What is CARA in College Athletics? Hourly Limitations & More

College athletic programs must adhere to the weekly and hourly limitations set by the NCAA regarding how much time student-athletes can allocate to their sport in a week. There’s a name for these limitations.

CARA in college athletics stands for “countable athletically related activity” and is any sport-related, mandatory, and coach-supervised activity that a student-athlete participates in during the season. CARA includes required practice, competitions, individual workouts, skill instruction, athletic facility usage, and camps or clinics.

I’ve outlined the NCAA rules for CARA in this article and discuss in detail what counts as a countable athletically related activity and when they can occur.

Related: How Much Time Do Student-Athletes Spend on Their Sport? (Real Examples)

What is CARA in college sports?

The NCAA adopted a ruleset to limit the amount of time student-athletes can dedicate to their sport every week in and out of the sport’s season. That ruleset is called “CARA,” but what does it mean?

CARA, or a “countable athletically related activity” in college sports, is any sport-related, coach or staff-supervised, and required activity involving student-athletes that contributes to their total hourly and weekly time and activity limitations.

Activities like competitions, training, film sessions, individual workouts, and other coach-supervised activities are considered CARA.

These activities contribute to the hourly and weekly limitations of a student-athlete.

CARA is designed to protect student-athletes by giving them downtime to prioritize academics and other obligations.

CARA rules apply to institutions at each level. This means Divisions 1, 2, and 3 all follow the same rules regarding hourly and weekly limitations.

The NCAA strictly defines what counts as a countable athletically related activity.

Countable athletically related activities, or CARA, are sport-related and coach or staff-directed activities contributing to a student-athletes total number of daily and weekly hourly limitations. Examples include competition, practice, skill instruction, individual workouts, the use of athletic facilities, and camps or clinics.

These activities are all examples of CARA, but only if a coach or team staff member is present or requires them.

Related: What are Countable Athletically Related Activities? (Examples)

Sometimes, a coach requests their players to participate in a training session on their own time without a coach to avoid violating CARA rules. Such sessions do not count as CARA.

Because those sessions are not coach-guided or required, coaches cannot punish or discipline athletes who didn’t attend.

What does not count as CARA for student-athletes?

The NCAA has specific guidelines for what makes something CARA. If coaches and players aren’t careful, they can face severe consequences from their institution and the NCAA for violating CARA guidelines.

So, just as you should understand what activities are considered CARA, you should know which ones aren’t.

Study hall sessions, tutoring, community engagement activities, fundraising events, voluntary strength and conditioning training, compliance meetings, award ceremonies, team banquets, treatment by an athletic trainer, medical examinations, and media day do not count as countable athletically related activities.

Any activity not required or supervised by a coach or member of the coaching staff, including strength and conditioning coaches, does not count as CARA.

Here’s a table for a more straightforward look into what doesn’t count as CARA:

Countable athletically related activities (CARA)Not countable (Not CARA)
CompetitionStudy hall or tutoring sessions
PracticeFundraisers; community service or engagement
Skill instructionVoluntary strength and conditioning programs
Individual workoutsCompliance meetings
Coach or staff-supervised use of athletic facilities Award ceremonies; team banquets
Mandatory participation in camps and clinicsAthletic treatment from an athletic trainer
Medical examinations
Media day
A table showcasing what counts and does not count as a countable athletically related activity.

How many hours a week can college athletes practice?

Student-athletes are allowed a specific number of hours and sessions to dedicate to their sport in a week, depending on what segment they’re in.

College athletes can practice up to 15 hours a week during the regular season, except those on golf, tennis, and rowing teams, who are allowed 20 hours a week. All athletes can practice up to 20 hours a week during the postseason and no more than eight hours a week in the off-season.

These hours are the CARA limitations; athletes can practice as much as they want without a coach’s direction or presence.

Related: When is College Soccer Season? Fall and Spring Rules

Note that regular-season hourly limitations for student-athletes also include competition times.

Although athletes are allowed 15 practice hours a week during the regular season, the actual number of hours dedicated to training is almost always less than that.

However, athletes and coaches make the most of their available time in the off-season.

As I hinted at above, there are three segments for college sports:

  • Non-championship segment (regular season)
  • Championship segment (postseason/playoffs)
  • Outside the playing season (off-season)

The NCAA uses these segments to break up the season and identify which CARA rules to enact and when.

There are different CARA rules depending on the segment in which a team is. For example, as I briefly mentioned, a team or athlete’s hourly limitations differ during the season than in the off-season.

Let’s take a refined look at college athletes’ hourly and weekly limitations.

Regular season hour limitations for student-athletes

The regular season is the duration of a season before playoffs. College soccer teams, for example, start their regular season in early September on their first competition date.

According to CARA rules, student-athletes are allowed 15 hours of required, coach-supervised practice time per week during the regular season or non-championship segment. They are allowed no more than four hours a day of sport-related activity and at least two days off as part of their limitations.

The regular season immediately follows the end of the preseason.

Related: When is College Soccer Preseason? Division 1, 2, and 3 Rules

Postseason or playoffs hour limitations for student-athletes

Hourly limitations for student-athletes are extended during their postseason or playoff run.

According to CARA rules, student-athletes can practice for 20 hours total per week but not more than four hours per day during the postseason or championship segment.

Off-season hour limitations for student-athletes

Each sport has its own specific rules regarding off-season limitations. There are general rules, though.

For sports other than football, a student-athlete can participate in coach-supervised and required practice for up to eight hours a week during the off-season, according to CARA rules. They are required to have at least two days off per week.

The off-season is any other day during the academic year not included in the playing season.

Let’s use college soccer as an example again. The regular season for college soccer is in the fall, and the dedicated off-season starts in the spring.

Related: When is College Soccer Spring Season? (Start and End Dates)

During the spring season, college soccer players are permitted eight hours a week of required training time with a coach present. Four of the eight hours can be used for coach-supervised practice and four for weight training.

Here’s a table to easily see the hourly and weekly limitations for student-athletes during each segment of their season.

Season segmentNumber of hours allowed for CARA per dayNumber of hours allowed for CARA per week
Non-championship (regular season)4 hours15 hours
Championship (postseason)4 hours20 hours
Off-season4 hours8 hours
A table showing the number of hours allowed for countable related activities at different parts of the year for student-athletes.

What does CARA mean in college sports for student-athletes?

CARA commonly refers to the general idea of hourly limitations for student-athletes. Countable athletically related activities are quantified and adhered to by coaching staff to protect student-athlete well-being.

For student-athletes, CARA or “countable athletically related activities” specify a strict number of hours or sessions permitted in a day or week for them to participate in training or games. As a result, it protects student-athletes’ physical and mental well-being, ensuring they have enough time for academics or other obligations.

Student-athletes are protected through the limitations set forth by the NCAA regarding such countable athletically related activities.

Related: How Hard is College Soccer? Choose the Best Division for You

CARA helps student-athletes distinguish themselves as both a student and an athlete by protecting them with a set of laws with which coaches are forced to comply.

These compliance regulations benefit students and allow them to focus on school and athletics equally, at their discretion.

Countable athletically related activity limitations differ depending on the segment a team is in. This is especially helpful during the off-season when student-athletes have more time to focus on academics.

What is the NCAA 20-hour rule?

The 20-hour rule follows the CARA ruleset and is a general term for the weekly and hourly limitations for student-athletes.

The NCAA 20-hour rule states that student-athletes may not participate in countable athletically related activities for more than 20 hours a week and four hours per day, according to 17.1 General Playing-Season Regulations. Daily hourly exceptions for golf are allowed, but the 20-hour rule remains.

The rule applies to the championship segment when teams are in the postseason. Otherwise, the regular season still follows the 15-hour-per-week limitation.

All CARA-related information is made publically available by the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA). This article is a helpful tool for understanding CARA at the surface level and is not legal or compliance advice. Contact a compliance administrator for more information.

Sean Tinney

I’m Sean Tinney, a lifetime soccer player and Ball At Your Feet owner. This website is a hub for practical soccer advice, information, and insights from one player to another.

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