Elimination of two-a-days means tough choices about when to begin practice

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. – When the NCAA Division I Council passed a sweeping reform package last month, recruiting changes grabbed the headlines. But a much less-publicized change fostered debate during the recently completed ACC spring meetings: the immediate elimination of two-a-day practices.

Though most schools have already moved away from relying heavily on two-a-days, the new rule means coaches across the country must decide how to squeeze in the allotted 29 practices before the season begins. That has left coaches pondering whether to start preseason practices a week early – during summer school in July – or stick with the traditional August start dates and forgo a few practices.

“Because it’s happened so quickly there’s not a consensus on what is exactly right because we haven’t had enough time to digest it,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “It was weird because it got thrown on us without a year delay. They just came in and said, ‘OK you can’t have two-a-days,’ so we’re trying to evaluate what’s best. Whatever is safest for the kids and best, we’ll come to a conclusion on.”

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said the rule change won’t impact the Tigers, because they had largely eliminated two-a-days. And even when they did have them, the second practice was a light walk-through.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, Boston College coach Steve Addazio and North Carolina coach Larry Fedora also have decided against starting practice in July because they simply don’t want to cut into their players’ last free weekend until December. For that reason, Fedora said he was willing to give up three preseason practices.

“It’s a tough time to do it because we’re so young on offense and so inexperienced, but I think it’s best for our team,” Fedora said. “There’s nobody that wants to start in July. The student-athletes don’t want to come in July, so I’m not sure how this even happened. All these things that are supposed to be about time management for the players, who decided the end of July will be good for them, during summer school? They’re in classes. So that’s one of the things we’re really unhappy about, as a league, that and spring visits.”

On the flip side, there are coaches who absolutely need all 29 practices to give their team the best possible competitive advantage and have decided they will start practice in July. NC State coach Dave Doeren is one of them.

So is Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson, who sees value in starting practices in July for another reason. Starting earlier allows him to give his players time off during their summer school finals in August.

When the legislation passed in April, council chair Jim Phillips cited player safety as the reason behind the change. Coaches aren’t arguing that point. But now the unintended consequences that potentially impact the final few days a player has to enjoy his summer are a major topic up for discussion.

“Sometimes we think we know what [our student-athletes] want and then find out maybe we don’t,” commissioner John Swofford said. “Because the feedback that I heard from our football coaches was that the players weren’t real pleased, that they would rather have two-a-days than have to come in a week earlier. There are a lot of things passed at the NCAA we then find have some unintended consequences, and then we try to adjust to accommodate those. We’ll see how this plays out.”

Overall, ACC coaches were not pleased with the package that passed, taking issue with the official spring visits and new December signing period, along with the two-a-days provision that ended up getting tied into the proposal.

“We had a situation where there was a very strong desire by a lot of people to go forward with a package and to get away from the one-off pieces of legislation because sometimes that hasn’t worked tremendously well, either,” Swofford said. "And I think a lot of the people on the oversight committee, on the NCAA council were faced with having to OK this is as a package and I like 50 percent of it and I like 75 percent of it, do I vote for the whole thing, or do I vote against it and lose what I like about it?

“I haven’t heard anybody say, ‘I like every single aspect of that package.’ We’ll work with it and then we’ll see what can be adjusted going forward. It’s all part of the process, and being a part of the bigger enterprise so to speak, so I suspect you’ll see some amendments down the road to aspects of that package that passed.”