The vast majority of current and former college athletes I know would say playing sports in school is a wonderful experience. That said, plenty of them would also say that the demands on a student-athlete’s time can also be almost incomprehensible.
One would imagine this is elevated at the highest levels — and the Power 5 conferences of Division I athletics (the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC and ACC) certainly qualify in that regard. In a step to address that, commissioners of those five conferences came up with a plan which was announced Thursday — an agreement that would add a significant amount of free time for athletes in those conferences.
In a back-patting statement, here is the key quote offered up: “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.”
Indeed, these proposed measures — which we’ll get to in a moment — are a step in the right direction. But are they enough?
Let’s consider what would be changing:
*Currently, athletes are supposed to get one day off during a week in-season, but travel days are allowed to count as a day off. Under the proposal, travel days could not count.
*Currently, athletes get two days off during a week outside of their season. The plan would add an additional 14 days — inside or outside of the season — to that time off total.
*Currently, teams cannot schedule athletic activities between midnight and 5 a.m. — a five-hour window. Under the plan, teams would need to give athletes an eight-hour window sometime during the nine-hour span of 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. (though I’m assuming this block would have to shift during nights when games end later than that).
*Currently, there is no standard break for athletes after a season ends. Under the plan, they would get seven days off.
All of these things can be added to by individual conferences before submitting them to the NCAA for a vote at the January convention.
And again, these are all improvements. But sometimes we get hung up on the relativity of things when both options are still bad.
In this case, 21 extra days off (14 in or out of season and seven mandatory at the end of a season), plus the travel rule and eight-hour rule will — as the commissioners said in the statement — give student-athletes more down time.
But does it, as they assert, find “the right balance?” A student-athlete in-season could still have up to 96 hours in a given week accounted for by sports — 16 per day, six days a week. While that’s nowhere near realistic, particularly when they’re, you know, also going to class, it shows how much time they could still be devoting to sports. In many cases, it’s a full-time job, and then some.
And the current rules — along with the fact that new ones even need to be proposed — show just how demanding it can be at the highest level of college athletics.