Here’s a surefire way to pick a fight with a coach: Suggest he or she is demanding too much from the players.
To say the coach should lighten the players’ workload or that the players should spend less time on their sport is to invite a look of disbelief followed by an involuntary you-just-don’t-get-it shake of the head.
Yet, a body of college athletics reformers known as The Drake Group recently spoke the unspeakable: college athletes could benefit by spending less time on athletics.
In a news release, The Drake Group said excessive time demands were the most “significant roadblock for college athletes seeking meaningful educations.” The coaches’ incessant more-more-more approach interfered with sleep, made recovery from injury more difficult, induced stress and interfered with classwork, The Drake Group said.
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David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and the reform group’s president, does not expect coaches to agree.
“I’m no Pollyanna here and think, ‘Hey, The Drake Group proposal is going to be something that would be approved tomorrow,’” he said in a telephone conversation. “But I do think there are things in there that can be done. And that is really what we’re hoping to do: throw out some ideas.”
The Drake Group’s suggestions included making basketball a one-semester sport, an idea long espoused by former Kentucky Athletics Director C.M. Newton. The idea in basketball is to reduce the inherent athletic-academic strain to the spring semester. The season’s first game would come after final exams in December. And the season ends with — get this — not March Madness, but April Madness (April Absurdity?).
The Drake Group also proposed that games on “school nights” (Sunday through Thursday) no longer start at 9 p.m. These made-for-TV starts cause visiting teams to return home well past midnight.
Veering from The Drake Group’s stated proposals, Ridpath also floated the idea of players being allowed to take fewer classes in the semester of their sport, say, only six hours of class credit in the spring semester in basketball. A heavier load of hours could come in the “off” fall semester and summer.
It’s easy to imagine Kentucky Coach John Calipari shaking his head at a less-is-more philosophy. Although he’s touted the need for shorter practice sessions late in the season, he like most coaches is a devotee of the gym rat. He speaks glowingly of the “breakfast club” — pre-dawn voluntary workouts — helping UK win the 2012 national championship. More than once since then, he’s held out the return of the breakfast club as the tonic the Cats needed.
And in 2014, when it appeared Kentucky played better at South Carolina with less-is-more coaching, Calipari repeatedly rejected that conclusion. Never mind that his much-ballyhooed “tweak” that postseason seemed to include toning down the sideline angst.
When told that more-is-more was a foundational part of conventional coaching wisdom, Ridpath said, “When I coached, I probably said the same thing.”
When asked why coaches want more, more, more, Ridpath said, “You’re looking for the edge. You’re looking for anything (and) everything. You want complete control of your players. And if they’re not under your thumb, you tend to think something’s going wrong. Or they’re doing something that might make you less competitive. So if you have more hours of practice … it can make your team more competitive.”
The Drake Group’s proposals come on the heels of major conferences looking to restrict time demands. Ridpath, self-described as no Pollyanna, said that factors other than strictly student-athlete welfare motivated the conferences. A court case that could transfer money to players led to ideas of reducing time demands on athletes. In 2014, National Labor Relations Board officials ruled that Northwestern football players were entitled to union rights as “employees” of the school rather than students (a ruling later revoked by the NLRB).
Reducing time demands helps re-define players as students rather than employees belonging to a union.
Ridpath said The Drake Group’s ideas went beyond what the conferences proposed.
“They’re supposed to be students,” he said. “They need time to study. They need time to experience college life.”
Ridpath likened the changes The Drake Group proposed to the Olympics belatedly allowing professionals to compete. The sports world adapted.
“Let’s just say we can wave a magic wand” and the NCAA adopts The Drake Group’s proposals, he said. “Would that change anybody in Lexington? Would they all of a sudden say ‘We’re not going to the games anymore? Because the kids aren’t practicing enough? Because it’s now April Madness rather than March Madness?’”
Why go to college?
The athletics philosophy of more, more, more seems to contradict a basic idea about what college is. Isn’t college for broadening the mind? Exposing students to new ideas, lifestyles, personalities, cultures.
According to a 2011 study by the Pew Research Center, 39 percent of respondents said that college was for helping students grow personally and intellectually.
However, 47 percent said that the purpose of college was to teach work-related skills. Kentucky Coach John Calipari seems to fall into this category. He has said that UK helps prepare his players, who are basketball virtuosos, to move quickly to their athletics destinies. They do this by immersing themselves even more into their sport.
When asked at the 2012 Final Four about UK’s dependence on so-called one-and-done players, Calipari said, “At the end of the day, I don't apologize for anything we do. I mean, you know, Steve Jobs left (college early), Bill Gates left.”
Then Calipari mixed sarcasm into his argument. “The integrity of their schools was at stake when they left,” he said of Jobs and Gates. “They should have stayed and not changed the world.”
When told of the comparison of UK players to Jobs and Gates, The Drake Group president David Ridpath said, “If they are that gifted, they should go pro immediately.”
More more, more, more
On Monday, The Wall Street Journal published a story that seemed to support The Drake Group’s contention that incessant coaching demands for more, more, more can be counterproductive.
The newspaper cited several Olympians who benefited from time away from their sports.
After retiring in 2012, swimmer Michael Phelps spent what The Wall Street Journal called “two meandering years” away from training. Phelps’ time off included a second arrest for drunken driving and a suspension from USA Swimming.
Of course, drunken driving is not a plus, but sportswriter Matthew Futterman wrote, “Those forced sabbaticals now look like a blessing in disguise. They gave Phelps a built-in break from the grind of the Olympic training cycle that can wear down any aging athlete.”
Dave Marsh, a coach of the U.S. swim team, said he planned to tell every swimmer not headed back to college to find something else to do for a while. “Six months at the absolute minimum, but a year is fine, too,” Marsh said. “They have to get away from this mentally and physically.”
After the 2012 Olympics, Dana Vollmer retired and had a baby. She returned to swimming in 2015 as part of an effort to lose weight gained during pregnancy.
After winning a bronze medal in the 100-meter butterfly and a silver in the 4-by-100 freestyle relay, she said, “You need to step away.”
According to news accounts, about 2 feet of water fell on the Baton Rouge area in a 48-hour period last weekend. Reports said floodwaters had damaged about 40,000 homes and caused 13 deaths.
Among the some 30,000 people rescued was retired LSU radio play-by-play man Jim Hawthorne and his wife, Carol. The tale of a dramatic rescue had volunteers riding boats hearing cries for help from the Hawthornes.
“I yelled as loud as I could, and they heard me,” Hawthorne, 72, said in one story. “I was in water up to my you-know-whats. I was yelling, ‘HEY! HEY!’ The motor stopped and they came around and came back.”
When contacted on Thursday, Hawthorne said the stories of his rescue exaggerated the melodrama. He said there were about 15 inches of water in his home, which he called an “inconvenience.”
Hawthorne added, “People have lost everything they own. … We were never in danger.”
Concern, fortunately unwarranted, grew because the flood left the Hawthornes without electricity and cellphone service. In the absence of contact, relatives imagined the worst. Volunteers brought Hawthorne and his wife into one of their boats last Sunday. They’ve stayed with a friend.
Hawthorne, who retired in March, called LSU football, basketball and baseball games for 36 years. His time included three Final Fours and 17 trips to the College World Series.
“Nine national championship games,” he said, “and we won eight of them.”
When asked what LSU basketball games (the Mardi Gras Miracle?) topped his list of memories, Hawthorne asked for a pass. “It’s so hard for me to come up with that in my brain right now with what I got in there,” he said.
In response to an email early last week, LSU senior associate communications director Kent Lowe reported on how the school was coping.
“Lots of areas around (Baton Rouge) and parts of the city are flooded,” he wrote. “Jenn Rodrigues, our women’s basketball SID, her home was flooded. A lot of video staff homes were flooded.”
As for LSU’s home arena, Lowe wrote, “Maravich Center fine, we believe.”
The Carl Maddox Field House, the LSU track team’s indoor home, is serving as a special needs shelter for medical cases. It has served that purpose for emergencies since Hurricane Katrina.
LSU’s first day of classes is Monday. Public schools in Baton Rouge begin Wednesday.
Lowe suggested that donations be sent to the American Red Cross.
While at Lake Tahoe recently, West Coast correspondent Chris Thompson found himself in the MontBleu Resort Casino (we assume he was in there to ask for directions to his choir practice). He came across the odds for winning the 2017 national championship.
Kentucky is the second choice at 6-1 odds. Duke is the favorite at 4-1.
By the way, Bovada’s latest odds have Duke a 9-2 favorite to win the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Kentucky is the second choice at 13-2.
Both oddsmakers have Villanova as the third choice.
To Kenny “Sky” Walker. Presumably more earth-bound these days, he turned 52 on Thursday. … To Willie Cauley-Stein. He turned 23 on Thursday. … To Oklahoma Coach (and former Florida Coach) Lon Kruger. He turned 64 on Friday. … To Quinn Buckner, the point guard on college basketball’s last undefeated national championship team (Indiana 1975-76). He turned 62 on Saturday. … To Jodie Meeks. He turns 29 on Sunday (today). . . . To Todd Tackett. He turns 37 on Monday. . . . To former Mississippi State Coach Richard Williams. He turns 71 on Monday. . . . To UK President Eli Capilouto. He turns 67 on Monday. … To Kent Hollenbeck. He turns 66 on Wednesday.