Volunteer vote music to coaches’ ears

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ full-time baseball and softball coaching staff will be expanded later this year.

The NCAA Division I Council on Wednesday eliminated designated “volunteer” coach positions in baseball, softball and ice hockey and could add a third full-time assistant coach to those sports beginning July 1. It was passed to do so. Allowed a fourth assistant coach in those sports.

Baseball and softball are among the 19 sports sponsored by the Razorbacks. The university also has club ice hockey teams that are unaffiliated with the track and field and do not compete within the framework of the NCAA.

Arkansas baseball head coach Dave Van Horn and softball head coach Courtney Diffel are lobbying for changes to the size of the coaching staff, which is currently limited to one head coach and two assistants. . A previous proposal to increase the size of the staff was rejected in 2019.

Volunteer coaches perform many of the same duties as full-time assistants, but are not compensated for their work or provided with medical benefits. They earn a living by working as counselors in team-run camps and by teaching youth tutoring.

“I think it’s a big first move to some big changes that I think need to happen in our sport,” Deifel said. We’re asking someone for a level commitment and doing it for free or getting paid through camp to offset the obligations that student-athletes receive. , to be able to do those things and then be in a position to share a little more of the duties, that’s really big for our sport and for our program.”

With 35 players in a season, Van Horn says there is a disproportionate number of coaches to baseball’s players, which is nearly 12 times the number of full-time coaches. The new rules bring that ratio down to about nine players per coach.

By comparison, a football staff of 11 full-time coaches, including the head coach, oversees a roster of 110 people, a 10-to-1 ratio. In men’s basketball, including the head coach, he has four full-time coaches and his 15-man roster, a ratio less than his 4-to-1.

Razorbacks baseball hitting coach and recruitment coordinator Nate Thompson was a volunteer assistant coach in Nebraska from 2008-2010. He said he remembers hearing about the abolition of volunteer positions 20 years ago.

“There are so many volunteers doing this work, it’s like a full-time job with no benefits,” Thompson said.

It’s too early to know who the Razorbacks will hire to fill the third assistant position on the baseball and softball staff. Programs in some of these sports are expected to improve existing volunteer coaches.

Former Razorback player Bobby Warness is in his third season as a volunteer baseball coach, and the softball team has a first-year volunteer in former Arizona standout Reyna Karanco.

“I think the biggest thing about voting is getting another player.

Wernes gained recruiting experience last summer after receiving a waiver from the NCAA.

“I think Bobby is doing a great job,” said Van Horn. “The players love him. We feel he can coach and hiring is what he wants to do.

“Bobby turned down two or three professional jobs here every year, one of which makes a lot of money…There are some really big jobs to stay here.”

The Arkansas Baseball Volunteer status has been the starting point for several coaches to advance their careers. Among those with that title on their resumes are Chris Currie, head coach of Little Rock, Arkansas, Josh Elander, hitting coach of Tennessee, and most recently after four seasons as an assistant coach. , has Craig Parry, who was hired to the position of hitting coordinator in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. at Abilene Christian.

“I feel very lucky to be able to do this here,” Vernes said. “I know there are a lot of people who would love to be in this position.”

Volunteer positions are under scrutiny not only by coaches, but by courts as well. This is at the center of a class action lawsuit filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of California in November 2022.

Taylor Smart, who volunteered in Arkansas during the 2019 and 2020 seasons, has been named a plaintiff in Smart et al v. NCAA, which alleges the NCAA illegally locks in the income of volunteer assistants.

The 20-page lawsuit seeks monetary damages in amounts proven at trial and seeks to change NCAA rules related to coaching staff size.

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