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IOWA CITY — Time demands discussions have dominated college conference meetings the last two years as coaches, athletes and administrators have struggled to find the perfect middle ground.
With recent lawsuits pertaining to athletes’ rights over athlete likeness and legal efforts to classify players as employees, the heads of college athletics’ five primary conferences announced changes Thursday to provide athletes more time away from their sports. A working proposal is in place and will be voted upon in January.
“We believe we have found the right balance between helping students participate in sports while also providing them with more down time,” the commissioners of the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC said in a joint statement. “Different sports have different demands and we think the concepts we’ve agreed to will help tens of thousands of students achieve more balance as they pursue their academic and athletic commitments.”
Many of the changes are subtle but significant. Athletes now are guaranteed one day off per week in-season. Previously, travel days could count as an off-day. That’s no longer the case.
Athletes now will have 21 additional days off from athletic activities during their academic year, which will be determined by coaches, participants and administrators on each campus. That includes seven consecutive days without athletic activities following every sports season for recovery. Exceptions are allowed in training for elite national or international competition, such as the Olympics. The other 14 days can be taken within or outside the sports season.
“I think it’s a good thing,” Iowa men’s basketball player Peter Jok said. “As a team we go hard in practice, going up and down. So getting a day off is going to be a benefit for us.”
“We heard from our students that they would like more certainty in their schedules in order to engage in other activities,” the commissioners said. “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.”
Navigating the confluence between training regimen and down time is tricky. Former Nebraska basketball player Shavon Shields, a two-time academic All-American who scored 1,630 career points, said academics often became collateral damage with in-season travel. Basketball players routinely arrive home at 3 a.m. following games and are required to attend classes five hours later.
“I don’t know if it’s too much, but sometimes you can’t really put 100 percent into school,” Shields told The Gazette during basketball season. “That’s probably the main thing.”
Likewise, athletes resist demands to ignore perfecting their craft for even for one day.
“Basketball is a skill sport,” Shields said. “If you’re not working on your skill, you’re not getting better.”
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