Power 5 conferences vote to stop off-campus practices

ByMitch Sherman ESPN logo
Saturday, January 21, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The autonomy group of Power 5 conferences voted Friday at the NCAA convention to ban offseason practices away from campus during a vacation period, an apparent direct response to the trip taken by the Michigan football team to a Florida recruiting hotspot over spring break in March.

Proposal No. 2016-139 received majority support from all five leagues, including an 11-3 vote from Big Ten institutions. Student-athletes on the 80-member autonomy panel voted 11-4 against the proposal.

The legislation is effective Aug. 1 and passed as part of a comprehensive package designed to provide better time balance for student-athletes. Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said he was unsure whether the Wolverines would go off campus for spring practice this year.

Manuel said during the discussion portion of the autonomy session that no Michigan players complained of a bad experience last year in Florida. The Wolverines held four practices at IMG Academy, a school stocked with six of the top 50 prospects nationally, according to the ESPN 300, including Michigan enrollee Cesar Ruiz, the nation's No. 1-ranked center.

"The very students that we're trying to serve," Manuel said after the vote, "I think, spoke clearly that they would enjoy the opportunity and experience to be able to train off campus during their breaks."

The new rule does not impact overseas trips during the summer, common among basketball programs and other sports at the Power 5 schools.

"It wasn't about one institution," Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey said. "It wasn't about some regional protection effort. It's very simply, if we're going to sit here and talk about being attentive to the time expectation and managing those appropriately for student-athletes, then we have to look at that type of out-of-season, off-campus, take-a-trip practice."

Sankey spoke during the discussion period in favor of the proposal.

"My view ... was influenced by last year," he said, "where student-athletes told us to stop grabbing more time from them. It seemed the wrong direction to be using what is a break opportunity for practice. I think it's as fundamental as that."

Schools are still allowed to hold on-campus practices during spring break.

"I'm open to ensuring that our student-athletes have down time," Manuel said. "But I think to isolate it to one specific area -- one specific time of the year, where we don't vote against having practice, we just vote that you can't go anywhere else and have practice -- I think it's missing the point."

Conversation was divided before the vote.

"Why are we here?" asked former Northwestern soccer player Nandi Mehta, suggesting that colleges are supposed to provide opportunity for student-athletes.

"I don't think it's right to strip a student-athlete of this opportunity."

So is Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh a target of college legislators?

"The rule didn't get proposed until after we took the football team down to Florida for spring break," Manuel said. "So I think you can read into that as you will."

The Division I council, chaired by Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips, earlier this week asked the student-athlete advisory committee to offer the council a recommendation on legislation over such spring-break trips.

Former Ole Miss baseball player Brady Bramlett, co-chair of the advisory committee, said Thursday that the SAAC would recommend legislation to prohibit the trips. The decision Friday by the autonomy group supersedes any legislation that the council would create this year as it relates to the 65 schools associated with the Power 5 leagues.

Also on Friday at the autonomy session, the Power 5 schools approved Proposal No. 2016-135 with an 80-0 vote, prohibiting athletically related activities, not including competition, between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Other passed proposals added mandatory off days during the academic year, during preseason and vacation periods, and created a student-athlete time-management plan.

Time balance grew into an important issue in recent months for NCAA leaders.

"We all hear from our students that one of their major challenges is dividing their time among athletics, among academics, among student life," NCAA president Mark Emmert said Thursday.

Emmert described the new legislation on time balance as a "really good starting place."

"What's important to me is that we provide a framework that's enforceable, that allows the ability for student-athletes to get their academic work done," said Oliver Luck, NCAA executive vice president of regulatory affairs, "time for athletics in a structured way and that they also have a little bit of free time to enjoy campus life.

"Those types of things are what the college experience is about."