NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Back when two-a-days were the norm for college football players preparing for the upcoming season, Bob Stoops had a solution.
A safety at Iowa, Stoops remembers having two full weeks of two-a-day practices.
“It was just a grind to stay on the field,” said Stoops, now the head coach at No. 1 Oklahoma. “And then you’d take like 10 Bufferin just to go to practice.”
The NFL’s new labor agreement does away with the old training camp staple of practicing twice in a single day, but it’s still a part of the college game to a much more limited degree than a generation ago.
The Sooners had only four two-a-days on their practice schedule this year, and Stoops would be fine with getting rid of those — if the NCAA allowed teams four more days to practice before the season.
“If you can spread it out over more days, players stay healthier. They stay more fresh. You have more time in meetings,” Stoops said. “It’s a lot better what we’re doing now than it used to be. It’s healthier, especially for the young guys we work with.”
NCAA rules allow teams 29 preseason practices, but the number of days they get to complete those sessions varies by school based on when classes begin and several other factors. Since 2003, there has been a rule in place prohibiting schools from having two-a-days on consecutive days.
There’s enough wiggle room for teams to plan out different preseason strategies.
“That’s a personal preference,” first-year Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “It’s different than it used to be because it used to be no student-athletes were there in the summer. So they came to camp in August to get in shape for the season. Now they are here all summer so they are in good shape.”
To some around the sport, the lingering two-a-days are more about getting freshmen and other newcomers introduced to the grind of college football than rounding veterans into shape after a summer of “voluntary” workouts that are all but a necessity to keep up with the competition.
“It’s year-round,” said Oklahoma State defensive end Richetti Jones, adding that a good lunch, a dip in the cold tub and a nap between practices are key to two-a-day survival. “They still got to go home and chill with the family, go fishing every day, eat their momma’s cooking every day for a whole summer. We don’t get to do that.”
Among teams that made BCS bowls last season, ACC champion Virginia Tech is the only one doing without two-a-days this year. The Hokies did away with it a few years ago, when coach Frank Beamer decided his players weren’t getting as much out of the second practice because they were tired.
Instead of holding an early 90-minute session and a 2-hour late session when players started to move in “slow motion,” Beamer said, he now prefers a single session plus time for film study.
“I just felt like we were always hurrying and not doing anything real, real good, and doing everything real, real fast,” Beamer said.
The only drawback he’s noticed is intangible — a sense of team built from everyone struggling through two-a-days together.
“I think the quick turnaround helps you physically and mentally get prepared,” said safety Markelle Martin, who had three sets of two-a-days last week at Oklahoma State “If (eliminating two-a-days is) what the NCAA would want to do, we can’t argue with that, but I think really it helps us mentally to be prepared for the season.”
Among the BCS bowl participants, Ohio State and Oregon are at the high end with six scheduled two-a-days. Stanford, Connecticut and Wisconsin have five. TCU and Oklahoma each have four, while Auburn and Arkansas have three apiece.
While he’s careful to monitor the physical toll the two-a-days have on players, interim Ohio State coach Luke Fickell said sometimes players find it “takes more energy to concentrate through a two-hour meeting than it does to go out there and practice for an hour and 45 minutes.”
“I think at this age, you need to be on the field to learn a lot more things,” Fickell said. “As you get older in the NFL and you’re 21, 22, 23, 34 — however old those guys are — you can get a lot more out of a two- or three-hour meeting.”
Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State’s Biletnikoff Award-winning receiver, said there is probably no right answer for whether two-a-days are beneficial across all of college football.
“You’re still going to have some good teams and you’re still going to have some bad. Some teams are going to blame it, some are going to say it was good,” Blackmon said. “It’s all about who you are.”
AP Sports Writers Hank Kurz Jr. in Richmond, Va., Mark Long in Gainesville, Fla., Larry Lage in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Rusty Miller in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.