Nebraska AD Bill Moos at press conference
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Another Exception? NCAA May Have to Make One for Spring Practices

March 17, 2020

Nebraska’s spring game is all but canceled, even if it hasn’t been officially confirmed at this point, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Athletic director Bill Moos said during his monthly appearance on Sports Nightly that the annual Red-White Spring Game won’t happen on April 18 and it  "most probably will not occur at all." Not long after, the Huskers tweeted that those with tickets will receive an email soon “regarding your refund.” And then the official event was canceled on Facebook.

Losing the spring game is one thing. Losing spring practices is another. For Coach Scott Frost and his team, things are in a bit of a holding pattern after the Big Ten Conference suspended all team activities until April 6. Even with that date in mind, it’s unclear if Nebraska—along with all Big Ten teams—will be able to return to practice at that point.

Prior to the suspension—which was only announced four days ago, if you can believe it—Nebraska had completed just two of the 15 spring practices allowed by the NCAA.

"I think in a perfect world, if we can get our arms around the virus and people can start to feel comfortable in our environment and where we’re at, maybe we can get those 13 practices back in June or so during summer school," Moos said Monday evening. "Hopefully that would be the case.”

Moos referenced other programs around the country that started spring football earlier than the Huskers. On top of bowl game practices, “that’s 30 practices and 28 more than the University of Nebraska,” Moos said. “That’s a heck of an advantage and we need to recoup that somewhere." 

At first glance, 40 of the 65 Power 5 programs, including Notre Dame, got at least some spring practices in prior to team activites being suspended. That was the case for half of the Big Ten.

West Division

School Start End
Indiana March 7 April 17
Maryland March 24 April 25
Michigan March 17 April 20
Michigan State March 17 April 18
Ohio State March 2 April 15
Penn State March 18 April 18
Rutgers N/A N/A

 

East Division

School Start End
Illinois March 23 April 18
Iowa March 25 April 24
Minnesota March 3 April 4
Nebraska March 9 April 18
Northwestern February 25 April 13
Purdue February 24 April 4
Wisconsin March 10 April 18

In Nebraska’s case, it only got two practices in—as Moos mentioned—before things were halted. If the Huskers—alongside all Division I programs—were given the opportunity to resume those practices at some point, the NCAA would need to make one-time exceptions across the board to make it work.

Here’s how the it works now for spring practices, according to the NCAA bylaws:

“Fifteen postseason practice sessions [including intrasquad scrimmages and the spring game permitted in Bylaw 17.10.5.2-(a)] are permissible. An institution is not required to count as one of its 15 designated days any day during which countable athletically related activities are limited solely to required conditioning activities, review of game film and/or walk-throughs.”

Of the eight subheads that fall under that initial bylaw, one is particularly important to understand within this discussion:

“All practice sessions are conducted within a period of 34 consecutive calendar days, omitting vacation and examination days officially announced on the institution's calendar and days during which the institution is closed due to inclement weather.”

That’s an initial exception the NCAA would have to make. If Nebraska resumed practices June 1, it would mean “spring” practices would fall over almost three months, far more than the allotted 34 days (not including the original week off for spring break). 

The second exception would be in result to this note in the bylaws:

“An institution shall designate nine consecutive weeks between the conclusion of the academic year and its reporting date for preseason practice as its summer conditioning period. During this nine-week period, institutions shall designate one week as student-athlete discretionary time (in addition to the eight weeks already designated).”

Where those nine weeks fall is based on the start of fall camp. NCAA bylaw allows fall camp and practice to start 29 day before the first scheduled game but it’s not quite as easy as just counting back 29 days from the first game. Here’s what the NCAA has to say:

“In determining the first permissible preseason practice date, an institution shall count back from its first scheduled contest, one unit for each day beginning with the opening of classes, one unit for each day classes are not in session in the week of the first scheduled intercollegiate contest and two units for each other day in the preseason practice period, except that the institution shall not count any units during the preseason when all institutional dormitories are closed, the institution's team must leave campus, and practice is not conducted.”

Lost, yet? It’s a bit (or a lot) confusing, especially when you factor in that Sundays do not factor into the overall count and some days are counted more significantly than others. It generally means Nebraska would start fall camp around Aug. 6 with a Sept. 5 start to the season. In 2019, Nebraska started fall camp on Aug. 1 when the season kicked off on Aug. 31.

Hypothetically speaking, if Nebraska started fall camp on Thursday, Aug. 6, summer conditioning would start on or before June 4. That means if Nebraska—like any other program—wanted to move additional practices into June, the NCAA would have to make an exception for the 2020 calendar. These practices would likely have to be capped in regards to an end date to still allow players time to utilize their discretionary time, while also allowing time for summer conditioning. 

Summer conditioning would obviously need to be condensed, and it would have to make sense for any program across the board. The exception would need to be dependent on the start of the season and the first day of classes. Both change how fall camp functions, which changes how summer conditioning works.

There’s also a discussion to be had about what this time right now means. Could this time be considering discretionary time? If so, that may play a role in how the NCAA evaluates things going forward and what requirements are made.

Moos was right when he said some programs could have an advantage through this. Depending on when spring ball started, or when the academic calendar starts and ends, some programs will be in a better position going forward than others. For Nebraska, there’s plenty of reason to want those 13 practices back, especially after missing out on another year of bowl game practice. Moos said this is just part of what athletic directors will be discussing in the coming days and weeks ahead.

Let’s just say this is another area where the NCAA will have to determine what makes the most sense for its student-athletes, while balancing what’s fair across the board, through an unprecendented time.

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