ROSEMONT, Illinois — Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said it's time to abolish the so-called 20-hour rule designed to limit how much time students spend on athletics instead of academics per week.
Alvarez acknowledged athletes need time off. But the rule in place is not the way to go about it.
"How do you keep track of it?" he said Wednesday. "C'mon. Don't have rules that you can't enforce. Like when we took the ban off the food regulations, hallelujah. If you want to feed the kids, feed 'em. Let's not make ridiculous rules that you can't follow."
Alvarez will get no argument from Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, who called the rule a "misnomer" based on the amount of time athletes devote to their sport and said it needs a new label.
He said he sees it as part of a bigger discussion about improving the experience for athletes and putting a greater emphasis on education.
The same goes for the so-called year of readiness idea that he has floated in which football and men's basketball players would be ineligible as freshmen, as they were until 1972.
"The most important thing is there be a discussion about how prepared the student is, how the school accommodates preparedness and how it all works," Delany said. "Twenty-hour rule doesn't work. I'm not sure our initial eligibility standards work in these two sports. Certainly, the outcomes are different than they are in all the other sports."
Delany cited NCAA studies showing Division III athletes devote "high 30s hours per week" toward their sport. That number, he said, climbs at the higher levels — low 40s at Division II and mid 40s for Division I.
The 20-hour rule covers required activities such as practices, weight training and conditioning, meetings and video sessions along with setting up equipment. But traveling does not count. Nor does time spent in the trainer's room or voluntary workouts.
"We have parallel mission statements, and they don't play well together," Iowa AD Gary Barta said. "One of our missions is to graduate young people. The other mission we have at Iowa is it's a $90 million enterprise and much of it is based on filling a stadium or selling corporate sponsorships. But the beauty of it is we've been doing it, 100 years plus, we mixed collegiate sport with wonderful universities. So I still think it's a great model."
It's a model that often needs tweaking. Rules have loopholes. There are gray areas. Is a so-called optional workout or video session really optional? Or is an athlete being pressured by a coach or teammates?
And what about athletes who are just flat out dedicated, who want to work out and review video during their down time?
"It really is tricky, and some kids are going to figure out a way to do it," Indiana athletic director Fred Glass said. "They're going to download film on their iPad and work in their dorm room on it, and in some ways that's great if that's what they want to do. But I think the peer pressure and this falsehood about it being optional, when everybody feels the peer pressure or the coach pressure indirectly, I don't think that's what we should be doing. I think we should be creating room that if people want to be doing other things, to have more of a student experience, we facilitate."
A former attorney, Glass compared coaches to lawyers.
"They're natural-born advocates," he said. "They figure out the gaps and all that, so I think we need to have some real cut-and-dry rules if we're going to free up time for the kids."
But to Alvarez, the 20-hour rule just doesn't work. He said players know when they are being pushed too hard, that they would tell him when he was coaching the football team.
He understands that they need time between the end of the season and the start of conditioning and spring practices, that they need a chance to "clear their heads" and maybe pursue an internship or study abroad.
But he also said, "The sports administrator needs to be able to supervise. Players tell you whether the demands are too much."
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