Big 5 Conferences Propose Changes to NCAA Sport Hours Requirements

The Big 5 conferences in the NCAA’s Division I – the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC – have proposed some changes to rules regarding how much time college athletes are required to invest in their sports.

The Big 5 were granted autonomy by the NCAA in 2014, meaning they can set many of their own rules for their student-athletes and athletic programs.

The proposed changes, called “Flex 21” by the conferences, would mandate more time off for athletes, restricting when mandatory practices, competitions or team activities could take place. A few of the major points:

  • Mandatory 7-day “recovery period” after the end of the NCAA season
  • Mandatory 8-hour block of free time overnight
  • 14 additional days off during the academic year
  • Travel days no longer count as days off

We’ll run through a brief explanation of each one:

7-day recovery period

Under the proposed rule changes, each NCAA sport in the Big 5 conferences would be required to give athletes a full week off at the conclusion of the season, before training can begin for the off-season. Under current rules, the “off” period between the end of the college season and the beginning of off-season work varies by sport.

There would be exemptions to this rule for “training for elite national/international events,” which would likely cover a year like this past one, where many student-athletes didn’t take a break after NCAAs in order to train for various Olympic Trial selection meets around the world.

Overnight Block of Free Time

Currently, NCAA rules prohibit any required athletically related activities between midnight and 5 AM. But the new rules would expand that, requiring teams to give athletes a block of at least 8 hours overnight between activities. the block can take place anywhere from 9 PM to 6 AM.

These new rules would, for example, prevent a team from holding a 5 AM morning practice the day after a meet or practice that ran until 9:30 PM.

14 Days Off

The new rules would also build 14 additional days off from practice into student-athletes schedules. These “days off” would include no required athletic activities, and would be designed to allow student-athletes to “engage in other collegiate activities.”

Travel Days Extension

Under current rules, NCAA sports teams must give student-athletes at least one day each week off from practice. However, travel days can currently count as the “day off.”

The new rules would change that, counting travel to and from a team event as a team required activity. That would mean a team swimming a Saturday dual meet and flying home on Sunday would have to build another “off day” into its schedule, perhaps the Monday after returning.


The proposed changes appear to address a recent NCAA survey in which student-athletes expressed a desire for better life balance within the confines of NCAA athletics.


The full press release from the Big 5 conferences announcing the proposal is below:

The commissioners of the five autonomy conferences today announced an agreement in concept on changes they will propose that are intended to give students who play sports more time off.  The purpose of the changes is to rebalance the student experience between athletics and campus life, providing students with more time to focus on other college interests, including academics, work experience, travel, and additional rest.


The first area of change, Flex 21, will provide students, in many cases, with at least an additional 21 days in which they are free of required athletic activities during the academic year. These 21 days are in addition to the current rules related to time off.


Recognizing that every sport has different needs, the proposal includes flexibility so coaches, students and athletic directors can come up with a plan that best suits each sport.  The proposed changes are the result of in-person meetings and survey feedback from students, head coaches, faculty and athletics administrators.


“We believe we have found the right balance between helping students participate in sports while also providing them with more down time,” the commissioners of the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, PAC-12 and SEC said in a joint statement.  “Different sports have different demands and we think the concepts we’ve agreed to will help tens of thousands of students achieve more balance as they pursue their academic and athletic commitments.”


Post Season:  Under the plan, all students would be free of required athletic activities for at least one week (7 consecutive days) at the conclusion of the season in order to recover from the season.  Exceptions would exist for the purpose of training for elite national/international events.  (For Spring teams that end their season in summer break, the seven-day period is not necessary as the summer break would accomplish the goal of this requirement – recovery directly after the season.)


Academic Year:  To allow students to engage in other collegiate activities, each student would be provided at least 14 additional days during the academic year during which there would be no required athletic activity.  These days-off could take place during the season, if agreed to, or outside the season but must be taken during the academic year.


In Season:  Beyond Flex 21, the conferences will also propose that every student playing a sport have at least one day a week free from sports, including travel, during the season.  While current rules require one day a week off, teams may currently use travel days to meet that requirement.  The new proposal would recognize that individual circumstances may require a flexible approach in the application of this proposal, but is intended to provide student-athletes with more time away from athletic activities (e.g., travel delays, etc.).


Overnight:  In addition, students would have a consecutive eight-hour block of free time overnight, between the hours of 9:00pm and 6:00am.


For example, if a women’s rowing team schedules a 5:30am workout, the team must cease all required athletic activities by 9:30pm the evening before the morning workout.  If a team has a 6:00am workout scheduled, all athletic activities would have had to end by 10:00pm the night before.


In order to implement these proposed changes, head coaches and athletic directors will be required to work with the students on a plan so all parties are aware of anticipated time that will be committed to athletically related activities.  The definition of “required athletic activities” is intended to be broader than the currently countable hours which includes activities such as practice, games, and conditioning. For example, this expanded definition would include, but not be limited to activities such as media requirements and mandatory community service.


“We heard from our students that they would like more certainty in their schedules in order to engage in other activities,” the commissioners said.  “We recognize there will need to be a level of flexibility and reasonableness in carrying out these changes, especially with regard to travel, but students deserve time off and we want athletic departments to work in a sensible and appropriate way to provide it.  We want administrators to have some degree of flexibility in implementing these rules, but they must be mindful that rest is important to a student’s health, in addition to their athletic and academic performance.”


These proposals represent an agreement in concept by the membership in each Autonomy 5 conference, noting that each conference retains the right to pursue additional changes if they see fit.  Formal proposals will need to be submitted to the NCAA at a later date in order to be considered at the January 2017 NCAA convention at which time they would be voted upon.



Segment Current Rule Proposed Changes
In Season ·         No countable athletically related activities during one calendar day per week

·         Travel day related to athletics participation may be considered a day off


·         Travel days may not count as days off
Academic Year ·         No countable athletically related activities during two calendar days per week outside the season. ·         14 Additional Days off.  Can be used during or outside the season
Overnight ·         No countable athletically related activities between midnight and 5 a.m.


·         8-hour block of free time, any time between 9:00pm to 6:00am.
Post Season ·         Varies by sport ·         7-day recovery time

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This is fine, no complaint here…but do we really believe top D1 teams directly adhere to all of the rules? I won’t name the coaches’ names or schools, but I have spoken to at least 5 different top 10/15 coaches within the past 5 years, and asked them all the same question, “How do you do everything you say you do with your team and manage to keep it within the maximum 20 hour NCAA time limit?” Every single one of them reply, “We allow the team to do some of the things on their own.” Examples of the ‘on their own’ were: 1. Weight Lifting 2. Dryland 3. Yoga 4. Spinning 5. Pilates/Zoomba/Aerobics 6. Extra pool time (although that… Read more »


And if a senior tells a freshman to do a keg stand, they are expected to do it am i rite?


I swam at a Big Ten program where we were well in excess of the 20 hours every week and I never got the impression any of those hours were optional and there were generally consequences if any of these activities were missed.


I’ve never seen an actual “optional” practice in my collegiate swim career at all. Don’t even talk about the regular “collegiate” season because optional isn’t even in context when talking about that. But even in the “off-season” optional practices have never been optional. If I didn’t show up to an optional practice I would be ready to get a phone call from my coach wondering where I’m at; not him being worried where I was at, but wondering why my ### wasn’t at practice. They would also make you feel a sense of remorse about missing practice and not to mention the “you don’t want to get better”. So optional in the case of swimming just doesn’t seem like a… Read more »


They call it optional but it never is!! You are expected to be there!!

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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