Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh speaks at Big Ten Media Day in Chicago on July 25. ASSOCIATED PRESS
ANN ARBOR — The dog days of training camp lost a little bit of their bite.
As college football teams around the country gear up for another season, August’s miserable humidity isn’t met with the same angst as years past. In April, the NCAA, with an eye toward player safety, banned two-a-day practices, a decision the NFL made in 2011.
If teams have two practices on the same day, one must be a walk-through with no contact, helmets, pads, or conditioning, and three hours of recovery is required. Players also have an off day and teams were permitted to begin fall camp one week earlier.
The full days of contact were long used as a rite of passage for football coaches who believed the macho activity would toughen up their team of brutes and leave opponents quaking.
“I think it’s very good, very common sense,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh about the rule change. “I don’t think there’s any industry anymore that’s not getting a day off or having two-a-days or three-a-days.
“Pilots don’t do it, resident surgeons don’t do sleep deprivations anymore, even the military. It just makes sense that there should be a day given off per week. It makes all of the sense in the world to me.”
Statistics from the NCAA’s Sport Science Institute say 58 percent of concussions during practices happen in fall camp. The unseemly heat can also trigger heatstroke, which killed former Ohio State offensive tackle Korey Stringer, who died during the Minnesota VIkings’ training camp in 2001.
Soft-tissue injuries, especially hamstring and groin pulls, have also been pinpointed by medical experts.
According to the Associated Press, an overwhelming majority of Football Bowl Subdivision programs — 89 that responded to a survey — were already phasing out traditional two-a-day practices. Instead, the day’s second practice often consisted of limited workouts with no contact.
The days of “Junction Boys,” when Bear Bryant pushed his Texas A&M team to the brink, have evaporated. Bryant believed his players were weak, so he took the team to the Texas hill country in 1954 during a drought and heat wave. The 10-day training camp featured day-long practices in stifling heat with no water, leading nearly three-quarters of the team to quit.
The reaction from Michigan players after 10 days of Camp Harbaugh is positive.
“It’s better on the body, but also it takes away time that maybe some players need,” said sophomore defensive lineman Rashan Gary. “I don’t have a problem with it. We’re still attacking. At the end of practice, our bodies feel like we had two-a-days.”
There was plenty of editing in April when it came to practice schedules. Harbaugh said there were slight adjustments Michigan had to make because of the addition of 14 off-days.
“It kind of feels the same,” said defensive lineman Maurice Hurst. “They gave us a day off, but they added a week to the schedule.”
For critics who were already pointing their bayonets at the NCAA because of time commitment issues, this only adds more ammunition. There are still 29 practices before the season begins, but now they are spread over four weeks (not including the week prior to the first game) as opposed to three.
Thus, programs across the country opened camp in July this year, so early that some schools, Michigan included, were in summer school when camp commenced.
“I really like this plan,” said Michigan offensive coordinator Tim Drevno. “The day off gives these guys a chance to get their thoughts clear, get off their feet, get some rehab, and feel fresh when they come back. I love the way we do it. There are no time restrictions. We’re gonna meet, we’re gonna practice, we’re gonna walk-through. It really gives you a battle rhythm. I think it’s good that we got to come to camp a week earlier, especially with this young football team. Everything is really positive, and I feel really good about it.”