Mandatory Break? Dead time rule is complicated, misunderstood

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 22 2013 11:45 p.m. MST

Robert Johnson, left, and Brandon Marshall work out at Jordan High School in Sandy, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SOUTH JORDAN — It's a bitterly cold January morning as Coach Dave Peck climbs on a platform in front of the 70 or so football players to discuss a season that doesn't officially start for another eight months.

"This next year is going to be whatever you want it to be," said Peck, Bingham High's football coach. "We have enough talent that we could be something special. But that's up to you."

The students listening to Peck's advice on why working hard now will bring them success in the fall are all enrolled in a powerlifting class. The coach's hope is that the boys will not only get stronger but they'll develop fitness habits that will last throughout their lives.

At the same time, a few miles away at Jordan High, football players are working on their running technique and sprint drills under the supervision of head football coach Eric Kjar. The class is strength and conditioning, and like the class at Bingham, is made up of football players.

Football coaches are not allowed to coach their players right now, but classes like these, which can be found at almost any high school in the state for nearly every sport, are not considered a violation of what is referred to as the "dead time rule."

Every sport sanctioned by the Utah High School Activities Association has 12 to 15 weeks of mandatory dead time, meaning during that time, coaches are not allowed to coach the student athletes who play for them.

The dead time rule has under gone several overhauls, but originally was meant to do two things — prevent coach burnout and allow student athletes to participate in more than one sport.

Unfortunately, not only has the rule failed to accomplish those goals, its complicated, often misunderstood and difficult to enforce.

Access, equality and enforcement are the three main issues with the current rule. Most of those who are punished report the violations themselves, while others find creative ways around the rules.

Meanwhile, coaches feel pressure to do more and more with and for their student athletes than they ever have, while teenage athletes are choosing to specialize more than ever, especially at larger schools.

"It was a laudable goal," said assistant UHSAA director Bart Thompson, himself a former coach of three sports, of the dead time rule. "The average tenure of a football coach is four or five years. And high schools are being saddled with a difficult problem. What if a coach doesn't want to coach after nine or 10 years, but they still have a teaching position at the school. How do you find a position for a new football coach?"

The dead time rule states, "There should be no coach to player contact related to the sport, including conditioning and weight lifting, outside of the school day. This includes not observing players perform in that sport."

Specifically, the rule said coaches — paid or unpaid — cannot organize practice at any level, even in another league; they can't compete as a team, at any level; they can't hold meetings (except post-season banquets), fundraisers or open gym, open court, open pool or open field of play or use batting cages.

While most coaches believe the mandatory time off is a good idea, they acknowledge the rule is rarely enforced and has created other problems. For example, during dead time, a tennis coach can't work with his student athletes, and those students can't use the school facilities outside of the school day (athletic classes are an exception). That means if tennis players want to work on their tennis game outside of the high school season, which is only three months long, they have to join a club, find a private coach or work out at a private gym during the 12 week dead time, which has a significant cost associated with it.