Column: NCAA practice limits have their loopholes

Mizzou swimmer and Maneater columnist Mitchell Forde on the circumvention of the NCAA’s practice time limit.

Imagine a typical week in your life and all the work that entails. Now imagine it being one day shorter, with all the same responsibilities.

You have the life of a swimmer.

On a typical week, we spend 22 to 23 hours practicing. That time is all spent in the water, lifting or doing dry-land work with the team.

That time doesn’t included stretching or warming up before practice, or recovery work we put in outside of designated practice time. Once you throw in pre-weights warm ups, which last at least 10 minutes, and rehab, such as sitting in the cold tub after practice or working on injuries with a trainer, we put in about one full day’s worth of workouts each week.

I feel confident in claiming that very few other college sports teams, at Mizzou or in the country, train more than we do. Twenty-three hours of working out a week is already pushing the limits.

In fact, the NCAA has a rule that teams are only able to mandate 20 hours of practice time each week.

Wait a minute. Something doesn’t add up. How are swimmers able to practice for 23 hours when the maximum number set forth by the NCAA is 20?

Swim coaches only classify 20 hours of practice as “mandatory.” The remaining time is considered optional, meaning athletes can’t be punished by the coaches for not attending.

However, no one dares skip the optional portions of our training. It would upset the coaches, even if they aren’t allowed to say anything about it, and skipping three hours of training every week will have repercussions on your performance.

Most college sports teams have found ways to legally circumvent the 20-hour rule. Making portions of practices optional seems to be the most common approach, and this is easier in swimming than most sports. In some sports, coaches are not allowed to attend optional practices, but for swimming, there is a safety exemption that allows them to be on the pool deck during optional work.

A few other facets of the NCAA’s rule are that mandatory team meetings count toward the 20 hours, and all competitions count as three hours of practice. In addition, no more than four hours can be required on any one day, and student-athletes must get at least one day off per week.

In our case, the 20 total hours and four-hour maximum per day are both skirted because of optional hours. Thankfully, we do get Sundays completely off.

Again, the rule is a farce. Almost all college sports teams use optional practices to get around the rule.

The fact that everyone breaks the 20-hour rule does not make our 23 hours of training each week any less demanding, however. Spending an entire day of each week working out and then trying to squeeze schoolwork and a minimal social life into the remaining six days is the challenge of college athletics.

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