College athletes stand to gain greater flexibility regarding the time they are required to spend on their sports under a broad set of concepts unveiled Thursday by the Power Five conferences.
The concepts include preventing schools from counting a travel day as the day off athletes are required to receive during the season, as well as provisions for additional time off and an eight-hour overnight period in which no required activities can occur.
Equally important, according to a joint statement released by the conferences, “head coaches and athletic directors will be required to work with the students on a plan so all parties are aware of anticipated time that will be committed to athletically related activities.” In addition, the definition of what constitutes a required athletically related activity will be expanded so it includes media requirements, mandatory community service and other obligations.
Under current NCAA rules, during a playing season and while school is in session, athletes are supposed to spend no more than 20 hours a week on required athletic activities. In sports other than football, that limit drops to eight hours per week during the offseason. But schools end up complying with the in-season limit, in part, through computation rules such as all competition and associated activities on the day of competition counting as three hours against the limit regardless of the actual duration of the competition and activities. In addition, a travel day that includes no athletic activities can be counted as the one day off per week that is required for athletes during the season.
Numerous surveys of athletes have shown that they spend far more than 20 hours per week on their sports during the season.
The conferences’ move Thursday rises from a resolution they passed at the 2016 NCAA convention in which they agreed to develop legislative proposals for the 2017 convention relating to three areas:
►A ban on required activity for a consecutive eight-hour period overnight.
►A period at the ends of seasons in which no required activities can occur.
►Taking travel into consideration when determining athletes’ required weekly day off during the season.
In addition to travel days not being counted as a day off, under the concepts released Thursday:
►Athletes would receive an additional 14 days during which they would be free from any required athletic activity. These days could be taken during the season or during the offseason, but they would have to be taken during the academic year.
►Teams would not be allowed to hold required athletic activities during a consecutive eight-hour period that would have to fall between 9 PM and 6 AM.
►Except in spring sports whose seasons end during the summer, athletes would not be required to participate in athletic activities for at least seven consecutive days after the end of their seasons.
“It’s good to see athletic administrators around the country putting their money where their mouth is and trying to make substantive change,” said Jimmy Gehrels, a Pepperdine men’s volleyball player who is the student representative on the NCAA Student-Athlete Experience Committee. “They’re working with us, they hear us and they’re trying to implement some of these changes.”
All of these concepts will need to be put into the form of formal NCAA legislative proposals, and it is unclear whether they will fall into the categories of changes that the Power Five conferences have the autonomy to approve themselves or whether they will require broader-based approval from the NCAA Division I Council.
These concepts appear loosely drawn and potentially without much impact for athletes, many of whom have expressed the desire to have the option of being able to spend more time on academic pursuits or non-athletic aspects of undergraduate college life.
However, that is by design — and as a response to concerns athletes in various sports expressed concerning a one-size-fits-all approach to this issue. For instance, while many football and basketball players covet the idea of a week — or even two weeks — away from required activities, athletes in sports such as track and field and swimming have expressed concern about the impact that this length of mandatory time off would have on their training, especially if they are seeking to compete in national or international competitions that occur after NCAA championship events.
“We heard from our students that they would like more certainty in their schedules in order to engage in other activities,” the commissioners said in their joint statement. “We recognize there will need to be a level of flexibility and reasonableness in carrying out these changes, especially with regard to travel, but students deserve time off and we want athletic departments to work in a sensible and appropriate way to provide it. We want administrators to have some degree of flexibility in implementing these rules, but they must be mindful that rest is important to a student’s health, in addition to their athletic and academic performance.”
While the Power Five conferences spoke with one voice Thursday, it is possible that any of them will propose further, more specific, changes in advance of the Sept. 1 deadline for the submission of proposals that would be voted on at the 2017 convention or during the Council’s 2016-17 legislative cycle.
Thursday’s statement said “each conference retains the right to pursue additional changes if they see fit.”
In an interview with USA TODAY Sports in late May, when his conference released a white paper on athlete time demands, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said he looked at proposals rising from the 2016 convention resolution “as a starting point. I think you will see us go much further.”
Gehrels said the Student-Athlete Experience Committee, chaired by Harvard athletics director Bob Scalise, and the Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee also may attempt to advance rules changes related to time demands on athletes.