NORMAN — Major college football coaches can now require players to participate in eight hours per week of conditioning, weight training and film study during the summer.
Participation in summer workouts was previously supposed to be voluntary, although just how voluntary has long been questioned. Under recently amended NCAA bylaws, members of the coaching staff can now supervise the mandatory summer workouts themselves, whereas before, they weren’t allowed any contact with players during the summer months, and any lack of participation by players wasn’t supposed to be punishable.
“As plain Jane as I can put it, we all knew that in the summer time, you’re gonna take six college hours (of classes), and you’re gonna go through eight weeks of summer (training),” said former OU fullback J.D. Runnels. “There’s not even talk of what’s voluntary and what’s mandatory. There’s not.
“The summer workouts with Jerry Schmidt are the hardest things I’ve ever gone through in my entire life. Adding in Cale Gundy and some of those other guys … it’s gonna turn into a job.”
At a time when player compensation — and possible unionization — has been at the forefront of the national discussion regarding college sports, the amended NCAA rules only add more fuel for those who question the “amateur” status of big-time college athletes.
Two years ago, the NCAA began allowing men’s basketball coaches to have similar access to their players during the summer, and the women’s game followed suit in 2013.
Basketball coaches are allowed eight hours per week with their players during the summer, with a maximum of two hours for on-court, basketball skills training. The football amendment replaces the sport-specific physical activities with film study.
The National Labor Relations Board’s Chicago office ruled late last month that football players at Northwestern University are employees under federal law and, as such, can unionize.
Just last week, the NCAA Legislative Council decided that athletes — scholarship or walk-on — can now be allowed unlimited meals and snacks, where before, they were allowed three meals per day or a food stipend.
Responding to the news regarding summer workouts Thursday afternoon, former OU center Gabe Ikard tweeted: “This makes the unlimited meals irrelevant. God bless all the football student-athletes at the University of Oklahoma.”
Runnels played at OU from 2002 through 2006 before spending time in the NFL with the Chicago Bears and Cincinnati Bengals. The former Carl Albert standout now lives and works in and around Norman, and frequently voices his opinions regarding college athletics on Twitter, in interviews and during radio appearances.
As a former OU team captain, Runnels said he believes it’s important to continue speaking out on behalf of student-athletes who are struggling.
“It’s not to stir the pot at all,” Runnels said. “It’s just to get the information out that, ‘This is what’s going on. The school’s making a lot of money off football, and there are players who are struggling from it.’
“I love my university. I say that every day, but if things are gonna change, I think we should lead the way.”