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Policies change after heat deaths

The phrase "voluntary summer workout" elicits about the same response from all college football players: a laugh.

They realize there's little "voluntary" about the sessions, needed to remain in top shape to reduce the chance of injury and the chance someone else might work harder and alter the depth chart.

But the death of Florida's Eraste Autin, who collapsed after a voluntary workout last summer and died six days later from heatstroke complications, changed the typical response.

Now, no one's laughing.

Teams are reviewing policies and searching for ways to ensure players can put in the maximum workout without endangering their health.

"We've always done a good job of making our players aware of hydration and the heat," said Rob Glass, Florida's strength and conditioning coordinator. "We've stepped that up even a little bit more with our new entry athletes."

For now, the voluntary workouts continue. But this year, safety has taken the spotlight.

The death of Autin and the heat-related deaths of Northwestern's Rashidi Wheeler, the Minnesota Vikings' Korey Stringer and high school players Travis Stowers of Kirklin, Ind., and Houston's Steven Taylor and Leonard Carter II (all last summer) prompted everyone involved in football to re-evaluate their safety methods.

Florida moved its voluntary conditioning drills to morning instead of afternoons. As fall practice approaches, the starting time of workouts "gradually" will move up to coincide with the starting time of practice to get players acclimated to the climate.

Florida also will continue to integrate more runs in the afternoon to build tolerance to the heat.

"We are constantly reviewing our policies and procedure as it relates to the health and safety of our student athletes, and we will continue to be proactive in this area," Glass said.

"This involves the continuing education and nutritional counseling of our student athletes and staff and the monitoring of workouts and practices."

Florida nutritionist Michelle Rockwell met with players individually to discuss how they react to heat and to try to assess each one, Glass said.

"We spend a lot of time with them one-on-one, trying to educate them," he said.

The Vikings, who are being sued by Stringer's widow, have instituted many changes this season, including the mandatory presence of a doctor during practices. In the past, a doctor visited daily but was not required to remain for the entire practice.

Minnesota also will install large sun canopies on the field and provide electric cars for shade during practice. Players will wear yellow jerseys rather than dark purple if the heat warrants it.

Most of the other NFL teams have not instituted wholesale changes.

The NCAA's governing body also is making changes. In April, it approved emergency proposals for this summer, including one that allows prospective student-athletes who have signed letters of intent to be supervised by a strength and conditioning coach.

Previously, strength and conditioning coaches could be on the premises but could not supervise the workouts.

Also, the NCAA ruled if a student-athlete were injured during a voluntary workout, he or she will receive medical coverage.

But some still question if enough is being done.

"The NCAA held that as a big victory, but we see the problems are still there," said Ramogi Huma, the chairman of the Collegiate Athletes Coalition, a fledgling group trying to secure more benefits and rights for football and men's basketball players. "Our whole thing is that summer workouts should be safe."

The NCAA continues to study the issue and hopes to devise new guidelines. Proposed legislation could come up for a vote next year, NCAA spokeswoman Jane Jankowski said.

In addition to safety and economic factors, the NCAA is wrestling with the student-athlete's seemingly ever-expanding time commitment.

"Once we agree or say we need to change what those time demands are, then there has to be, certainly, closer monitoring of what's going on," NCAA president Cedric Dempsey said. "There's no reason why that can't be done. Most Division I programs have full-time compliance people, and there needs to be a monitoring system. And student-athletes need to feel free to express how they feel about some of that. And that does fall back on institutional responsibility.

"(The NCAA) can set the standard, but if no one monitors it or adheres to it, it doesn't mean very much. When I talk about hypocrisy, that's what the student-athletes see. Part of their learning experience is whatever we can get away with, get away with. That's not a very good learning experience."