Over the last quarter century, that luxury was lost for major college football players as off-season workouts became "voluntary" by official designation only, at least for those looking to improve their athletic lot in life.
The eventual adoption of NCAA Bylaw 17.11.6 which "permits a football student- athlete to participate in a maximum of 8 hours per week of voluntary summer weight- lifting/conditioning activities that are conducted by a strength and conditioning coach" further formalized players' off-season gatherings.
Now, for part of those eight hours, coaching staffs will be present as well. (A football, however, will not.)
The particulars are as follows:
- 8 hours per week with coaches (includes S&C) -- no football allowed
- Skill instruction can occupy 2 of those 8 hours
- Football-related film review can likewise take up 2 of the allotted 8 hours
- Guidelines include no more than 4 hours per day with a mandatory 2 days off per week
- Incoming student-athletes may participate only while enrolled in summer courses and during the period of time their classes are in session.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly has a plan to manage these restrictions. Not surprisingly, he's not the least bit interested in broadcasting said plan to the world.
"You're going to stay with your standard SAQs, which are your speed-agility-quickness models," said Kelly. "So all those SAQs stay in, your weight-training and conditioning stay in, and then we have to carve out (time) working with our strength coach (Paul Longo) that we can take away from his hours with the kids, where now you can insert the coaches. Because you're not adding extra time."
In other words, Longo formerly had eight hours per week with the Irish players. Now Longo, Kelly, and the rest of those staff divide eight hours as Kelly sees fit.
"There is this model that I'm not interested in giving up to anybody, that we think that we've created that gives us a balance where we can pull some of that away (from Longo) and put our coaches involved in some specific position work without footballs. So we'll get that work, and then you're given two hours of film study. That film study can simply be going back through your install from spring ball. It could be going back through all of what we called 'dirty show,' which would be all of the mistakes of spring ball.
"And so you really can build off of that through the two hours of film study, and then working with your strength team, because you're integrating your coaches back into it. Without getting into too many specifics, because everybody's kind of sorting this out how they're going to do it without adding any extra hours to the model."
Kelly added that position-specific work without footballs is similar to the team's winter workouts in January and February. The footballs come back into play when Kelly and his coaches leave for the day and the players gather together. Portions of such gatherings can now be filmed.
"What we would do essentially is we would install, so that they could go out on their own and run 7-on-7. And run an 11-on-11 period. Four plays, six plays, whatever it is that we install, and then have that filmed and then you watch it with them. So you have that ability to come back and use your two hours for that.
"These are all things that we have to work side-by-side with compliance in making sure that everything that we do is compliant. We know this: As long as we're not there when the balls come out, and we've had time with our players in film study, they can go then execute the things that we need them to execute."
Quarterbacks and receivers not only have a chance to gel, but to receive feedback and film study. The team's trio of runners can study pass protection checks with running backs coach Tony Alford. Defensive backs can further familiarize to coverages and adjustments along the back line under the watchful eyes of secondary coach Kerry Cooks and new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.
Perhaps most important, leadership candidates can emerge and players injured during spring ball can assimilate back into the fray.
"We've got a plan for each one of the players that didn't obviously get much spring ball work," said Kelly. "(Senior center) Nick Martin obviously is going to get a ton of work. (Senior Matt) Hegarty now gets a lot of guard work. (Senior linebacker Ben) Councell gets a ton of work. All those guys get the time that they need at the specific player's positions that they need. I think it's going to be a good thing."
Official summer practice begins for the veterans in early June with freshmen reporting -- and thus participating -- more than two weeks later.