It’s very unlikely the NCAA will act in time to block Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh’s plan to travel to Florida during spring break to conduct football practices, but this year likely will be the first and last time it happens.
That was the message Friday from NCAA president Mark Emmert as he met with the USC Board of Trustees.
“There is a big debate going on among administrators right now about how to provide more time off for student-athletes so the use of spring break for practices caused a lot of people to be concerned about it, and that’s an appropriate concern,” Emmert said. “We are trying to find ways to dial back the demands on student-athletes, not ramp them up.”
The Wolverines are scheduled to travel to Bradenton, Fla., next week and hold their first four four spring football practices at the IMG Academy there during the University of Michigan’s spring break. The plan does not violate any NCAA rules, although SEC commissioner Greg Sankey asked that a rule be created to stop the practice before it starts.
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“There’s a difference between not being prohibited and being OK,” Emmert said Friday.
However, he said, “no, I’m sure not,” when asked if a rules change could be made in time to prohibit Harbaugh’s planned trip this year.
“There is nothing he is doing that is against the rules,” Emmert said. “If the membership wants to change the rules, they need to do so.”
The issue will be reviewed by the NCAA’s Football Oversight Committee, Emmert said, but it’s unlikely a rules change would occur before the NCAA’s January meeting.
USC board member Chuck Allen addressed Emmert during Friday’s meeting and urged that a rule be added quickly to stop the practice. Allen was a football player at South Carolina from 1977-1980.
“They need to get away. They need to rejuvenate,” Allen said of today’s football players. “We used to call it being normal.”
“I think the opinion you are expressing is right on the mark,” Emmert told Allen. “I haven’t talked to one student-athlete yet that thinks it’s a good idea.”
An NCAA committee will meet in April to discuss ways to lessen time demands on student-athletes. There currently is a rule prohibiting athletes from spending more than 20 hours per week on responsibilities related to their sports, but several college administrators have acknowledged the rule is difficult to follow and multiple surveys of college athletes have suggested most college athletes spend more time than that on their sport.
“The 20-hour rule could be modified,” Emmert said.
Among the possible solutions that could be discussed in April are a rule that would mandate athletes have one day each week completely free of athletic responsibilities and a provision to allow two weeks off for players near the end of football seasons, although he stressed those were just possibilities to start the discussion.
Emmert has served as the president of the NCAA since 2010. He has also served as the president of the University of Washington and Louisiana State University. Emmert was LSU’s president when the Tigers won the national football championship with Will Muschamp as their defensive coordinator. As part of his meetings with USC officials on Thursday, Emmert met with Muschamp.
“He’s a guy I have been very, very impressed with, and I think he’s going to do extraordinarily well here. I think good days are in front of you,” Emmert said. “I told some of your football players they better be ready to work.”