DALLAS — When the punishment dropped in May, it seemed catastrophic. How could it not be?
An Oklahoma State football team with serious depth issues at a number of position groups lost a day of practice each week for the 2014 season — sanctions handed down by the NCAA because the Cowboys failed to meet Academic Progress Rate standards.
But amid a gallery of reporters Monday afternoon inside a hotel ballroom at Big 12 Media Days, coach Mike Gundy cleared the air. Yes, losing that practice time hurts. But not for the same reasons you might think.
“I’m going to have to change what I do and I don’t like that more than anything,” Gundy said. “Honestly, we can figure out a way to do it, but now I’ve got to restructure everything we do.”
Prior to this season, the Cowboys were allotted 19 hours and 15 minutes of practice each week. Now, that number has dropped to 18 hours.
The 2014 practice plan hasn’t been finalized, but the change will likely eliminate Sunday activities, Gundy said, as they generally consist of walk-throughs and film study of next week’s opponent.
It’s a shakeup that won’t crush the program, but is still a cause for concern, especially for the defense. Gundy said his linebacker corps is the youngest he’s had in his 10 years as head coach.
“We definitely need the preparation,” said Ryan Simmons, projected starting middle linebacker. “We need that day … we just have to make sure we hold ourselves accountable and learn as much as we can each and every week.”
Simmons is the only returning starter in the position group. Demarcus Sherrod is expected to join him, but sat out all of 2013 after a season-ending injury in fall camp. After that, it’s anyone’s guess.
It won’t be Dominic Ramacher, who quit football to pursue other career interests, or Kris Catlin, who remains on the team but will not play in 2014, Gundy said. That leaves of slew of untested freshmen and transfers to fill the gaps.
Even Gundy had difficulty remembering the options. That’s why he kept a cheat sheet, a linebacker depth chart, folded in his suit jacket pocket Monday.
“I wasn’t sure if I could pronounce their names the right way,” Gundy said. “They’re all going to get a chance by default.”
It’s an issue facing the secondary as well. Cornerbacks Kevin Peterson and Ashton Lampkin return after breakout performances last season. But the competition for safety spots is wide open, with sophomore Deric Robertson redshirt freshman Tre Flowers expected to compete for playing time.
But Peterson remained optimistic. Gundy runs practice with precision, he said, and every drill is timed to the minute to maximize effort without risking injury. Peterson doesn’t expect that to change.
“The more time we have, the better we are,” Peterson said. “But I’m sure the coaches are going to have a good plan going in since we’re losing a day of practice.”
A silver lining from penalty was a hushed celebration of sorts from some players.
The grind of the college football season can take its toll, physically and mentally. Gundy admitted as much, saying it was “more prevalent than what people realize.” So when Cowboy players found out they were getting one extra day off per week, reaction might have been mixed — if only jokingly.
“I’m sure somebody was excited,” Peterson said. “I know in high school, when coach said we didn’t have track practice, I was all for it.”
Count Simmons in that group.
“I’m not going to lie,” Simmons laughed. “It was in the back of my head.”