Mandatory Break? Dead time rule is complicated, misunderstood
This puts students and schools with less financial means at a disadvantage because while they play basketball, their competition is working with private coaches on tennis skills. It's also given club coaches more power in the lives of young athletes as there are no restrictions on the times or ways they can work with these aspiring players.
"When you take coaches away for 12 to 15 weeks, you almost create worse problems," said Becky Anderson, assistant director of the UHSAA, who along with Thompson and assistant director Kevin Dustin, are working with coaches associations to come up with a solution to the problem.
At the UHSAA's executive meeting last week, principals were asked to discuss in region meetings this month and next, a proposal that would reduce the dead time to eight weeks. But simply changing the amount of time high school coaches aren't allowed to coach their players won't solve all of the problems.
"This really comes from our discussions with coaches in the sports we deal with," said Thompson. "Our frustration in this office is trying to enforce it."
Currently, if schools don't self-report, they often aren't punished, as violations aren't known to the UHSAA. This is a frustration to schools trying to play by the rules.
"I hope if they change the rule, they make it very explicit and that there are penalties that are more severe than right now," said Hunter High athletic director and volleyball coach Pam Olson. "If they cut the time in half that we have to be away from our athletes, then it would be nice to actually have them enforce it."
Jordan head boys basketball coach Rob Geeretsen said while he favors dead time, he believes all students should have access to facilities. When he was a high school student at Logan High, he shot baskets every day at the school because it was a community recreation center.
"If coaches are willing to open the gym, there should be a way," he said. "The key is all-inclusive. I'd like to see an intramural program that allowed even more kids to participate, maybe in that dead-time period. We've got to find a way for more kids to be involved."
Allowing coaches to teach sport specific classes has only increased the gray area that often accompanies any discussion of dead time.
"Where does conditioning end and practice start?" Thompson asked. "What activity constitutes conditioning? And what constitutes practice?" He points out that schools that can't afford to pay a coach to teach an athletic class like powerlifting or weight training are at a competitive disadvantage.
"It's multi-faceted and multi-dimensional," said Thompson. "And this discussion is just beginning."
Peck and Kjar are like most high school coaches in that they like the idea of some time away from their players. The problems arise because simply allowing students access to a weight room before or after school can be a violation — depending on the coach, the season and the sport.
"I think it's a good idea for kids to keep in shape," said Kjar, who is also the school's head track coach. "We love them to play other sports, but many of them don't. We don't want them just hanging around not doing anything." The idea that kids are forbidden from using taxpayer-funded facilities makes even the most ardent supporters of dead time bristle.
"The time off is needed, and I don't have a problem with that," said Peck. "During dead time, there isn't a football out, we don't run drills or talk plays or schemes, we are not taking any chances."
But for some coaches, they do not have the luxury of having their students in an athletic period year-round.
"For boys sports they're in athletics all year long, but our girls are not," said Olson. "So our soccer coach, right now, can't even talk to his kids about grades because he's not allowed to contact them outside of school."
She favors reducing the amount of dead time simply because parents are finding other ways for their kids to continue playing that same sport, but at a greater financial cost. Players often feel pressured to join club programs or work out with private trainers just to be able to make a high school roster.