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NCAA time-demands survey will influence future legislation

Division I athletes will have a say in shaping NCAA policies about time demands through a survey distributed this week to all 346 schools.

Athletes in every Division I sport will be asked to provide feedback in the survey, distributed Monday by the NCAA. The Power 5 conferences, the NCAA Division I council and the Division I student-athlete advisory committee formulated the survey. Results are due March 21 and will be relayed to the Division I council, which will meet in April.

The survey is being conducted online and not being administered by coaching staffs that could attempt to influence the responses.

According to a survey sent to a Football Bowl Subdivision player and obtained Friday by ESPN, respondents complete sections on in-season countable athletic-related activities (CARA), out-of-season time demands and travel.

A "massive legislative package" regarding time demands will be introduced by September, according to Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips, chair of the council. After several months of review, a proposed policy will go to a vote at the NCAA convention in January 2017.

"We could have passed legislation at the [2016] NCAA convention around time demands, but that wasn't the right thing to do because each sport has its own ebb and flow and their own calendar where they play and practice," Phillips told ESPN on Friday. "As much angst as there is about specific rules out there that people are using that are legal, the right approach has been to take this in a comprehensive review.

"We want to hear what the student-athletes have to say."

Time demands on athletes have been discussed for months, but the topic gained greater attention after Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh announced the Wolverines would hold four practices in Florida during the school's spring break. Michigan's first practice will be Monday at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

The practices are legal under current NCAA rules, but SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, ACC commissioner John Swofford and others have criticized Harbaugh's decision, noting the ongoing discussion around athlete time demands.

Phillips said he understands the sensitivity to certain topics but noted no emergency legislation was introduced about spring break workouts or similar practices at the NCAA convention in January. Although the Pac-12 and Big Ten made proposals related to specific time-demand issues last year, the Power 5 conferences agreed at the convention to elicit feedback from athletes and eventually produce a comprehensive policy.

"Even though some things burn inside of us deeply and we're sensitive to some people taking advantage of rules, having one-off legislation is not the right approach," Phillips said, adding that all conferences agreed to the comprehensive review. "What Michigan is doing is permissible. If the student-athletes come back and tell us across the board we don't want to interrupt our spring break, we'd be hypocritical not to listen to them. They may also say there's a period of time after the completion of a season, two to three weeks where they don't do anything: no film, no weights, nothing.

"So you can't restrict legislation or propose legislation when you're dealing with a comprehensive, holistic review."

Each Division I athletic director has been asked to administer the survey and meet with each team to discuss time demands. Phillips expects up to 100,000 responses in a survey he called the biggest ever regarding a policy affecting Division I athletes. Coaches, faculty representatives and administrators also will be surveyed, but the athletes' responses will most influence a future proposal.

"This cannot be evaluated on a piece-by-piece basis or it will be challenging for us to come up with a reform package that will enhance the game," said Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst, a member of the NCAA football oversight committee. "We're all very competitive, we're passionate, we get emotional about things, but we need to set those things aside for the greater good.

"A few more months of evaluation or analysis is not going to irreparably harm what we're doing."

Questions in the survey include:

  • Would you be supportive of requiring a minimum of eight hours overnight between CARA periods (e.g. if competition ended at 10 p.m., practice could not be held earlier than 6 a.m. the next day)?

  • Would you be supportive of requiring an in-season break (e.g. prohibiting practice or competition over a multi-day period during the season)?

  • Would you be supportive of reducing the amount of contests allowed in your sport by 10 percent?

  • Would you be supportive of playing the same number of contests but lengthening the season for your sport?

  • Out of season, how many hours per week of weight training and/or conditioning should be permitted in your sport?

  • Would you be supportive of requiring a minimum number of "rest" hours after returning from travel before student-athletes would be permitted to practice or compete?

The survey also asks whether film review, media activities, prospective student-athlete hosting duties, strength and conditioning, team study hall, travel to and from competition, and other activities should be considered countable athletic-related activities. After each section, respondents are given opportunities to provide additional comments.

Eichorst said that until new policies go into effect, there could be more initiatives like Harbaugh's.

"When progress and innovation is permissible, I would expect that," he said. "It's business as usual until we adjust those rules."

Phillips knows the Division I council and the football oversight committee are "on the clock" to enact change, which has historically come slowly in major college sports.

"In the history of the NCAA, this is as aggressive as we're getting in this magnitude," Phillips said, "and it's really grassroots. Within a 10-month period, we will see a massive time-demands package up for vote."