Michigan likely to lose practice time; some don't think that's a big deal
Six years after he nearly led San Diego State to a shocking upset of Michigan, former Aztecs coach Tom Craft can laugh about the built-in excuse he had for the loss.
“Maybe if we would have had an extra practice or two we would have beaten Michigan that year we lost by three points,” Craft said, chuckling.
From 2002-04, San Diego State docked itself 21 practice days - seven during the 2002 season, and seven each during spring practice in 2003-04 - as a result of illegal off-season workouts.
Typically, schools found guilty of excessive practice time are penalized with future practice restrictions, often self-imposing their own punishment.
Craft said losing “practices like that, I don’t think it impacts you like people think.”
“I really didn’t think it was that big of a deal,” he said. “I think we overdo it anyway.”
In season, Craft said he was able to make up for lost practice time with small tweaks to his schedule. He gave players an extra day off before a scrimmage, and built another off day into a week with lots of hitting. In the spring, Craft started practice on its normal date so players had plenty of time to continue with unsupervised workouts before school ended.
“You can manage it, even if you lose a week’s worth (of practice time) and you can space it out,” Craft said. “They’ve already introduced the system that they want. I think the key is to go in early and let the kids work on the things on their own.”
Craft’s experiences aren’t unique.
Louisiana-Lafayette sports information director Daryl Cetnar wrote in an e-mail that Ragin’ Cajuns coach Rickey Bustle “doesn’t even remember” the five countable hours his program lost in 2007 for improper summer workouts and the school “did not (need to) purposely cut hours to comply” with the NCAA findings, which were released after spring practice ended.
Countable hours include time spent on athletically-related activities such as weight training and watching film. Coaches can require up to 20 hours a week in season, eight hours a week out of season, and four hours a day.
At San Jose State, sports information director Lawrence Fan said players watched more film independently last year, but no areas of practice were sacrificed to make up for the four countable hours per week (56 for the year) and three spring dates the Spartans lost as punishment for a low Academic Progress Rate.
And Rice coach David Bailiff, who inherited off-season practice restrictions when he took over at Texas State six years ago, said the penalty caused more anxiety than anything.
"I think, once you live it, you kind of go, 'Huh, that wasn’t too bad,'" Bailiff said.
Former NCAA Committee on Infractions chairperson Jo Potuto would not comment specifically on Michigan’s case, but said the committee often imposes two-for-one penalties on practice-time violators.
Schools accused of major infractions like Michigan are sometimes given lighter practice-related punishments because they generally incur other sanctions like probation and scholarship reductions.
The Notice of Allegations does not say how many hours Michigan exceeded NCAA limits by, but the Wolverines are accused of conducting impermissible activities “from January 2008 through at least September 2009.”
Included in that allegation are eight Sundays during the 2008 season in which players spent up to five hours on countable activities; four Mondays last year with at least 4 Â½ countable hours; and offseason workouts each of the last two years that exceeded NCAA mandates by up to two hours.
While Craft and others expect Michigan to work around any practice penalties, Grant Teaff, the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association, said restricting a team’s practice time creates “a health issue for student-athletes.”
“One of the fine lines that the NCAA walks when they cut back on practice is the safety factor,” Teaff said. “That’s the reason I don’t like the rule at all. If there’s a penalty, they ought to penalize them some other way.”
Potuto said the Infractions Committee takes into account the wellbeing of athletes when it hands out punishment. As such, significant practice-related penalties are usually spread over multiple years.
Still, Teaff said fundamentals like blocking and tackling suffer when practice time is reduced.
“It just seems like that puts the student-athlete at a disadvantage and somebody’s being punished for something,” Teaff said. “Are you punishing the student-athlete or what are you punishing? And for a youngster not to have the time to develop to his fullest, not only physically, I think it’s unfair.”
Of course, the issue of fairness is why schools go before the Infractions Committee in the first place.
“What’s generally true is the school before the committee always feels, ‘Gee, we’ve got all these innocent student-athletes who haven’t done anything and we were trying hard and you’re just being unduly harsh,’” Potuto said. “All the other schools looking at it say, ‘We didn’t commit those violations and whatever you’re doing isn’t good enough compared to what competitive advantage may have been gained.’
“So no matter what the committee does, there’s always one entity out there that thinks it was either too hard or too soft. I don’t think you ever get agreement.”
Dave Birkett covers University of Michigan football for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached by phone at 734-623-2552 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.