In his discussion of the Michigan fracas, Dr Saturday steps back:
But the broader implication isn’t about the changing culture at Michigan as much as it is the longstanding culture at all big football schools, where the notion of “voluntary” workouts and hourly limits have been met with winks for years. A survey of Division I athletes last year revealed the reality: Time limits or not, big-time football everywhere is a full-time job that consumes vastly more hours than the NCAA officially sanctions — and has to be, if the competition is putting in the same work. That players will “voluntarily” go above and beyond the proscribed limits is taken for granted. (It hardly seems like a coincidence that at least 20 college players have collapsed and died following offseason workouts in the last decade, which was practically unheard of even under old school sadists like Bear Bryant.) Coaches follow the letter of the law at the peril of their records and their jobs.
In that sense, assuming that Carr’s staff really were the sticklers they’re widely reputed to be (an assumption backed up by the Free Press’ reports), the exuberance of their successors is just another case of Rodriguez and Barwis bringing the program into the 21st Century. The fact that they’re being singled out may only be because they’re doing it at one of the very few places that knows the difference.
In other words, there is a degree of hypocrisy in singling out Rodriguez, but it is only in the fact that this has become normal, and even expected. It is, in modern big-time football, the cost of winning. Maybe Rodriguez went too far (or maybe not), but it makes little sense to single out Rodriguez and Michigan, at least for most of the allegations. (The Sunday stuff, if true, does seem excessive.)
There is also little point in the NCAA having rules no one can be expected to comply with. The NCAA practice limits are quite stringent, and there are obvious reasons why a school would want their players to practice more than the NCAA limits would allow. Besides improving their overall conditioning and fitness, or their football skills, the large amounts of downtime for student-athletes who only practice about four hours a day and are, in many cases at least, barely even students can lead to a lot of time to get in trouble off-the-field. I’m not singling out football players as miscreants, but instead just pointing out that many 19 year-old males do stupid things, and scholarship football players are given a lot of freedom and privilege — a lot of rope to hang themselves with. Call it the Cesar Millan/Dog whisperer strategy: if you make kids work harder they are less likely to have the time (or energy) to get into trouble. (In high school, many teams schedule an early morning Saturday morning practice where the focus is on the younger guys; for the varsity players, the point is to make them get up early and thus deter them from staying out late after football games on Friday night.)
In any event, the point of the rule seems to be, among other things, to protect the image of players as “student athletes” — they don’t treat their sport as a full-time job. This is of course a classic case of image versus reality, and a conflict that will not go away. For every scholarship football player who spends extra time pursuing their degree, there are countless others for whom it is just a full-time job. And it is not like fans, if they are honest, would have it another way. I have never heard a player come off the field and say, “You know, I’m sorry I didn’t play well this week. I’m taking a lot of really interesting classes and I stayed up late to work on them and I skipped some extra film study so I could go to my professor’s office hours — man it was fascinating. I promise to refocus next week.” The NFL has no such identity crisis, but it’s just another symptom of college football’s dual role as a business that puts out a sports product where the employees are “student athletes” paid (primarily) with a free education. This tension won’t go away.
- Thanatos and football. As the Doc also noted, practicing football has become increasingly deadly. He says, “It hardly seems like a coincidence that at least 20 college players have collapsed and died following offseason workouts in the last decade, which was practically unheard of even under old school sadists like Bear Bryant.”
Why football players are dying is a tricky question, and theories abound. Are they the same and they were just underreported previously? Are workouts tougher? Are kids less able to handle these workouts because they spend the rest of their time inside, playing video games, etc? Is it the supplement industry, with creatine-influenced cramping, reduced water retention, and sports/redbull/caffeine drink induced increased heart rates causing the injuries? It’s very hard to say.