CLOCK IN, CLOCK OUT
A college football player's schedule during the course of the year:
Late July or early August - Aug. 30: Fall camp, may hold up to 29 practices
Aug. 30-Nov. 29: Football season, four practices/week plus game, meetings
Nov. 30-bowl game: Bowl practices, no limit (20-hours-per-week rule applies when school is in session)
Bowl game-first day of spring semester: OFF time (typically two weeks or so)
Mid January-early February: Voluntary winter workouts
Early February-March: Mat drills and/or winter workouts, usually three meetings per week
March-mid April: Spring practices, 15 on-field sessions concluding with spring game
Mid April-end of spring semester: Discretionary period, voluntary workouts
Summer school: Discretionary period, voluntary workouts
Late June-Aug. 1: Official workouts with strength and conditioning coaches (no on-field coaches allowed)
CLEMSON - This is the discretionary period of the college football calendar, when nobody's required to show up.
While Steve Spurrier, Dabo Swinney and their staffs can't officially mandate how many passes Dylan Thompson throws or how early Vic Beasley wakes up for a workout, they trust in knowing their best players are the hardest workers, 52 weeks a year.
"Now it's a job. It's all about competition," said Clemson associate athletic director of football administration Woody McCorvey. "If there's a certain amount of things they've got to get done to play a big role, they're going to be there working out."
Certainly, the demands on a Division I college football player's time have increased over the years.
McCorvey remembered decades ago when he coached the Clemson tight ends, and his players - among them Danny Pearman, the Tigers' present-day tight ends coach - would take offseason jobs on the paint crew at Memorial Stadium or with businesses in nearby Seneca.
"These guys today do a lot more in terms of being on campus than when it was the '80s," McCorvey said. "If a guy knows he's going to be an integral guy of the football team, he's gonna be here."
It's just not always mandatory. Universities are required to offer players eight discretionary weeks during the spring semester, when it's left up to the players to stick around campus or go elsewhere.
Even spring break, which typically falls in the middle of spring practices, brings relaxed guidelines.
"We encourage them to recharge, get away," South Carolina director of football operations Jamie Speronis said. "Heck, they're kids, can't blame them for going somewhere. Go home, go wherever."
Of course, the coaches have that "don't be dumb" chat before spring break, cautioning their players to represent their school well and not put their future eligibility in jeopardy.
"Every year, we go through a set of things with them from a compliance standpoint," McCorvey said. "You put together a list of reminders, a conglomeration of things that have happened during spring break."
For the first time under his watch, Swinney did not hold spring practices or intrasquad scrimmages on Saturdays, an idea he picked up during a visit to Oklahoma State.
"It's good for those guys. They work hard, and same thing with the coaches," Swinney said. "They get a chance to be dads on Saturdays and Sundays, because my whole life, I'd always practice Monday-Wednesday-Friday-Saturday. So that was a little different for me, but it's been great."
Upon beating Ohio State in the Orange Bowl, Clemson gave its players a break until mat drills Feb. 13-28, which are aggressive team-oriented workouts captained by strength and conditioning director Joey Batson.
South Carolina doesn't hold organized mat drills, but the Gamecocks hit the weight room hard after a couple weeks off following their Capital One Bowl victory over Wisconsin.
Batson and his USC counterpart, Joe Connolly, will pick up strength and conditioning workouts in late June, when their staffs - but not on-field coaches - may work with players for up to eight hours a week.
That takes teams into the first of August, when fall camp begins. There's a limit of 29 preseason on-field practices leading up to the first game - which is Aug. 28 for USC vs. Texas A&M and Aug. 30 for Clemson at Georgia. That means a sprinkling of two-a-days, which aren't permitted on consecutive days.
Once the season begins, game week opens with an early Monday morning meeting, followed by practices each day through Thursday. Friday's set aside for travel or a walk-through, Saturday's gameday, and Sunday is the day of rest for both the Gamecocks and Tigers.
"Guys get a chance to go to church. Plus, at the end of the day, don't they wanna watch NFL?" Speronis said. "Some schools come back and practice Sunday and give them Monday off. Monday off is all well and good, but (with classes) is it really off? Coach Spurrier has always been good about letting kids be kids."
Following the Clemson-South Carolina game Thanksgiving weekend, there's no limit on quantity of bowl practices - though the 20-hours-per-week rule during class weeks still applies. Players usually will get 4-5 days off around Christmas time, if the bowl falls on Dec. 30 or later.
It may not be a full-time job, but it is work as players balance class, football and their social lives.
"It's a constant commitment, as far as how they train, how they take care of their bodies, because every little edge counts. It is a 365-day deal now," Swinney said.
"But it's unhealthy to not build in some breaks. Guys get burned out, so you want to keep things fresh. You can definitely overtrain, and I've seen some guys do that. But there's no question you can see who is fully committed year-round."