Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Student athlete time demands: Part 2 - The hours

At the January 2016 NCAA Convention, the leadership of the autonomous 65 institutions tabled three proposals intended to reduce student athlete time demands and passed a resolution to address the topic in the next 12 months.  

It is well known that the time demands for a student athlete are significant, with student athletes indicating they spend in excess of 40 hours per week on their sport (yet NCAA rules permit a maximum of 20 hours per week) in addition to their academic expectations and the desire to have a personal life.  It is widely recognized the system has tilted too far away from a model that values the student experience.  But, as I described in part one of this series, the current compensation structure rewards athletic performance and under values educational outcomes.  The result is the maximum permissible amount of time that can be spent on athletics becomes the minimum.  And the minimum amount of time that can be devoted to other pursuits such as academics becomes the maximum.

To address the imbalance in student athlete time commitments a number of changes can be made, including:  
  • Time limitations should be sport specific.  Every coach will tell you their sport is unique - establishing a permissible number of athletic activity hours for a sport should be no less specific. This concept is already evident in the number of contests played, season lengths and a host of other areas.  There should be no expectation that the number of permissible hours should be the same for all sports. 
  • Acknowledge that 20 hours per week in-season may not be enough to allow appropriate preparation and the permissible number of in-season hours should be increased by sport to reflect this reality. 
  • As compensation for increased in-season hours, reduce out-of-season time demands from eight hours per week to four or perhaps even fewer and reduce the number of days these activities can occur.   At eight hours per week, student athletes can be required to participate in 90 minutes of athletic activities five days per week or two hours four days per week.  The logical opportunity for student athletes to regain time is out of season when extensive direct preparation for competition is not necessary. 
  • Hours should be counted accurately.  The current "20-hours per week" rule is laughable because numerous activities are not counted (e.g rehabilitation, travel, recruiting assistance, training meals, fund raising and community appearances, etc.) but do in fact utilize student athletes time and are without question mandatory.  The accounting of hours needs to reflect reality and include:
    1. Increasing the estimated amount of time that is used to account for a competition day - current rules count all activities on game day as three hours, regardless of the amount of time spent.  When factoring in pregame meetings, warm ups, post game, and the contest itself, the hours spent in most sports are likely double the accounted for three hours.    
    2. Counting all activities that involve coaching and sport specific staff, whether mandatory or voluntary, towards the new hours limitation.  If there is seriousness about emphasizing freedom to pursue personal opportunities, part of this is recognizing that time spent on one activity cannot be used on another.  By accurately counting hours and establishing sport specific limits, it should be evident when a student athlete has reached a point of diminishing or negative returns and engage in other activities.  
    3. Counting activities under the safety exception - Workouts that are supervised by coaches for safety purposes should be considered countable hours. 
  • Travel time should count in the permissible number of hours as four hours, similar to the current manner of accounting for a day of competition.  Travel that is less than four hours should be recorded accurately to represent the actual time spent.  While not a perfect solution, it is a step towards accurate representation of travel demands.  The obvious criticisms are that this is unfair to institutions who are geographically remote, that travel is unpredictable, and that many conferences are geographically disbursed.  All of this is true, and it's exactly why travel should be counted. None of these concerns change the fact the burden of travel directly impacts student athlete's lives.  Providing no accounting of the hours lost due to travel is yet another example of inaccurate counting that should be addressed. A benefit of this approach may be coaches scheduling more geographically favorable non-conference contests and conferences scheduling in creative ways that develop travel partner arrangements, neutral site scheduling and other mechanisms to reduce the travel burdens that student athletes face. Schools that have their athletes continually playing "buy games" on the road to fund their athletic programs will need to adjust student athlete hours in other ways to compensate for never playing at home, or schedule more home contests.  
  • Establish a minimum expectation for academic engagement.  If a student athlete is taking 15 credit hours, at a minimum they should expect to spend 15 hours per week attending class. In addition, it seems reasonable to expect one hour per credit hour each week to study, prepare, research and read for their courses.  Mandatory academic engagement already exists in athletics through supervised and mandated studying.  Establishing a minimum baseline should be considered.  This may be viewed by many as unworkable, unnecessary or a further infringement on student athlete time.  But imagine the compound effect of 100+ hours each semester spent on academics - grade point averages and graduation rates should skyrocket.  
Finally, as the debate heats up regarding how to return time to student athletes, I'd encourage decision makers to use a simple litmus test to determine whether they are on the right track in returning those hours to students.  Assume for a moment you are required to record athletic and academic engagement as suggested above.  When determining whether something should "count" toward the academic minimum or athletic maximum hours, find a corresponding example in the other area and see if you would count a parallel activity in the same manner.

For example, rehabilitation from an injury does not count in the current NCAA permissible 20 hours. If you were counting academic hours, would you say the same thing about tutoring, which is a form of academic training?  If a three credit hour class meets for 50 minutes three times a week, would you count this time as 2.5 hours or three?  On the athletic side when trying to avoid hitting a maximum, it would be counted as 50 minutes per practice. Would it be counted similarly on the academic side? While not a perfect test, these parallel examples help sort out what should and should not count and will help move toward greater accuracy.

Ultimately, the challenge of solving student athlete time demands will be only partially addressed by the above ideas. Tweaks around the edges to give a week or two back to students and letting them reclaim their sleep time between 9 pm and 6 am is only effective if it occurs within a larger adjustment of the structural aspects that truly drive time demands - length of season, out of season requirements, practice and competition start dates, exempt events and the number of contests among other things.  In part three of this series, I'll move past accounting for hours and examine ways to provide even greater reductions in student athlete time demands.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Student athlete time demands: Part 1 - The current model

The 2016 NCAA Convention saw the tabling of three proposals intended to reduce student athlete time demands - no longer considering a travel day as a day off, banning practice between 9 pm and 6 am and requiring at least two weeks off following the conclusion of an athlete's season.

The always popular call for "further study" and views that the proposals may not have been effective in addressing the issue both contributed to the failure to address what everyone acknowledges - that athletes are spending more time than ever on their sports.  The proposals that were tabled dealt more with symptoms rather than the root causes of expanded time demands - increased out of season practice, earlier start dates, exempt tournaments, more games and a host of other athletic opportunities.  While some critics would propose abandoning the system, this clearly isn't going to happen.  But change does need to occur.

The media, coaches, student athletes themselves, presidents and athletic administrators widely recognize the enterprise needs change, with near universal advocacy for improved "student athlete welfare."  Recent solutions - multiple year scholarships, cost of attendance stipends, essentially unlimited food with fueling stations and extensive training table areas, insurance coverage against loss of future professional value due to injury, travel for family to championships and other meaningful changes - moved college athletics closer than ever to a professional model through increasing amounts and types of compensation.  These changes were relatively easy to accomplish because they could be solved by spending more money to address social and legal pressures.  In short, they made good business sense.

But in business, just as in your own life, you can always make more money, but you can't make more time.  We each get the same 24 hours in a day and it's a zero sum game, despite what furious multi-taskers would tell you.  This is why the truly heavy lifting of changing student athlete welfare has arrived.

The "student" side of student-athlete does not align with the reward and compensation structure for coaches and administrators which rests on winning and athletic success.  Good educational metrics (GPA, graduation rates, APR scores, community service, student athlete behavior and welfare) are necessary but insufficient criteria for retaining your position or advancing to another more lucrative one.  Television revenues, ticket sales and donations which all come from winning and a great on-field/court "product" cannot buy more time for a student athlete and in fact dictates they maximize their time on athletics.  But the maximum isn't always optimum.    

Providing additional compensation as the first step towards improved student athlete welfare wasn't hard.  Those changes brought a brief respite from critics.  Now, student athletes want more control of their future, their lives, their day and their schedules.  Giving them the freedom to enhance their total college experience will be difficult in the face of a compensation structure that doesn't reward freedom.

The first step towards change is presidents exercising their leadership responsibility and mandating change.

Much has been made about the concept of "presidential control" in the NCAA.  Yet, conference realignment, NCAA governance restructuring and huge television contracts had active presidential involvement.  The massive structural changes we have seen under their "control" has directly contributed to the current state of student athlete time commitments. Conference realignment and television agreements were obviously going to have undesirable but thoroughly predictable consequences.  Without getting dragged into the weeds of policy making, presidents need to mandate that the amount of time budgeted for athletics be reduced (not just at the margins) with the negative time commitments that came with conference realignment and television pushed back into educational alignment. The exercise and expectation really isn't much different than the decisions they make regarding financial budgets.

Meaningful solutions to reduce student athlete time demands do exist and improving opportunities for educational experiences that look different from today can be achieved.  Reducing time demands for student athletes can either nibble at the edges with proposals similar to what was tabled at this year's NCAA Convention or address the root causes of the situation. The upcoming segments in this series will examine various proposals to help student athletes can regain control of their time while maintaining high level Division I athletic programs.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

NCAA budget update #71

Cal Berkeley is facing a $150 million dollar negative difference between its revenue and expenses. Although the indication is that no teams will be cut, all areas of spending including athletics expenditures will be examined.

Missouri State is facing a $1.1 million shortfall due to declines in men's basketball ticket sales.

Wyoming was anxiously awaiting word about whether it would receive $4 million annually in state support for athletics while other areas of the state are facing budget cuts.  The funding was ultimately granted but has been the subject of significant criticism in the state.

TheAdvocate.com reviewed spending on athletics at the 14 public colleges and universities.  The findings show that 13 of the 14 departments (except LSU) receive substantial subsidies.

As a follow up to my earlier series about daily fantasy sports, the NY Times and Frontline have developed a one hour documentary about the industry.