Power Five conference commissioners want to change NCAA rules to give athletes more time away from team activities, including no longer counting travel as an off day, a mandatory seven-day break after the season and an additional 14 off days from athletic activity during the academic year.
The agreement in concept was announced Thursday by the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference. The leagues said they believed they had found the "right balance" to help tens of thousands of athletes with a proposal they are calling Flex 21. The extra 21 days off would be in addition to the current mandatory off days, and could be tailored to fit each team's schedule with input from coaches and athletes.
Formal proposals still need to be submitted, but the conferences could vote to turn them into NCAA rules at the next convention in January.
College sports leaders have been looking into changes to ease the time demands on athletes for several years. At the last NCAA convention, the issue was delayed so more research could be done, including a survey of athletes from all sports. Conference officials seem eager to provide more benefits to athletes at a time when college sports is under legal and public pressure to make changes, including a push to pay athletes. Led by the College Athletes Players Association, members of the Northwestern football team made an attempt to unionize that ultimately failed.
NCAA members schools and conferences have in recent years agreed to raise the value of athletic scholarships to cover the federally determined true cost of attendance that goes beyond tuition, books, room and board, and fees. They have also guaranteed four-year scholarships for many athletes and given athletes more say in making rules.
"We heard from our students that they would like more certainty in their schedules in order to engage in other activities," the commissioners said in a joint statement. "We recognize there will need to be a level of flexibility and reasonableness in carrying out these changes, especially with regard to travel, but students deserve time off and we want athletic departments to work in a sensible and appropriate way to provide it. We want administrators to have some degree of flexibility in implementing these rules, but they must be mindful that rest is important to a student's health, in addition to their athletic and academic performance."
Currently, athletes are generally limited during the school year to 20 "countable hours" toward their sports per week, with one day off. Countable hours mostly cover practices, competition and conditioning, but does not count travel to and from events. The commissioners proposed expanding the definition of required athletic activities to include but not be limited to activities such as media requirements and mandatory community service.
The proposal also includes a mandatory free-time block of eight hours overnight.
The 14 extra off days will be on top of the current required two calendar days off per week outside the season. The additional 14 days can be used during the season if agreed to by coaches and athletes.
"We believe we have found the right balance between helping students participate in sports while also providing them with more down time," the commissioners said. "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."