In the wake of the recent deaths from football practices — both professional and amateur — it was only a matter of time before something would be done. Northwestern's Rashidi Wheeler and Florida's Eraste Autin both reportedly died of heat illness. These high-profile deaths created pressure on the NCAA to "do something" more about a problem that has existed for years, and has in fact been studied and addressed more constructively than this in prior years.
Since 1995, 21 athletes have died as a result of football-related heat-stress. Clearly, more work needs to be done — work of the rational, scientific, carefully-considered type. Instead, the NCAA has bowed to a percieved PR problem with a rules changed that is rational, scientific, and carefully-considered only in the short-sighted world of a high-priced PR consultant. Real science, like real athletes were not even an afterthought in this process, it would appear
Here's the problem:
Both Wheeler and Autin died during "voluntary" practices — practices that are supposed to be completely off-limits to any of the coaching staffs of those teams. While certain personnel are allowed to involve themselves strictly for the purpose of making sure athletes are doing things within the boundaries of their own limitations and in accordance with certain health and safety guidelines, athletes are literally on their own when it comes to what they do and how much they do it.
This observation would suggest to most reasonable observers that additional supervision of work-outs was warranted. So, what does the NCAA do? They actually instill rules and regulations that have no bearing on the voluntary workouts at all. They go after "two-a-days" and anything that seems to be within the coaches' control, even though the two most recent tragedies occurred when those same coaches weren't allowed control at all. They take away the ability for freshmen to report early and all but eliminate two-a-days, the staple of any team's strategy in preparing their team in the short time between when coaches are again allowed to actually coach and when the season begins. In otherwords, the NCAA reduced supervised conditioning.
Only one year ago, the NCAA mandated that freshmen who were reporting early could participate in these voluntary practices, as long as they were supervised by a strength and conditioning coach, and they would be provided medical coverage.
Now, they changed their mind..........again. Why, and for whose benefit?
I'm just trying to understand the reasoning behind this, because for a variety of reasons, it seems like yet greater risk to the athlete, disguised by the NCAA as legislation to solve some (PR) problem they have deemed worthy of their attention. Pardon me, but it seems that when something does become worthy of their attention, their focus is more on creating good press releases than good rules. The resulting actions at best do nothing for the real problem itself or more likely exacerbate and compound the existing troubles the athletes face.
Let's take the basics of this new limitation on two-a-days, not allowing them in consecutive days. It doesn't get much more knee-jerk than this. If anyone would have thought this out, they would have realized that coaches may now feel themselves compelled to violate another rule they have about coaches not being involved in summer workouts. Many may legitimately believe they have no choice if they are to perform their jobs and protect their players.
If you limit more severely the amount of coaching that can be done, all programs will be hurt, but not all will be hurt equally. In fact, this may be one of the least equitable rules changes in the history of the NCAA. A team with a new offense, new defense, or worse – new coaches, isn't merely placed behind the 8-ball with such a rule, they're also pressed hard against the rail, teetering in the corner pocket. Oh, and the table is out of chalk, but it doesn't matter — the tip just fell off the cue, anyway.
With teams that are fielding new anything, the practices are meant not only to get their players in shape, but at the same time familiarize them with some of the basics of executing their system. The Fat Cats in Kansas City may not care about the fact that these functions actually serve to protect players from injury, but you would think they would notice that shortchanging this area also hurts their product as it reaches the paying consumer. (No worries, they will eventually.)
Oh, and a limitation on meetings?
The main purpose of two-a-days is to get people in shape for the season. It would seem at least marginally logical for the NCAA to target this aspect in trying to limit the tragedies that have occurred in recent years, despite the actual time some of these deaths happened. The policy on meetings clearly indicates that this is not all the NCAA is trying to do, but what their underlying motives are remain, as ever with the NCAA, a mystery.
My belief though is that it endangers the athletes, since every legal (and prehaps extra-legal) effort will be made by players and coaches to compensate for the lost training.
The more you take away, the more ways teams will find to take it back, even if it's behind the back of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Why should schools have to sacrifice game-time preparation, because the NCAA can't find a way to regulate the real problem, so they regulate whatever their power allows and they call that a "remedy".
If you take away two-a-days, then summer workouts have to get harder, and they have to get longer. Suddenly, those "voluntary" sessions become more mandatory than ever. As we all know, each team and it's players and coaches may call these off-season workouts voluntary, but if you have even a hope to see the field, especially at the major programs, if you miss a day, your days on the bench increase, perhaps exponentially.
There's nothing voluntary about them.
And, what the NCAA has done by limiting those sessions during the season is put more pressure on the players themselves in an environment that isn't nearly as regulated, not even remotely as closely monitored so that each team feels that it's doing the most it can to maintain the health and well-being of it's players.
Strength and Conditioning coaches can only do so much. Limited staffs must attend to as many as 150 plus players who are now in need of more support and supervision than ever, since they have just had a great portion of their preparation and conditioning under full staff control outlawed by the NCAA. (The NCAA has done this of course, for the benefit of the athlete.).
The NCAA has attacked the very foundation of organized football with their zealous outlawing of supervised conditioning and classroom training sessions during two-a-days in an all-out PR gambit to be seen as "doing something". Yet, they have done nothing to address the money-grubbing athlete-exploiting tendency to move the start of football season to earlier and hotter times and locales, with complete disregard for the athletes. This combination of ill-conceived action and greed-driven reaction seems custom-built to assure that the next heat-related tragedy in major college football is played before a live television audience from coast to coast.
This legislation that is supposed to save lives is a transparent sham. It is easy to see how during the time where supervision is at it's minimum, even more lives will be at risk. Only slightly less obvious are the attendent risks in having a less well-conditioned team take the field. It's sad, but expected, scary, but hardly a surprise. The NCAA legislates a quick and dirty "fix" and calls it their way of addressing the problem. Politics — or more properly, public relations — reigns supreme. A cursory review of these rules changes throws light on the motives of an organiztion far more worried about looking like they are doing something than actually going out there and making a serious effort to protect the athletes.
What should be done? Get coaches in there during the Summer sessions. Not just S&C coaches, but everyone. Hold everyone accountable and make no time a moment where athletes are told, "you are on your own", because athletes are often their own worst enemies.
Players instinctively drive each other, teammates encouraging, prodding and forcing each other on. Do more reps, run more laps and do those reps and run those laps with more weight and in a lesser time than before. Without real supervision, they can kill themselves easier than any regimented plan can kill them, so why not allow a structured plan throughout?
If you say everyone can do it, how does this not level the playing-field as well as their plan — the one that puts more pressure on athletes who, without proper supervision, are inclined to work out harder and longer than ever before?
This is yet another example of the NCAA wielding its power in an effort to better its image with little or no regard for the welfare of the student athlete. The result is a rule that makes less sense and could cause more damage than the rule it replaced.
Cutting off your nose to spite your face is as much an expression of futility as it is of vanity and both apply here as well. The real wonder is what rules will come next in an effort to fix this abomination. Will this lead to a series of "corrections" and an entirely new volume of rules so ill-conceived and convoluted that in the end, no one will remember what their original purpose was supposed to be?
The original purpose was ostensibly to save lives of course, but in the end, it might cost lives and promote yet more cheating. Ultimately, the schools might cheat to save the very lives the NCAA is putting on the line with this new idea of what's right and just.
How come "irony" and the NCAA are so often, so closely intertwined? Only Hill & Knowlton knows for sure …