USC board, NCAA president express ‘concern’ over Michigan spring football plan

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh plans to hold his team’s first week of spring practice in Florida during the school’s spring break. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky/File)

COLUMBIA — Michigan’s plan to hold a week of spring football practice in Florida during the school’s spring break has echoed throughout the SEC, including the University of South Carolina Board of Trustees.

The topic arose Friday when Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA, addressed the board at the USC Alumni Center. Trustee Chuck Allen, a former Gamecocks football player, expressed concern to Emmert over Michigan’s plan having a domino effect which would further infringe on athletes’ free time.

“There’s a big debate going on among the membership right now on how to provide more time off for student-athletes, so the use of spring break for practice has caused a lot of people to be concerned about it,” Emmert said after the meeting, “and I think that’s an appropriate concern.”

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh will hold the first week of his team’s spring practice at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., during the school’s spring break. The location alone has ruffled feathers within the SEC, and infringement upon spring break has generated further concern.

South Carolina’s spring practice opens March 15, two days after the conclusion of the school’s spring break. Clemson’s football team will take spring break off.

While not mentioning Michigan by name, Allen called Harbaugh’s plan “very misguided. I think that’s a bad idea. And the reason for that is, the real time demands on student-athletes, especially football. ... They need time to refresh, they need time to rejuvenate.”

Emmert said Allen’s belief was in the majority. “I think the opinion you’ve expressed is right on the mark,” he added. “This is what I hear everywhere I go — young men and women want some time to be normal. ... Spring break might be one of those times they do something not football-related.”

Emmert, visiting USC this week as he does other member schools on occasion, said the NCAA may reexamine “some components” of the 20-hour rule which limits how much time athletes spend on their sport each week. Other proposals include allowing athletes a week or two of free time after their season, or one day a week away from their sport.

“I happen to think they spend too much time (on sports) today,” he told the board. “They agree. The time demands placed on them are enormous. They’re having a hard time being students.”

The NCAA’s Football Oversight Committee will debate the Michigan spring practice issue in April, but any real change will likely have to wait until at least the next NCAA convention in January. In the meantime, there’s nothing stopping Harbaugh’s plan, much to the chagrin of Emmert and many in the SEC.

“There’s a difference,” Emmert said, “between not being prohibited, and being OK.”