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Pac-12 football coaches favor new rule that eliminates two-a-days in practice

Pac-12 football coaches favor new rule that eliminates two-a-days in practice
Washington State coach Mike Leach is in favor of getting rid of two-a-days in practice. "If you over-train, it's counterproductive," he says. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The dreaded, summer two-a-days — a double-dose of practice beneath the unforgiving sun — used to be a staple of training camp throughout college football.

But recent years have seen many coaches cut back on their preseason workload, concerned about wearing players out too soon.

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Now, with camps set to begin at schools across the nation next week, teams won't have any choice.

This August marks the debut of an NCAA Division I rule prohibiting multiple contact practices within the same day, a change that was generally well-received at the Pac-12 Conference media days this week.

"It's not just some nice, generous, benevolence," Washington State coach Mike Leach said. "If you over-train, it's counterproductive."

The NCAA's Division I Council adopted the legislation last spring, citing research that showed athletes are more likely to suffer concussions during full-contact practices.

Fewer practices with tackling should translate into fewer opportunities for head injuries, officials said.

The new standard comes into effect just days after Boston University researchers announced that, among more than 100 professional players whose brains were examined after death, nearly all suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

"That doesn't just happen when they go to the NFL," UCLA coach Jim Mora said. "That starts at an early age. So we have to be conscious of those things."

Pac-12 coaches said they had already been dialing back on two-a-days, if not eliminating them all together.

"Why do we practice twice a day? Why do we hit twice a day?" Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said. "It makes no sense."

Most players seemed to agree.

"I feel like [the rule] gives our bodies a chance to rest," Arizona State running back Kalen Ballage said. "You're not killing yourself every day."

But Filipo Mokofisi, a defensive tackle for Utah, wondered about the change.

"Man, I don't know how I feel about it," Mokofisi said. "I always look back to the old-school stuff and see how they did it."

There were other concerns among coaches and players about the scope of the prohibition.

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The NCAA allows for a single, three-hour session each day. If players are given three continuous hours of recovery, they may return to the field for a non-contact walk-through so long as no helmets or pads are worn.

Coaches and players worried the rule would forbid the type of light, afternoon practices that used to be paired with heavy morning workouts.

"I'm really discouraged that they took that away from us," Washington coach Chris Petersen said. "I think they haven't done enough research to figure [it] out; and I know our team doctors did see what we did in our, quote, two-a-days, and it was one of the best things we did in terms of mentally getting [players] along."

Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert said: "It's definitely important, making sure you know what you're doing."

Limits on contact will coincide with another change allowing the preseason to begin a week earlier, so long as teams continue to hold no more than 29 practices.

MacIntyre likes that football is moving in the direction of basketball, which gives coaches the flexibility to conduct 30 practices over a stretch of 42 days before the opening game.

"Let's spread it out, have a week off," the Colorado coach said. "Practice one time a day, have a walk-through in the afternoon, have a little more downtime for them in between practices, because you're not having to hurry it all in."

The current legislation won't have any effect at Washington State, where Leach did away with two-a-days some time ago. Still, he wishes that conference opponents still had the option of pushing hard through summer.

"I think they ought to have four-a-days so hopefully some of these teams will pound [themselves] into submission and make our work a little easier," he said. "But it doesn't sound like they're going to let them do that."

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