College Swimming is Bleeding Coaches

When I go out on the road, I always start by telling a group my story. Part of it goes like this: since age 14 I dreamed of being a swim coach, and then eventually a college swim coach. The appeal was intoxicating and I’ve written about it in many shapes and forms.

There is, however, a trend in college swim coaching that has started to deeply trouble me. Especially this last off-season, it seemed like there was less and less competition for what should be considered “high-end” jobs, and jobs down the line that struggle to get filled.

Reader Mark Dziak, bolstered that belief with some data, and I want to dive more into with him. Before I do that, let me tell you what I’ve observed in the college coaching landscape that I think is contributing to stories like this one.

Salary Stagnation

Swim coaching was never an occupation that promised great riches. Unless you are a shameless grifter like Sean Hutchison, it’s pretty hard to make a lot of money in swimming.

That said, the already mediocre salary of being a college swim coach has stagnated seriously. Just look at the Western Illinois salary that SwimSwam so kindly reported in the above article. $39,000, no matter where you live in the United States, is a tough putt financially. I’ve seen salaries even lower for combined D1 programs ($20-25k).

And we’re talking head coaching salaries. If you’re lucky enough to have paid assistant coaches at such a low paying job to help ease the burden, chances are they are even more severely underpaid.

I have to believe part of this has to do with many swimming programs fearing the threat of a complete funding cut. Athletic Directors have had the sport over the barrel for quite some time, many trying to see how low they can bring costs without the hassle of cutting a program out right.

Now there’s a scenario where such salaries could be manageable. Perhaps if the job itself offered a lot of flexibility, reasonable hours, etc. Unfortunately

Growing Responsibility

I have a confession to make, that I’ll only allow now that I’m many years away from being employed by a college. The job was not that hard. My first year as a “full-time” assistant coach I made $38,000, and stayed there for a couple years, before finishing with a salary of $44,000 in the 2012-2013 season.

I was ok with the relatively low salary (vs many professional careers). It was higher than many assistant coaching salaries, and plus the job was fun and not exceedingly hard. Sure we worked nights and mornings and plenty of weekends, but a lot of the work could be done fairly efficiently and offer some flexibility.

However, things have changed. Recruiting is getting harder by the year, a process compounded by the off-season changes that effectively doubled the work for many coaches. NCAA compliance hardly ever gets easier, and the constant envelope pushing at the top (plus its trickle down effect) has expanded many of these jobs.

So you have a general situation where salaries are stagnating and the amount of work is increasing. No wonder many people are choosing to leave the profession, despite the fact that they probably got into because they loved the work and the sport.

Of course, there is one final factor I’ve noticed. This one is near and dear to my heart living in the immediate vicinity of Manhattan:

Housing Costs

Housing costs have soared in many college towns, making once affordable communities practically untenable for the coaches who would work there. Look at two “big” jobs that opened up this past season: Stanford and UNC.

You don’t need any kind of data to know that the area around Stanford has seen some explosive growth in housing costs over the last decade plus. Home price indexes for the area have more than doubled since 2012. This is the single biggest cost of living for most any person, and compensation has not matched this kind of growth.

Even at UNC, the Chapel Hill/Durham area has seen over 50% growth in housing indexes.

So if you’re wondering what the heck is going on that as many as 17 collegiate programs now have students on campus but no coach, this is my best take so far. Look for more as we progress.