The NCAA granted Clemson a waiver Wednesday that will allow football players to practice more than 20 hours per week in the lead-up to Monday's College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
"We're appreciative of the NCAA working with us in granting this waiver to assist in our preparations for next Monday's game while maintaining our commitment to student-athlete welfare," Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich said in a statement Thursday, per ESPN.com.
He continued, "As Coach [Dabo] Swinney pointed out, this was not going to be a big difference-maker in our team's schedule, but it's great they've reached a solution that prioritizes the well-being of our student-athletes while allowing them to adequately prepare for the national championship."
Because Clemson's spring semester is in session, players would have been subject to more strict practice rules than Alabama, which has not resumed class. The Tigers would have been held to limits of no more than four hours of football-related work per day and 20 hours or less over the course of a week.
It's worth noting the game itself counts as three hours, meaning coaches realistically have only 17 hours of prep time during the week. This is the second straight season the rule has come into play, as Oregon was left with a 20-hour limit during its prep for its title game matchup with Ohio State.
With the College Football Playoff extending the season by a week, this is something the NCAA needs to address immediately. Giving Clemson a waiver helps the Tigers in the interim, but more than likely we'll be facing a similar situation a year from now. Exempting championship teams from the 20-hour workweek is logical, and yet it also clearly sends a message that academics come second to athletics.
While most would acknowledge that's the case in high-profile college athletics, it's not a message the NCAA wants to send publicly. Clemson players are having to skip classes and coursework to ready themselves for Monday night's game, though it's worth noting the school is only allowing such instances when it receives professor approval, per ESPN.com.
Nevertheless, it creates a strange conflict of interest. The NCAA needs to either set a practice-limit rule for all teams that applies no matter the status of the semester or find a workable middle ground that avoids such situations in the future.
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