College Football’s New Secret Weapon: Coaches Who Don’t Coach

“They’re involved in the organization,” Saban said in January. “That’s where they make their contribution, in the coaching meetings. They’re not really allowed to be involved with the team.”

While Alabama was a trailblazer in employing analysts to supplement the official staff, it is not alone. Texas has four quality-control coaches and a bevy of other noncoaching football staff members. Auburn’s roster of analysts includes the veteran offensive coordinator Al Borges. And after a fruitful N.F.L. career, the onetime wide receiver Brian Hartline recently returned to his alma mater as one of Ohio State’s quality-control coaches.

“They call it best practices,” said Tom Herman, the new coach at Texas. “You go to Alabama, you go to Ohio State, you go to Clemson, you say: ‘What do you got? What’re you doing?’ And one of the things that certainly jumped off the page was the amount of support staff those elite programs had both in recruiting and off-the-field analysts.

“If we say we want to compete on the field with those teams,” Herman added, “we have to do business the way business is done.”

But as that word “business” hints, the trend highlights how college football’s best programs, which are nearly synonymous with its richest ones, have entrenched advantages in a system ostensibly designed to maintain competitive equity. The N.C.A.A. has long billed caps on compensating players as important for ensuring parity, with the organization’s president, Mark Emmert, testifying three years ago in a pivotal class-action lawsuit that the amateur model was “essential” to competitive balance.

Critics characterize that supposed motivation as a fig leaf. They note the country’s richer teams have been able to realize higher returns, in the form of wins, on higher investments, in the form of perks like better coaches and better facilities, even amid…

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