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Dave Hickman: New rule makes for more accessible summer

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia’s incoming football recruits have started to trickle onto campus and, unlike those that came before them, they’ll have more to do than just settle into housing and learn what tortures Mike Joseph has planned for them for the next couple of months.

Well, at least a tiny bit more perhaps.

One is tempted to say they can also begin practicing because that seems to be the popular thought now that the NCAA has loosened its summer restrictions. But practice really isn’t the right word.

Actually, it’s the wrong word. Despite what you might have been led to believe, there’s really no such thing as summer football practice, even in the NCAA’s new and permissive world. The NCAA’s new summer access rule that goes into effect this summer doesn’t actually allow for practice — at least not with balls and helmets and plays and the like.

No, for the most part the summer is still reserved for getting into shape. And so in a way, Joseph, WVU’s director of strength of conditioning, is still in charge.

What has changed, though, is that if Dana Holgorsen and his staff want to walk down to the field and watch, fine. If they want to tell a kid he’s doing well or he needs to pick it up, OK. If they want to remind a kid that he has to get to class, that’s good, too. And if they want to set aside a couple of hours for film study with the players they can do that, too.

Oh, and they can make the workouts and the film study mandatory (as if it weren’t already).

Before the rule change, summer workouts were strictly voluntary and coaches could have no part in them. They really couldn’t even talk to their new players (or the old ones, for that matter) until the official start of practice in August.

And now?

“It’s going to look a lot like it did during winter conditioning,’’ Holgorsen said. “We’ll be able to go down in the weight room with them, spend time with them, sit in a room with them and coach and watch cut-ups.’’

The new rule simply states that football players can now be required to take part in eight weeks of summer conditioning and that two hours of that time can be used for film study. Previously, all of that was (wink, wink) voluntary.

The new rule says nothing about what coaches can or cannot do, but since the rule was adopted last fall the NCAA has issued somewhat clearer guidelines.

For instance, coaches “may be present during the eight hours of required summer athletics activities,’’ says the NCAA, and “film review with a coach can only occur during summer access and is limited to two hours.’’

That’s not to say that football players are limited to eight hours a week, however. That’s just what the NCAA says schools can now make mandatory. If your starting middle linebacker wants to put in an extra three or four hours in the weight room, fine. But only eight can be mandatory and those are the only eight that coaches are allowed to observe.

Still, that’s a far cry from what it was in the olden days. You know, like 2013.

“If you remember, so many new guys joined our team in August, July and June [last year] and we couldn’t spend any time with them until Aug. 1. At least this time we can sit in a room with them, be around them and talk to them. It allows us to challenge them and see what they’re all about.’’

For Holgorsen, that began this week. He was at a Mountaineer Athletic Club Caravan function in Morgantown Tuesday night, just around the corner from the football facilities, and was late to the party because he’d just finished the first session with his players under the new rules.

Among those players were the team’s two transfers from four-year schools, defensive end Shaq Riddick from Gardner-Webb and defensive back Cullen Christian from Pitt.

At least 10 other incoming recruits are expected by Monday, with the rest arriving later in June or early July. What they will find when they arrive won’t be much different than what their predecessors found. They will just have more eyes on them and more voices in their ears.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.


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