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The Athletic Industrial Complex; Group of 5 Folly; Saban Speaks

Back when I worked in the Stanford athletic department, things were pretty simple. We had a Sports Information Director, with an assistant and a secretary, who handled over 30 sports. 

Now the SID is basically an administrator, with "communications directors" for the various sports. Today, Most Power Four Conferences have at least 10 people in their SID office.

But that's small potatoes compared to what's happened in the administrative ranks.

When I was Associate Athletic Director at Stanford, there was the AD (Andy Geiger), three Associate ADs (Doug Single, Alan Cummings and me) and one Assistant AD (Jim Gaughran). Now Stanford has more than 30 people with those titles.

The administrative bloat has extended throughout the department.

According to the current published staff directory, Stanford now has 19 people in fund-raising, 25 in facilities and operations, 45 in recreation and wellness, 36 in sports medicine and training,16 in sports performance, and 10 in equipment.

Then there are the coaching staffs for 36 varsity sports, which have also ballooned in recent years.


According to the Stanford Review, the number of athletic department employees grew from 85 in 1984 to 245 by 2017. My unofficial count for this year is well over 300.

And Stanford's is far from the country's biggest administrative staff.

Some athletic departments have grown so bloated that they need a "Chief of Staff," a "Chief Operating Officer", several "Deputy Athletic Directors" and countless "Associate" and "Assistant Athletic Directors."

The titles have gotten downright silly. Within each division (Deputy, Associate, and Assistant), there are additional titles, such as "Executive" and "Senior." Sometimes, there are even "Senior Executives," just to keep the org chart straight.

Last week a fellow at Arizona, who was Senior Associate Athletic Director for Administration and Institutional Control, moved to Oregon State, where he will be Executive Deputy Athletic Director and Chief Operating Officer. 

Unfortunately, the "institutional control" was minimal at Arizona, which is why the athletic department is in dire straits. 

In fact, every athletic department in the Pac-12 other than Oregon operated at an eight-figure deficit last year.

Why? The personnel costs are killing them.

Get Smart: I've often written about the astronomical escalation in coaching salaries. And it continues apace. Last week Georgia football coach Kirby Smart got a two-year extension at $13 million per year.

It would be laughable if it weren't so ridiculous.

Group of Five Folly: Speaking of ridiculous, a few commissioners from the Group of Five Conferences (American Athletic, Mountain West, Conference USA, Mid-American and Sun Belt) have floated the idea of holding their own football playoff.

Let me get this straight: with their highest ranked conference champion headed to the expanded 12-team College Football Playoff, the Group of Five would hold a separate playoff to determine--drumroll please--who's the second best team in their Group?

Seriously? Who would care? Who would watch?

Nobody I know.

Saban Speaks: For many years I wasn't a big fan of Alabama coach Nick Saban. He was a great coach, yes. But in earlier times his sour demeanor and "take no prisoners" workplace demands that forced many staffers to look for a new job left me cold.

As Saban mellowed over the years, I started to warm to him.

And in recent years, his observations about the changes in college sports have been spot on.

Saban and a number of other great college coaches have recently retired or fled to the pro ranks. Think Tara VanDerveer, Coach K, Jay Wright, Roy Williams and Jim Harbaugh

This is a direct reflection on how the new NIL/transfer portal era has made coaching less about developing athletes and impacting young lives, and more about writing checks and re-recruiting your players every year.

In a recent speech, Saban talked about how things have changed:

"All venues have some guidelines and rules that create some kind of competitive balance, which right now, we don't have in college athletics. It’s whoever wants to pay the most money, raise the most money, buy the most players, is going to have the best opportunity to win.

“All these things that I believed in, for all these years, 50 years of coaching, no longer exist in college athletics. It was always about developing players, it was always about helping people be more successful in life.”

Saban also shared an anecdote about his wife, Terry, approaching him before he retired, saying: “All they care about is how much you’re going to pay them. They don’t care about how you’re going to develop them, which is what we’ve always done, so why are we doing this?”

Excellent question.


John Macaulay
John Macaulay

Gary, your insightful observations are "spot on" and exemplify the lie about collegiate athletics (that there exists the concept of amateurism. Reading your references to the past when we crossed paths at Stanford versus the current horrendous state of affairs in collegiate athletics is nostalgic but also underscores how the almighty $ has led to a ruination.

Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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