CS: Practice, Open Gyms, & Conditioning, Oh My!

CS: Practice, Open Gyms, & Conditioning, Oh My!

The term “open gym” conjures images of a basketball coach literally opening a gym and rolling out the basketballs, but in reality it rears its head in every one of our sports. We wrote an excellent brief on this topic in 2015 that can be found here. Since 2015 we have added several new sports and the NEC created an interpretation on this topic. For these reasons we decided it was a good time to address this issue again and bring it back to the forefront. In addition to the new sports and interpretation we are also getting close to the holidays when a lot of break periods take place.

The “open gym” language is found in a casebook example in Article I, Section G, Item 6, the definition of practice. If you are interested in who can practice please read this brief. Break periods are addressed in Article I, Section G, Item 5, where the rules for the 24-week season are established. In general, each team gets a maximum of three break periods and can only practice and play for 24 weeks between August 1 and May 15.

Bylaw: Article I, Section G, Item 6

“Practice will be defined as follows: An activity organized and/or directed by an identified member of the coaching staff of that sport in which appropriate equipment is used or instruction and/or evaluation of the athlete takes place.”


Coach attendance at an open gym will be considered a practice and must count within the 24-week season. Per the definition of a practice, the presence of a coach at an open gym provides the opportunity of evaluation of a student-athlete. Additionally, if an open gym is directed by a coach to occur, it will count as a practice as the coach arranged or planned for the activity to occur, whether or not the coach is in attendance.

If a coach organizes for a potential student-athlete to play with current student-athletes in an open gym activity, this will constitute a tryout and must meet all stipulations of a tryout as outlined in Article II, Item D. Tryouts are not required to count as part of a team’s 24-week season.

If the coach’s presence is required for a legitimate alternative purpose (e.g. as a lifeguard during open swim, or because the coach is also the facilities manager and as such is required to be on site while the gym is unlocked) then the presence of the coach at the activity will not implicate the practice provision. However, the coach should limit his involvement only to that which is required by his alternative role. For example, if he is the facilities manager and required to be on site for liability purposes, then he should remain on site but should avoid watching the students’ competition in the open gym as much as possible.


A coach directs his men’s basketball team to hold an open gym two days a week during the spring semester after the men’s basketball season has concluded. The coach decides to attend one of the open gym sessions to check in with his team. Can the coach observe his team during the open gym if he does not specifically direct the students in any drills?

The coach’s attendance at the open gym is considered a practice and must count within the 24-week season. The directive of the coach to his students to attend open gym and the presence of the coach at the open gym provides the opportunity of evaluation of a student-athlete, thus meeting the definition of practice per Article I, Section G, Item 6.

Case Studies

*Assume all schools are NAIA institutions unless otherwise noted and that all sports are on a break period.

Scenario 1:

The Tank College men’s and women’s bowling teams are currently on a break period. Betty is the women’s coach and works at the bowling alley that is used by the college for games and practices. During this break period Betty is working at the alley and sees two of her bowlers at one of the far lanes. Betty does not engage with the bowlers and does not observe them more than a passing glance. Has Betty’s behavior triggered a practice?

Answer 1:

No, in this scenario Betty has a legitimate reason to be at the bowling alley, her employment. Betty did not require the bowlers to be there nor did she organize their appearance. Furthermore, Betty did not provide feedback or evaluation of the students. This would not trigger a practice and thus the break period would remain intact.

Scenario 2:

Betty is married to Billy who is Tank College’s men’s bowling coach. Betty is working again at the alley when she receives a text from her husband asking her if there is room at the alley for one of his players to come practice. Betty says that there is room and the student arrives at the alley. The student takes his place at the end of alley and begins to bowl when Billy calls and asks Betty to keep an eye on the student and report back. Would this trigger a practice?

Answer 2:

Yes! The practice was organized by an identified member of the coaching staff (Billy), appropriate equipment was used (ball, lane, pins, etc.), and evaluation is taking place. The evaluation is being done by Betty but at the direction of Billy. A coach cannot use a proxy to skirt the practice rule.

Scenario 3: 

Mike is the men’s football coach at Crane University. Mike tells his players that he will unlock the field from noon until three in the afternoon and that it is highly encouraged that they attend, but not required. When the players arrive they see that tennis balls are out instead of footballs. Mike is seated at the top of the bleachers and stays there the entire time. The students run routes and plays with the tennis balls while Mike observes and takes notes. Is this a practice?

Answer 3:

Yes! It was organized by Mike, evaluation seems to be taking place even though footballs weren’t. The definition of practice only requires that equipment OR instruction/evaluation takes place, not both. Therefore, since evaluation takes place this would be a practice.

Scenario 4:

Chuck is the strength coach at Jacked College. Chuck buys a new weight training tool that is essentially an extremely heavy baseball bat that he plans to use with all athletes to help with flexibility and strength. If Chuck uses this tool with the baseball team would that count as a practice?

Answer 4:

As long as there isn’t an identified member of the baseball coaching staff present when these bats are being used and no evaluation is taking place, then this would not be a practice. The purpose of the bats are to gain strength and flexibility not to work on hitting mechanics. As long as they are used in that manner then this would meet the conditioning exception to practice.


Please join us at noon central on Tuesday for Facebook live, where Legislative Services will discuss this topic in more detail.