The Michigan Wolverines football team is in a heap of trouble. Not just because they had a deplorable 3-9 record last year that was an embarrassment to both the university and the state, but also from new allegations that surfaced this weekend in the Detroit Free Press. Ten current players, writing anonymously, asserted that the culture of off-season practice is beyond the legal NCAA limits. Former players also corroborated this. ...(continue reading)
What are the official limits? Well, in the offseason, players are only allowed to be in workouts for 8 hours a week. The players told the Free Press that they have been forced to work out two and three times that amount in required workouts, and even more in so-called "voluntary" workouts, where considerable pressure is applied to attend. During the football season, the NCAA only allows them to work out 20 hours a week. The players also reported being forced to work out on Sundays: the only day that college football players traditionally have off!
I think I have an inkling of what this feels like from my college days. I arrived at my initial football camp out of shape. I was a freshman and coming from being "the man" in my high school squad, like the rest of the college football players. It was 1995, and we were playing division 1-AA football at the University of Rhode Island in what was then known as the Yankee Conference.
Our coach at the time was fond of "the running test," which he boasted was the hardest in the nation. Of course we believed him; the running test was grueling. When it came time for us to run it in the brutal August heat, many of us dropped like flies. I was one of them. Sad to say, I literally fainted towards the end of the run test, failing it miserably.
Because of this monumental failure, I was forced to go to an extra morning workout session. This meant that I was up and out before the sun rose: no food, on the field, running the run test every morning for a week. Then we had less an hour to get up to the cafeteria, grab a bite, then run back down for regular practice with the rest of the squad. By midday the sun was blaring and we were in our dorms, sleeping or relaxing, then only to head back out there again, bruising underneath the sun and pads, losing weight by the minute and savoring the precious moments we had to gulp down water and take off our helmets.
That is August football. It is as close to Spartan-like training as you can get and not be in the military. If you are blessed to have coaches who respect that you are a growing and emotional person, then you get breaks. If not, well, then you are like most of the football athletes in the USA: you are forced to undergo what the NCAA feels is akin to abusive conduct. It has killed people in the past.
You CAN die because of how hard they work you. It happens only rarely, but it has happened. The players who stood up at Michigan will no doubt suffer consequences as the truth of their telling on the program comes out. If they are lucky, the NCAA will truly crack down and warn the team, the coach, and the program. If they are not, then Michigan will continue to berate and belittle its players.
One thing is certain: Abusing your players will not bring the winning record that having fresh legs might. It won't bring the record from honoring that these are students before athletes, letting them know their time is respected like normal human beings, and drilling them hard and thoroughly ... within the time allotted, like every other team. It helps to have talent, but you can't beat talent into someone either. It helps to have heart. A coach CAN beat the heart out of a player.
This is something that is pervasive across college athletics, particularly football. I think it is great that it is coming to the country's attention. Perhaps a real debate on the culture of football training can begin.