Col­lege foot­ball coaches set to deal with end of two-a-days

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL -

The two-a-day foot­ball prac­tices that coaches once used to toughen up their teams and cram for the start of the sea­son are go­ing the way of tear-away jer­seys and the wish­bone for­ma­tion.

As part of its ef­forts to in­crease safety, the NCAA ap­proved a plan this year that pre­vents teams from hold­ing mul­ti­ple prac­tices with con­tact in a sin­gle day.

The move has forced plenty of schools to al­ter their prac­tice cal­en­dar, with many teams open­ing their pre­sea­son as early as this week. Of­fi­cials don’t mind if it causes a few lo­gis­ti­cal headaches as long as it re­duces the head in­juries that had be­come all too com­mon this time of year.

Ac­cord­ing to the NCAA’s Sport Sci­ence In­sti­tute, 58 per­cent of the foot­ball prac­tice con­cus­sions that oc­cur over the course of a year hap­pen dur­ing the pre­sea­son. Brian Hain­line, the NCAA’s chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer, said Au­gust also is a peak month for cat­a­strophic in­juries re­sult­ing from con­di­tion­ing rather than con­tact, such as heat­stroke and car­diac ar­rest.

“There was just some­thing about that month that re­ally stood out,” Hain­line said. “We couldn’t say with sta­tis­ti­cal cer­tainty if this was be­cause of the two-a-days, but there was enough con­sen­sus in the room and enough pre­lim­i­nary data that it looked like it was be­cause of the two-a-days.”

Some coaches said they be­lieve the ben­e­fits could go be­yond re­duc­ing con­cus­sions.

“I don’t think you’re go­ing to have the num­ber of in­juries that you had, es­pe­cially the soft tis­sue in­juries — ham­string pulls, quad pulls, groin pulls,” Louisiana Tech Coach Skip Holtz said.

Teams still can hold two prac­tices on a given day, but one of those prac­tices can only be a “walk­through” that in­cludes no con­tact, hel­mets, pads or con­di­tion­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. Three hours of re­cov­ery are re­quired be­tween a prac­tice and a walk­through, though meet­ings can be held dur­ing that pe­riod.

“It just makes all the sense in the world,” Michi­gan Coach Jim Har­baugh said.

Most pro­grams were trend­ing away from two-a-day prac­tices long be­fore this de­ci­sion.

More than three-quar­ters of the 89 Foot­ball Bowl Sub­di­vi­sion teams that re­sponded to an As­so­ci­ated Press sur­vey on the sub­ject said they con­ducted mul­ti­ple prac­tices on cer­tain days last year. But in the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of cases, teams made sure one of those work­outs had limited or no con­tact.

Those teams won’t have to change their ap­proach too much.

Hain­line said he didn’t know ex­actly how many pro­grams were still hold­ing mul­ti­ple con­tact work­outs on cer­tain days be­fore the NCAA rul­ing, but he said it was more com­mon in the Di­vi­sion II ranks than among FBS schools.

Coaches said that be­cause play­ers are on cam­pus work­ing out all year, there’s no need to work them quite as hard once pre­sea­son prac­tices be­gin.

“Back in the day, we used two-a-days to get in shape,” Florida State Coach Jimbo Fisher said. “You weren’t there all sum­mer. You didn’t come un­til the sec­ond half. They didn’t train from Jan­uary un­til June like they do now.”

Mar­shall Ath­letic Di­rec­tor Mike Ham­rick, a mem­ber of the Di­vi­sion I foot­ball over­sight com­mit­tee, agreed that times have changed. As an ex­am­ple, he cited the gru­el­ing work­outs Paul “Bear” Bryant held at Texas A&M dur­ing the 1950s, which were chron­i­cled in the book and ESPN movie Junc­tion Boys.

“There ain’t no ‘Junc­tion Boys’ any­more be­cause the play­ers are in tip-top shape when we start foot­ball prac­tice,” Ham­rick said.

Even so, some play­ers say they’ll miss the grind.

“Go­ing through a two-a-day is tough, and that’s a big part of foot­ball,” Kansas State of­fen­sive line­man Dal­ton Ris­ner said. “That builds you for the sea­son. I wish that could go back to what we used to do.”

While two-a-days al­ready were go­ing out of fash­ion, this new rule is still forc­ing teams to adapt in other re­spects.

Al­though the NCAA is pre­vent­ing mul­ti­ple full-scale work­outs on the same day, teams are still per­mit­ted to hold 29 to­tal pre­sea­son prac­tice ses­sions, the same as be­fore. That cre­ates a dilemma for coaches try­ing to hold that many prac­tices with­out the ben­e­fit of two-a-days. Chris Ash of Rut­gers is con­cerned that in­creas­ing the length of train­ing camp con­flicts with new NCAA rules about time de­mands placed on ath­letes and could end up in­creas­ing the over­all amount of con­tact prac­tices.

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