While we all accept there may have been some dramatic moments added to make the production viewable, most of the practices depicted were as close as most modern fans will ever get to an "August From Hell," as many two-a-day practice sessions were known to those who participated in them.,
Frankly, the changes this year in August practices (due in part to the death of Northwestern football player Rashidi Wheeler last year, although his death came in summer conditioning and not in actual practice conditions) are just the continuing revolution of football in general and college football in particular. Early on, persons like President Theodore Roosevelt, whose calls for reform led to the NCAA, and Walter Camp of Yale, who invented the rules framework for college football we still use today, saw the need to adapt new rules either to make the game safer or more competitive.
Long hair soon gave way to leather nose guards, then leather helmets, then facemaks, then plastic helmets to today's poly-carbonite, tru-curve shells that absorb the energy generated by impact at a much higher level than before. Changes in the rules gave us six-point touchdowns, passing, goal posts on the back line, hash marks and the like, all efforts to make the game exciting for fans and equitable for players.
The new rules for August pre-season football practices state: *All players will report at the same time. No more individual adjustment period with just the freshmen in camp. *Five days of non-contact practices for all players, no more than three hours in a day. *After the initial five days, two-a-days may start but practices can not run more than five hours on the field and must include a three-hour, non-football related rest period. No practice video, no classroom meetings, no lifting. *No longer will teams have two or more weeks of two-a-days. Now, every day with two practices must have a day of only one practice in between.
Coaches, many of whom have always thought "just one half-hour more and I'm sure my team will get it" when it came to practices, are trying to figure out the best way to utilize the rules as they exist. As every team in Division I-A falls under the guidelines, it is at best equitable for all teams and coaches. Of course, the team that comes in for August in the best shape, or with the most freshmen in for summer conditioning, or with athletes who get together voluntarily to work on the offense or defense during the summer will have the head start on the programs that do not.
Marshall has 70 members of the 2003 Thundering Herd football squad in Huntington this summer, doing all the things we just described-lifting, running, working in the classwork (catching up or getting ahead in many cases-those graduation rates MU keeps being recognized for are not just luck) and participating in voluntary workouts, conducted under the supervision of Herd quarterbacks, captains and seniors. The work done in the months of June and July are often what leads a team to the month of December and the bowl that comes with that.
Somewhere, I know, there are rumblings. The ghosts of those who came before will be at August practices around the country in spirit, wanting to know "why are these players drinking so much water; why is there just one practice on August 12th, 14th and 16th; and why weren't these rules in force back when we played?," in the 1950's through the 1990's. Mostly, the loudest grumbling will be coming from coaching legends long departed, men like Bryant, men like Marshall's own Cam Henderson and others, who probably are looking at each other from that big coaching tower in the sky and saying, "We sure didn't do it this way back in our day!"