College Football now a full-time job

Years ago they (the dreaded NCAA) instituted the 20-hour work week for all student-athletes. It essentially limited all enrolled student-athletes to no more than that amount of time per week to include all practices, games, and any meeting or activities involving their coaches during their set seasons.

It sounds like a good idea if you are serious about their education, but it's obvious now that they didn't tell the kids that they'd be doing their jobs all year long. No more Thanksgiving or Christmas breaks, no more summer vacations; now there's required out-of-season training, including mandatory weight training and conditioning.

I don't know how the rules apply to all the other sports, but if I'm not mistaken most football players now go to school year around. The good part of that is the kids are tending to graduate at a higher rate than before, but it is also apparent that the rules regarding academic progress and graduation and the length of seasons are forcing kids to miss most of their vacations.

Face it, it's a job. College football basically provides most of the money to operate an athletic department and players work extremely hard physically, mentally, and emotionally. They are the reason the AD is able to pay all their bills. Fans don't go to the games to watch coaches or administrators. They go to watch the players, and hopefully to watch them win.

Take a look at what the incoming Husky freshman class has to look forward to. Most graduated from high school in June and enrolled at the University of Washington in July and will begin official practices with everyone else in August. A couple - Chris Polk and Kurt Mangum - enrolled in time to take part in spring practices in April. Then they their season at the end of the month and begin school at the end of September, playing straight through to the first week of December. Because of the space between the Apple Cup and the California game in December, many will be able to have Thanksgiving with their families; a rarity in college football nowadays.

Then - if everything goes right - they and their teammates will immediately begin bowl game practices and play straight through to the end of year, probably missing Christmas if they are in a good bowl. Then they are required to be back the first week of January to begin school and help in recruiting. Winter mat drills begin in late January, and that will take them all the way to spring quarter at the end of March - just in time to get ready for spring football.

I might add that most of these conditioning practices all year long start at 7 a.m. or earlier. Bring your lunchpail because you also have study table, tutoring, counseling sessions; and you still have to be in class at least 15-18 hours per week, including labs, class, and study sessions.


Spring quarter starts with spring football and ends with conditioning and year-end testing for gains in all the lifts. That runs through the end of May. After finals, summer school begins in June with 'voluntary' football drills and, again, mandatory weight training and conditioning.

I forgot to add that if you are a true freshman you did all this and probably didn't even get to play in a game. This whole year was just for practice, for experience.

Years ago this sort of 7-5 workday, all year long, really didn't exist - at least for the players (During the season as a coach, I regularly left the home at 5:30 a.m. and returned at 11:30 p.m). The kids usually got a spring break and maybe about half of them stayed in summer school. Coach James and Coach Lambright realized summer school was essential for academic progress and eligibility and we worked hard to make sure the kids took advantage of the classes available. Basically, summer school kept a lot of our kids eligible, but rarely did we have the whole team stay. In fact, as a staff we actually took the month of July off with each of us serving a duty week. We almost always went to a bowl game so we anticipated the 15 practices in winter.

Toward the late nineties, summer school and a part-time job were almost universal amongst our older players. Some of my position players graduated before their senior season even started. That practice is commonplace today. It's because school and football are year-around now.

The Washington administration handcuffed Head Coach Keith Gilbertson one summer (2004), telling him he couldn't require his players to stay for summer school and have workouts. Everyone was still a little paranoid following the aftermath of Rick Neuheisel's termination, and Gilby's teams were left in limbo two years in a row. Summer workouts were strictly enforced as "voluntary", allowing most players to go home and try and work out on their own.

The following season they won one game.

The previous fall the administration had decided not to pursue a bowl game with a 6-6 record. Combining the loss of those winter practices, the dismantling of the summer program was a recipe for disaster. Those two decisions - by two separate administrations - set the program back and it has not recovered, at least in terms of wins.

Because of the Bridge program and mandatory summer school, things are changing. The Huskies of today have been working all year long. In my opinion they will win because of it. This is an entirely different-looking team now than it was three years ago.

I can see it in their physical development alone. The system is finally in place and this particular group of players has gotten better individually because of their collective effort. They now just have to transfer it onto the field. Go see for yourself on picture day. Check the guns. They don't look like that without hard work.

From the family standpoint I think the local kids have the advantage of still being able to get to a Thanksgiving or a Christmas, but otherwise once they enter college it starts a month after they finish high school and they can't look back. Heck, there are now some who are starting before they even finish high school like freshman sensation Polk, linebacker Mangum and quarterback Ronnie Fouch. Back when I was coaching we had a few like Dennis Brown do the same thing, but basically we never saw the freshmen until camp started in August. This year's crop started weeks ago, or earlier.

The Bridge program is an academic course and excellent introductory class for college. It is specifically designed to assist the kids in reading, writing, and the assessment of their academic ability levels. It covers time management, note taking, test taking, paper writing and all the other academic skills required at the college level. The players get six hours of credit which eventually count toward graduation. Six credits is considered a full load in summer school, so they are eligible for financial assistance and are also introduced to dorm living and structure. They are literally taught how to survive in college, while at the same time being acclimated both to school and to the requirements of the football program.

Head Coach Tyrone Willingham has laid the foundation for this system that will produce winners off the field. The kids have finally bought into the work ethic it takes to be successful in life and nobody is more frustrated over the win-loss record the past four years than the players themselves. They have worked hard to get better and they expect to be rewarded with victories. They know they have all changed over the past few years and are now being held accountable for their commitment to academics and conditioning. Hopefully that will all result in winning more games. Just like any job there is a bottom line, and for them it's all about winning; that, and graduating, of course.

It just seems so ironic to me that the powers that be don't want to have a playoff in college football based on the old reason of not wanting to extend the season, thereby taking the kids out of more class. But they have already extended the season because television and money dictate it and by extension have eliminated any downtime for the student-athlete in the process.

Go figure. Top Stories