Not As Easy As It Looks

After reading about Arkansas – Pine Bluff’s problems with the NCAA a simple thought struck me about the whole business of running an athletic department and especially one with football.

It’s not as easy as it looks.

One of those message board ideas that pop up from time to time (looking at you Sun Belt Board especially) is floating the idea of various schools adding football. Whether it be UALR, Texas-Arlington or some school you aren’t quite sure isn’t a made up name, some people will throw out the idea, School X should add football.

Some people seem to think you hire a coach, get a football and some uniforms and you are all set.

Adding football can be the right decision for a school but the investment is huge.

Playing at the FBS level, figure $3 million a year even though not all of that will be in the athletic budget. Some of that will be costs on the athletic side. Those are just the annual recurring costs.

You also have some capital costs to get going.

You need a place to practice. At a minimum you need about 2.5 acres (at least 360 feet in one direction) call it three acres with parking. Of that 1.3 acres either has to have a good quality grass planted and maintained with irrigation or an artificial surface. Ideally you will have lights for the practice area unless you have unfettered access to your stadium.

If your school is normal, you don’t have a space where 105 football players can lift weights and receive physical therapy or other such services so you need a building and it has to have enough equipment including weights, treadmills, whirlpools, etc.

Not only do you have to buy enough helmets pads and home and away uniforms for 100+ players, you need a place to store them. That junk room in the athletic offices won’t cut it.

In addition to the head coach and assistants and GA’s and a few administrative assistants to ride herd over them, you need a couple good quality digital video cameras (press box and end zone view) and pay someone to run those cameras. Each coach and GA (and if you can afford them, quality control assistants) needs a computer that can handle large video files easily so film can be broken down and you want large monitors for viewing that film. If you are doing it right, you are breaking down film by multiple data points and need specially designed software to ease the job. In a perfect world you also have tablets like iPads for film review and the playbook and a set-up to share those data files with players using their own iPads.

You also need more trainers to deal with the therapy and medical needs of so many players. Add to that people to take care of all that equipment. In addition to that space to hold equipment include space for repairs and maintenance on the gear and laundry equipment to clean all those uniforms.

On top of the computers and tablets add more than a dozen people to cell phone plans because all of the coaches and other key people within your new football program need to be accessible at all times.

Travel is a constant headache. Play it conservative and you ONLY take about 80 people on the road with you and you are going to feed them two or more meals. Your hotel needs meeting space for team and hopefully position meetings. Hauling all of the equipment isn’t easy either. Notice most schools use a tractor trailer combo to haul equipment on the road and you need a CDL license to drive it.

Travel woes don’t end there. Coaches go out several times a year on recruiting visits so you are paying for their meals, hotels and travel expenses. If they fly add a rental car and remember most coaches are former players so many can’t just rent that cheaply priced sub-compact, you have to pay more for a full-sized car or an SUV.

Just go ahead and assume you need someone working for the athletic department on the admin side to deal with scheduling and the travel plans. Someone to be in charge of game day management coordinating everything from parking to security to when the teams come out, to amenities for game officials and their transportation, to concessions, and managing what announcements happen when. Throw on top of that a minimum of one more sports information department staffer.

A place to play would be important as well. Building a stadium? Figure around $50 million. Lucky enough to have a local stadium that is viable? Worst case you pay rent. Best case the operator allows free use but you have to give up the concession revenue, most or all parking revenue, and will likely be limited in what advertisements and signs you can have (stadium has a Coca-Cola contract? Forget that great offer from Pepsi for signs). Wait… wait… wait…. What does ANY of that have to do with UAPB going on probation.

Well I’m getting there.

The main problem UAPB had was improperly certifying student-athletes as eligible. They certified nearly 90 more athletes improperly than AState did when the Red Wolves had their own NCAA problem.

That does not mean the players were not eligible, for example only one athlete at AState ended up not being eligible, but the certification was either calculated wrong or in some cases a player was not making adequate degree progress in their declared major but a change in declaration would have resulted in being eligible.

You have to have a sufficient number of academic advisors for a football team. If you don’t have at least two for football you are asking for trouble (AState had three just for football last I knew). These people have to be a wealth of knowledge because they have to be completely familiar with the university’s rules to obtain a degree in a major, the school’s own rules on eligibility AND the NCAA degree progress rules. They have to know if a class is only offered one time a year and make sure the class is taken, especially when it is a prerequisite for another class.

While the NCAA report on UAPB is not clear, it is likely that part of their problem came not from the athletic department but from over on the academic side.

Arkansas State, FIU, and others having certification issues saw part of the problem coming from the registrar’s office improperly calculating (under NCAA rules) because they didn’t know the differences. AState has a person in the office whose primary job is dealing with that and knows the NCAA stuff. If a team’s APR hits a certain level a coach isn’t even allowed to extend a scholarship offer without the prospect being checked out. When you are dealing with juco transfers you really have to have knowledgeable people involved because often an athlete rolls in with a good juco GPA but half their classes may not transfer, all of sudden that kid with 60 hours of credit and a 2.9 GPA only has 42 countable hours and only a 2.3 GPA in classes that count.

Athletics, especially football is a large commitment. It doesn’t just take a lot of good players it requires a big university commitment to have adequate staffing and facilities. Lack that commitment and if you are lucky you struggle on the field and if you aren’t lucky you embarrass the school by drawing unwanted attention.

Keep that in mind the next time you hear some random name thrown as a potential school to add football or when some unfortunate school ends up in the dog house because they have failed to take care of routine administrative tasks.