Behind the off-season training controversies

The baseball team in an inter-squad scrimmage, March 5, 2020 – photo by Mr. Thomas Stambaugh

“Every sport that’s an Inter-Ac sport has rules,” Director of Athletics and Director of Football Program Michael Murphy said.

     In recent months, some students have speculated about other Inter-Ac schools disobeying these rules. Students also question whether or not Haverford itself follows them, conducting conversations regarding the topic with mischievous and wary expressions. 

     Any discussion of our accordance with the regulations requires an understanding of the rules. Teams are not permitted to practice as a whole prior to the start of the season. However, the Inter-Ac allows one coach to work with three players at a time on skill-based training. 

    As Coach Murphy said, “Those [sessions] cannot be mandatory, and they cannot be scheduled so that a coach is working with the whole team in one day, one group of three after another group of three. You also can only have one coach doing it at a time.”

     Coaches are allowed to work with the whole team for one day a week in one off-season.

     “What teams can do is have a group of guys and hit baseballs in the batting cage without being coached. A bunch of guys can get together on the football field to throw footballs and do what they want, as long as they are not being coached,” Coach Murphy said. 

     During the summer, between June and the start of school in September, any team is permitted to practice to the full extent. The only exceptions are fall teams, which are required to rest between July 31 and preseason beginning on August 19. 

     Even with these clear rules, there are still other schools in the Inter-Ac practicing. 

     “People continue to break those rules—maybe having five guys [instead of the allowed three] being coached, or even having full-fledged practices,” Coach Murphy said. 

     Upper School Physical Education teacher and Assistant Baseball Coach Dr. Peter Vanni said, “Other teams absolutely do [practice outside of regulation]. I don’t think they worry about following the rules so much. They post on social media that they do it.”

     “But I’m not worried about them so much,” Coach Vanni said. “We just worry about ourselves.”

     Coach Murphy shared a similar perspective. He stated that he will listen to concerns and bring them to the table, but will not supervise and check on other schools.

     “I’m not going to go to Episcopal and sit outside their field and film, and wait to see what they’re doing, and say ‘gotcha.’ We’ve been hearing [speculations] for a long time, and all I can do is if I hear concern from someone, and there’s some true merit to it, I will take it to the athletic directors and we will discuss it.”

     The system, therefore, functions on trust. 

     Schools are not necessarily always checking on each other, and Coach Murphy believes that such trust is what keeps the integrity of the league and the lasting relationships between Inter-Ac schools. 

     “I think our league does a really good job, unless there is some direct evidence that we think there is a problem, of monitoring things based on trust and understanding that each school will police this and play by the rules,” said Coach Murphy. 

     However, the uncertainty of others’ conduct and lack of regulating forces creates mistrust as well.

     “I hear it all the time from our students: ‘So-and-so school is practicing.’ That’s what I don’t like about the rule, it constantly leads to mistrust and rumors,” Coach Murphy said.

     With so much conversation among students, Inter-Ac athletic directors have also been discussing the rules, but they are not likely to change anytime soon. 

     For as long as Mr. Murphy has been in the Inter-Ac, he recalls there always being some sort of guiding rules. The only major difference in the Inter-Ac guidelines is the addition of some sports, such as swimming and wrestling, that used to be clubs. Additionally, many Inter-Ac directors support having regulations.

     Coach Murphy said, “For the twenty-four years that I’ve been in the Inter-Ac, there’s been some sort of rules in place, and they’ve only evolved and changed.” He continued, “I am in the minority of Inter-Ac athletic directors that want to do away with the rules.”

     Both Coach Vanni and Coach Murphy are pushing for a league without any guidelines at all. They state that guidelines cause mistrust and that each school is different and should not be held to the same set of rules. 

     “If these kids want to practice, and they want to utilize one of their school coaches, I think they should be able to do that,” Coach Vanni said. “They are going to be practicing [without a coach] anyways, and it would make us more comfortable if they were doing it the right way under the guidance of a coach.”

     Practicing without a coach presents further issues with athletes’ safety and school liability. 

     Coach Murphy said, “For us administrators who are in charge, if no one’s there and there’s an injury, now we have an issue. So we go back to the trust factor; say, a football coach can be there, but they cannot be coaching the guys. It’s kind of a ‘put the ball out, and let them play.”

   Supporters of the regulations, however, offer two arguments for restricting offseason practice: one, that it promotes fair  competition; and two, that it allows athletes to participate in multiple sports throughout the year. 

     In response to the first argument, Coach Murphy said, “I also understand how [the regulations are] in place to try and create a fair and competitive level. Some schools may be large enough to have a group of students and a team that plays one sport exclusively all year round, and that could be a disadvantage for schools who may not have that ability because of number size.”

     Having the guidelines also ensures that students are not pressured to train in one sport for all the seasons. This is a result of the regulation that Coach Murphy and Coach Vanni appreciate.

“Our coaches have a mutual understanding that the reason for the rule is to allow our athletes to be multisport athletes.”

Athletics Director Mr. Mike Murphy

     “Sometimes there’s frustration over the rule. As coaches, we’re competitive in nature and we’re always doing what we can to make our teams the best. But, I would say our coaches have a mutual understanding that the reason for the rule is to allow our athletes to be multisport athletes. I don’t want them to feel like ‘I’m missing that [training]. That’s really what the spirit of the rule is trying to balance,” Coach Murphy said .

     Coach Vanni emphasized the numbers of multi-sport athletes on the baseball team.

     “There are some sports that require different types of athletes to specialize in that sport. However, most of my guys are multi-sport athletes, and I really like that philosophy,” said Coach Vanni.

     He continued with the advantages for athletes who participate in multiple sports.

     “There’s also a lot of other benefits, not just skill, that are involved with doing different sports. They become better athletes, become stronger, have better movement patterns, and learn different skills,” Coach Vanni said.

     Even if the rules were to be removed, Coach Murphy would still preserve guidelines that ensure students are able to be multi-sport athletes. 

     “I would still be taking steps to balance that very hard at Haverford to make sure kids can be multi-sport athletes, and not be put in a position where they feel left-out because one team is practicing year-round without them,” said Coach Murphy.

     However, regulating such a program would have its difficulties. Coach Murphy described the task as “a balancing act.” The school’s athletic program has been recognized for its overall performance, with success across all sports, and Coach Murphy wants to maintain students’ ability to excel in multiple athletic disciplines.  

“I want this to be a place where there’s spots on other teams for guys that just want to come out and be a part of that.”

Athletics Director Mr. Mike Murphy

     “From an overall athletic department standpoint, I’m very proud that we’ve won the Heyward Cup for our overall athletic program. Specialization can really hinder that,” Coach Murphy said. 

     Regardless of how the Inter-Ac evolves, Coach Murphy will continue to strive for a multi-sport philosophy. 

     “I’m really happy to work at a place like Haverford that believes in that philosophy” Coach Murphy said. “It’s always going to be my philosophy as long as I’m the Director of Athletics. I want this to be a place where there’s spots on other teams for guys that just want to come out and be a part of that.”

Author: Jeffrey Yang '22

News editor Jeffrey Yang has written for The Index since 2018. His feature "Fords immigrants under the spotlight: Mr. Kan's citizenship odyssey" earned a Gold Key from the 2020 Philadelphia-area Scholastic Writing Awards.