efficiently-run, utterly brilliant football sweatshop. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.

This is an organization so cost-effective, former Washington and USC head coach Steve Sarkisian was paid $28,000 just to consult. Kiesau says the number of Alabama analysts and consultants assisting full-time assistants numbers 10-15.

Other coaches have told CBS Sports they suspect that number to be much higher.

One big problem: No one really knows what that number is -- or what it should be.

That's where staff size becomes an issue. To some, it is a symbol for the widening gap between the haves and have nots.

The voices from the coaching community are getting louder. If, for example, Minnesota can't afford one analyst and Alabama has an unlimited number, well, that's a competitive advantage.

If there is one thing coaches hate, it's being outspent before their teams can be outplayed.

"It's an unfair advantage," one Big Ten coach said. "It's completely ridiculous."

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy took it further.

"The mistake they're making is they don't have control of these analysts," he said. "It's ridiculous.

"I don't care what the number is, the analyst position is a good thing for coaches who got left out of the coaching search. We bring them in here and pay the $50,000. But there needs to be a limit. Why should one school have 15 and I have two?"

If you have any doubt this possible legislation is aimed at Alabama, consider Saban's almost immediate reaction last week.

"I guess it's the paranoia that we all have that somebody else is doing something that I am allowed to and everyone else is allowed to do," Saban told reporters, "but you choose to do it."

The have-nots continue to worry they will be spent into irrelevancy. Until further notice, those 65 Power Five schools need to play those Group of Five schools (Sun Belt, MAC, Conference USA, Mountain West, American) to pad their nonconference schedules.

But there is a reason the MAC lobbied hard for the 10th full-time assistant legislation to start in January. If it started now, there were genuine concerns Power Five schools would cherry pick the best and brightest assistants in the spring from the MAC and other Group of Five leagues.

But look who we quoted above -- two Power Five coaches. There is a simmering concern below the surface that the richest of the Power Five (SEC, Big Ten) have already caused some sort of financial separation at the top.

Since 2010, 10 of the 18 spots in the national championship (55.5 percent) have gone to those two conferences. They represent only 42 percent of the Power Five.

Bowlsby -- also Big 12 commissioner -- knows these knot of issues as oversight chairman. That's where any legislation would be vetted fully before formally proposed. He made a point Friday to say that deep dive into staff sizes began last week in Indianapolis.

"The coaches in the room basically said, 'We really don't care what anybody does during the week. We want to have a fair opportunity to compete on Saturday,'" Bowlsby said.

Former Texas coach Mack Brown used to complain about the number of school-trademarked "polo shirts" on the opposing sideline not wearing head phones. Who were they? What were they doing?

"We're seeing very large staffs," Bowlsby said. "We see non-coaching personnel doing coaching duties."

"In the end, we may or may not be able to make progress on it," he added this week. "The football community, at least a small number, are very interested in the topic."

Bowlsby reminded that football has one of the highest player-to-coach ratios in college sports -- about 12-1. (There has been no release of exact numbers by the oversight committee.) Look at your average basketball bench. There seem to be more assistants than players.

But let's not ignore the red elephant in the room.

You know any hint of such a rule change has Alabama implications. That's because of that immediate Saban reaction.

"All these people who complain about staff sizes," he told reporters, "we pay interns, really, really, little money, a very small amount of money.

"You would be shocked at how cheap the labor really is -- almost like criminal."

On one hand, Saban is right in suggesting he is "trying to promote the profession" and "develop guys." Alabama's coach has made an admirable habit of hiring down-on-their-luck coaches for analyst jobs.

On the other hand, whether it's four or 50, doesn't there have to be a limit on staff size? If not, we may one day have a uniform analyst checking sock length.

Bowlsby admitted any such limitation might face legal challenges. It's been 28 years since the NCAA foolishly lost a landmark case trying to limit the pay of entry-level coaches.

If there is one thing that gets the NCAA's antenna up, it's their possible legal liability.

"There's always the potential for legal challenge," Bowlsby said. "We need to be thoughtful about it and not necessarily go down the path of numerical limitations. There is more than one way around the block."

Yes, they're coming for you Nick. It also doesn't mean they'll be successful.

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