Full-time Assistant Coaches help fuel on-court success

The explosion of basketball as core-following sport in Canada has gained mainstream focus with the popularity of the NBA’s Raptors and, more importantly, in the participation rates at all levels across the country.  The ripple effects on the growth of Canadian university basketball are also clearly evident including the important but generally under-rated aspect targeting more financial resources at Varsity basketball coaching staffs.

Virtually all U-Sport men’s basketball Head Coaches now have full-time salaries and responsibilities – with this piece we take a look at the overall coaching budget, focusing on Assistant Coaches.  Notably, the data shows a meaningful correlation between Assistant Coaching budgets and success on the floor.

Coaching at the CIAU/CIS/U-Sport level has evolved considerably:  25+ years ago, a typical “staff” consisted of a “full-time hours, part-time-paid” Head Coach with no Assistants or a skeleton staff of one part-time/volunteer helper, paltry recruiting budgets and a generally, glorified intramural-esque approach to program building.  Assistant coach/volunteer “honorariums” usually maxed out at a coaching golf shirt – getting “geared up” in contemporary parlance – and coverage on the odd greasy-spoon road meal.  Multiple Assistant coaching staffs were rare; I recall a conversation with one prominent Head Coach about 20 years ago, where said Coach gently ridiculed a rival program for having an “empire of three assistant coaches”.

As Canadian university coaches became more sophisticated in their program building and the popularity of the game grew, multiple Assistant Coaches on a staff became the norm however compensation for those volunteers generally remained muted with small honorariums of a few thousand dollars max even for the most extravagant programs.  Fast forward to present day and many U-Sport men’s programs now employ at least three and in some cases more, paid Assistants with specific responsibilities and budgets for these positions are generally climbing.

Intuitively, but previously not confirmed by empirical evidence, programs that make larger financial commitments to compensating their coaching staffs are generally thought to have greater success.  As you will see below, our work confirms this assertion.

Using data gathered from 90%+ of the U-Sport men’s programs in the country, our gut-feel anecdotes were validated:  teams with full-time assistants generally had more success on the floor than those without.

To help explain our conclusions, we will first take you through how we organized and analyzed the data, as follows:

Data was organized into the following four Assistant Coaches budget categories:

  • Full-time Assistants with “full-time salary” budgets ($50K per year or more)
    • 20% of reported programs
  • Full-time Assistants with “part-time salary” budgets ($30K-$49K per year)
    • 15% of reported programs
  • Part-time Assistants with Honorarium-like stipends ($5K-$29K per year)
    • 38% of reporting programs
  • Negligible to no Assistant budgets (less than $5K per year)
    • 27% of reporting programs

The data showed that just over one in three programs (35%) on a national scale have what we describe as a “Full-time” Assistant coach’s budget while about two in three programs get by with honorariums, usually maxing out at $10K-$12K for the “lead” assistant.

Note that a majority of the programs under the category “Part-time Assistants with Honorarium-like stipends” spread their entire budget across multiple coaches – some equally, others with more provided to the “lead” assistant.  However, in every case, our data showed that the “lead” Assistant garnered no more than $10-12K.  At the lower end, 30% of reporting programs had entire budgets of $5K or less and in some cases budget was zero.

The key conclusions reached:

  • Focusing on the top two categories – budgets of $30K or higher:
    • 43% of the programs in these higher investment categories participated in the 2016 Final 8.
    • ~65% of the programs made at least one appearance at the Final 8 over the past 5 seasons.
      • In fact, in each of the past four Final 8’s, the field consisted of at least 5 teams that fit our definition of “Full-Time Assistants”
    • almost 80% of teams in this category had won/lost records of >.500 last season and thus far this season
  • Of the roughly 30 teams in the less than $5K to $29K categories:
    • only 4 had made an appearance at the CIS Final 8 in the past 5 seasons
    • only ~20% of teams in 2015-16 and ~25% of teams in 2016-17 had overall won/lost records > .500 in 2015-16.

All that said, identifying that stronger investment in a coaching staff is likely to lead to more success on the floor was the easy part.  Funding the investment can be more challenging.  While the tendency could be for coaches to run to their AD’s with this material, seeking money, in practice there are more conciliatory approaches that could work.

One potential solution is to build toward a target annual level using multiple income streams.  For example, getting to a $50K annual Assistant’s budget could be funded by a multi-year drive to get to a model such as:

  • $10K commitment from the University/Athletic Department
  • $15K fundraising
  • Endowment fund of $500K, which, at 5% annual return, applies another $25K annually to that budget.

Certainly by Canadian university standards, the above model could be presently regarded as ambitious.  However, it would be interesting to understand how many programs across the country have actually attempted to do so by allocating time and resources to a fund raising program – properly packaged and marketed – and jointly driven by the Athletic Department, Development office, Head Coach and Alumni representatives.  If it hasn’t been tried yet, it is tough to say it won’t work.

We hope that this material stimulates positive, progressive discussions on the way to making U-Sport basketball an even better, more valuable sport property.






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