Hawkeyes brace for longer summer of practices

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

CHICAGO — Iowa football players will spend less time in the August sun and more time cooling their heels in the team hotel.

That’s because the NCAA in April banned a long-standing summer rite for football teams rushing to prepare for their season openers — two-a-day practices.

The rule change is intended to protect athletes from injury. Division I teams, like Iowa, are still allowed 29 practice sessions before the Sept. 2 opener, plus a required day off each week, meaning training camp will stretch over five weeks. The Hawkeyes began practicing Sunday, at least four days earlier than they would have in the past.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has been vocal about his opposition to the new schedule, saying it forced his players to end their summers a week early while also building more downtime into what is already a long training camp regimen.

"I couldn't tell you how we're going to spend a whole day off in the Marriott," Iowa guard Sean Welsh said last week at Big Ten Conference media days in Chicago. College football teams like the Hawkeyes are spending more time in training camp after the NCAA banned two-a-day practice sessions.

“(The rule is) really well-intended, but I think they’re misguided, in terms of how they got legislated. I’m fearful that a lot of what we do in college football, practice-wise, trickles down from the NFL. And we’re not the NFL. And a lot of smart people in the NFL think the quality of that game is eroding in certain areas,” Ferentz said last week at Big Ten Conference media days here.

“There are certain things you have to do on the practice field that you can’t do in meeting rooms, you can’t do with them without equipment on. That’s a concern. This concept of one-a-days is really neat — sounds great; kumbayah. In the NFL, they do two weeks of that, then they start playing preseason games. So they break up the monotony of one foot after another. And my contention is we could’ve — in less calendar days — we could have practiced the same amount, had the same amount of non-contact and had the same amount of rest period.

“I think we could have done something without messing around with our kids’ calendars and making them come in four days earlier than they did a year ago. It’s well-intended, but not well thought out.”

Teams are allowed to hold a second walk-through session, without helmets and shoulder pads, but must wait at least three hours after their full-contact practice each day. Film study sessions are also permitted, in addition to practices.

Hawkeye players were bracing themselves for more time being penned up in the hotel, where favorite pastimes include card games like Euchre and 500.

“You can’t really leave the hotel,” Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell noted.

Added senior guard Sean Welsh: “I couldn’t tell you how we’re going to spend a whole day off in the Marriott. I really don’t know.”

Many coaches had already abandoned the concept of two-a-days, however. Jeff Brohm, in his first year at Purdue, said he hasn’t held them in recent years while coaching Western Kentucky.

Then there’s Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, who, not surprisingly, is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the old-school Ferentz.

“It just makes all the sense in the world. There's really nobody having three-a-days anymore or two-a-days anymore,” said Harbaugh.

“Residents in hospitals don't do sleep deprivation anymore. Pilots have to sleep 10 hours, I think, before each flight. It's just everybody is doing it that way," Harbaugh said. "Even the military doesn't have sleep deprivation and three-a-days, et cetera. So I'm all for it.”

Ferentz has said his staff and players will make the new schedule work, but he was clearly upset that the NCAA didn’t solicit the opinions of veteran coaches such as himself before banning two-a-days.

Ferentz was asked if he had any input into the decision and started answering before the question was even finished.

“Zero,” Ferentz said. “I can answer that one real quick. That one came downhill real quick.”