Shotgun Spratling |

Is football all a game of numbers?

So what does the NCAA's football support staff survey tell us, as inexact as it is, and what will be coming in the near future as to limits to equalize the playing field? And how does USC stack up here?

It's all the rage now, talking about support staff size in college football. And maybe even doing something about it, which is the way we have to think's Dennis Dodd came into possession of a preliminary NCAA study comparing all 127 Division I programs by staff size including all coaches and support people.

Nice work by Dennis to get this out there in a column Monday with his exclusive look at the survey here although this is not an exact science obviously. Not when a quick glance shows these as the top five by the numbers the NCAA came up with by looking at the schools' official websites.

No. 1 with 45 is Notre Dame. Then come programs you would not be surprised to see listed in the top echelon: Texas (44), Georgia (42), Auburn (41) and Michigan (40).

Our guess is that the only way Notre Dame is No. 1 here is in the thoroughness of its website listing everyone properly. That would be the only explanation when people like Big-12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, chairman of the NCAA Oversight Committee that will probably be recommending limitations in staff sizes.over the next year, are throwing around numbers like "97," Dodd said, for one unnamed program's total football staffers.

We agree that there should be a caveat for these numbers. And it's a personal take here, as well as the NCAA's own cautionary note. Since the survey was done exclusively through a search of information available on school websites, maybe that's how Notre Dame has more support staff than Alabama, or that Alabama is barely in the top half of the SEC when it comes to support staff size, you can treat that information with some serious skepticism.

And that Alabama number, for example, 31 counting coaches and support people, is the same as the number credited for USC. Does anyone really believe USC and Alabama have the same number of football staffers? 

We tried to do this ourselves not that long ago, searching the online staff directories for support staff numbers at programs like Notre Dame, Alabama, Ohio State and even USC's for comparison and context. What we found made it clear there wasn't all that much connection to what we know about how this works with what is listed. And who does what with how many.

Do you really believe that in the SEC, Georgia, Auburn, Arkansas (36), South Carolina (34), Florida (33}, Mississippi State (32} have bigger football staffs than Alabama and that Ole Miss and Missouri have the same? Again, no one believes that.

As for USC, when you check the NCAA chart, USC is credited with just one person in strength and conditioning with a notation that it's not clear how many USC has there. That was the same with Alabama for what many believe is the most effective program in the nation with the highest-paid -- by far -- director.

But at least this is a start and something everybody in college football is going to be discussing now that the recruiting calendar has moved up a couple of months with an early signing date in December from February. Programs must now do more work in less time.

But the numbers downplaying Alabama's staff here, one that Dodd correctly notes that everyone in college football believes is bigger than everybody else's: "should be taken with a grain of salt," Dodd says.

"Six or seven grains of salt," he quotes Bowlsby. No kidding.

And in this case, we're on the NCAA's side as to where this is going. How can you say that an NCAA that limits the number of on-field and recruiting coaches to nine plus the head coach, grad assistants to four and strength and conditioning coaches to five, shouldn't also get a handle on how many "analysts," "consultants," "player relations" and "player personnel" types that tese programs should be allowed to have.

USC's 31, in this survey, is fourth-highest in the Pac-12 behind Washington's 35, UCLA's 33, Oregon State's 32 and tied with Arizona's 31. Other Pac-12 numbers: Arizona State 29, Stanford and Oregon, 28 each, Utah and Washington State, 25 each, and Cal, 20.

The survey also breaks down the numbers by conference with one surprise and one "no surprise." First the surprise. And maybe one more reason to be skeptical. The Big Ten has the largest staffs -- averaging 31.6 persons, just ahead of the SEC's 31.5. And yeah, we don't believe it either.

Here's what we do believe. Of the Power Five conferences, the Pac-12 is fifth -- at 28.6. That trails slightly the ACC's 29 and the Big 12's 28.8.

USC opening opponent Western Michigan, with 20 staffers, is slightly below the Mid-American Conference average of 21.5.

But another USC opponent, Texas, comes in with college athletics' highest budget of $160 million, according to Dodd, who includes a quote from Texas coach Tom Herman detailing his 17-person support staff: "Four grad assistants, four quality control guys, three in operations, one as our director of player development, three full-time in recruiting, three full-time in creative media."

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at

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