A motion that would have eliminated out-of-season practicing by high school teams failed to be approved by the Virginia High School League's executive committee Wednesday. The VHSL's legislative body voted 29-3-1 against the proposal.
But this isn't the end of discussion. A committee will be formed to study the data, VHSL spokesman Mike McCall said.
Several coaches have suggested a middle ground could be found that limits out-of-season practice without completely eliminating it.
Currently, there are dead periods in the calendar that prohibit out-of-season practices around July 4 and during the tryout periods for other sports. Extending those dead periods is one alternative, Thomas Dale athletics director Steve Davies said.
Doing so would take pressure off overworked high school coaches. Typically, a high school football coach earns between $3,000-$5,000 annually. But if he hopes to field a competitive team, he has to run weight room sessions and practices all year long.
Offseason practicing was legalized in 2011, and since then, more schools have extended football activities to 12 months a year.
"Coaches are paid very minimal, and you are asking to run year-long programs," Davies said. "With teaching, family and other sport commitments, our coaches are becoming burnt out."
Maintaining a year-long football program is a Catch 22, Davies said. If you work out your kids too much, you're perceived as overwhelming your student-athletes. If you don't work them enough, you're perceived as not caring.
It's a fine line to walk.
Other sports in addition to football began practicing in the offseason, too. Visit a high school on a January evening, and you might see the baseball team taking batting practice, the lacrosse team tossing a ball back and forth and football players running on the track.
Some say allowing teams to practice all year encourages kids to specialize in one sport. Others say that the culture of specialization comes from athletes seeking scholarships in their sport.
Other coaches pointed to many benefits of offseason practicing. At Manchester, football players spend much of the spring working on safe tackling and preventing head injuries. Coach Tom Hall said that he's OK with some limits being set, but that offseason practices shouldn't be eliminated altogether.
“I think the positives [of offseason practices] outweigh the negatives, big time," Hall said.
If athletes aren't able to practice on campus, some say, they'll go off campus with AAU teams or personal trainers.
Hopewell football coach Ricky Irby pointed out that football, whether in-season or out, helps keep players focused in class. Their grades are more likely to slip during dead periods and they are more likely to do better while attending practices and workouts.