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ACC bracing for NCAA rules changes involving coaches and athletes

| Sunday, July 20, 2014, 7:09 p.m.
Pitt's Ray Vinopal answers a question during a news conference at ACC media days Sunday, July 20, 2014, in Greensboro, N.C.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — ACC commissioner John Swofford wasn't pointing an accusing finger at his conference's coaches when he said a significant NCAA rule implemented to protect athletes is broken routinely.

No one was surprised when he said during his opening statement Sunday at ACC media days:

“The 20-hour rule is being abused. We know that.”

That's the limitation imposed by the NCAA that prohibits coaches from interacting with players more than 20 hours in any week during the season or designated training periods, such as spring football or fall baseball. It includes one day off per week.

Actually, Pitt senior safety Ray Vinopal said 20 hours aren't enough. He said he has worked 30 hours in a week, and plans to do more this season.

“I want to basically live at the (training) facility,” he said.

It should be noted that the extra time is allowable if it's done without coaches.

“We abide by the 20 hours,” Vinopal said. “A lot of guys do their own preparation. I don't feel 20 is enough for me personally to have the level of preparation I would like to have going into the game.

“Aaron Donald (former Pitt All-American), the amount of time he put in was unreal. He did it like a pro.”

The 20-hour rule is just one of a myriad of NCAA regulations that could be altered — in this case expanded — if the so-called Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) are granted autonomy by the Division I Board of Directors. A vote is scheduled Aug. 7, and Swofford said he expects autonomy to be granted.

“I will be surprised if it doesn't pass,” Swofford said.

Swofford said the autonomy issue was raised by conference and school officials before Northwestern student-athletes proposed to unionize.

“The average fan may look at this and say it is a knee-jerk reaction to the Northwestern situation,” he said. “It is not. The whole effort to restructure and give autonomy to those schools that have financial resources to address those issues started long before Northwestern.

“Autonomy opens up some opportunities for the five conferences to do some things we feel are important.”

That could include, he said, scholarships granted for all four years (presently most are year-to-year propositions). He admitted, however, that officials in all five conferences have yet to come to a consensus on that issue.

But student-athletes could end up with more money in their pockets through a full cost-of-attendance stipend and voting privileges. The proposal would make 15 students part of an 80-person council that includes the 64 Power 5 schools, plus Notre Dame.

“I think it's time for our student-athletes to have a voice at the national level,” Swofford said.

The proposal, however, could set up a division between the richer, more powerful schools and others that are less successful.

In fact, SMU coach June Jones suggested the non-Power 5 conferences should play a spring schedule to avoid direct competition with the bigger schools. But commissioners of the American Athletic Conference, Mountain West and Mid-American said they have no interest in even considering such a radical plan, ESPN reported. It appears there is no avoiding autonomy.

“The good ship status quo has sailed, and it's time for some changes,” Swofford said.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola­_Trib.

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