June 16, 2013
How many times do we see people get worked up about things that aren't really a big deal? We all got a big dose of that syndrome last week when the UIL announced the new rule limiting weekly football contact to 90 minutes in practice. The Texas Commissioner of Education is expected to sign the order on August 1st, just days before summer football practice begins. There are still some grey areas that need clarification. However, the key point is that the limitation begins with the first week of the regular season. That will be Zero week for most. The rule extends through the playoffs, but spring and fall pre-season practices will not be under the restriction. High schools and middle schools must abide.
The clamor actually started six months ago when state representative Eddie Lucio III of Brownsville introduced a bill in the Texas House that would limit high school football teams to one practice with contact per week. Social media exploded with derisive comments that this kind of thinking was an attempt to cripple the great sport of football. How could players perform properly in games without unlimited contact in practice? In reality, the exact opposite was true. Lucio was trying to pass common sense legislation to reduce the risk of head and other serious injuries. The irony was that a statewide group of coaches was already a couple of steps ahead of him.
Concussion is the new buzzword in football, at all levels, as well it should be. Everyone is afraid of the complications. In case you haven't noticed, the UIL has already worked in several changes about the way football teams conduct their business in the quest for player safety. New concussion examination procedures are now in place. Two-a-days have evolved to acknowledge the overwhelming influence of Texas summer heat. The UIL's medical experts, the Legislative Council, and the Texas High School Coaches Association got behind Lucio's concept, and created the practice restriction on their own terms. In return, Lucio has withdrawn his bill, yielding to the judgment of the people in the day-to-day business of administering the state's extra-curricular school activities.
When I heard the announcement last week, my first thought was that coaches probably weren't hitting that much during the regular season anyway. UIL athletic director Mark Cousins told the Associated Press that the rule limits "game speed tackling and blocking to the ground." I checked in with four different Valley head coaches, and asked them all one question. Before this rule, was it typical for you to exceed 90 minutes of contact in practices leading up to a game? All four said no, not even close.
What is the one common thread from the coaches in pre-season interviews? It is usually a variation on this one thought. "If we can stay free of injuries, we feel like we can have a good season." Injuries are always the X factor. Few Valley high schools, and especially those in the sub-5A ranks, have the depth and student population to survive an injury-plagued season. The 10-week regular season is a battle of attrition. Injuries can occur in so many ways that have nothing to do with full-contact. Coaches realize that slamming players in practice only adds to the risk of being short-handed on Friday night.
I floated the idea last year in an Overtime column that a day might come when the sport of football would be judged as too dangerous for the long-term health and well-being of the players. Former NFL cornerback Len Barney spoke at a football clinic last week with the head coaches of Michigan, Michigan State, and Wisconsin. Barney is part of a class action suit against the NFL. The former players claim the league did nothing to inform and educate them about the risks, known risks even then, of concussions. Barney now says he believes he suffered seven concussions during his NFL career. Seven. That's twice the number former Cowboys' quarterback Troy Aikman believes he absorbed in his career. The headline from Barney's comments was his belief that the game of football might not exist 10 to 20 years from now because of the damaging effects on the players.
That's one huge reason why the coaches seem to be on board with the rule. For most, this is not a change in their current thinking. It is certainly nowhere near the idea, a given for most coaches back in the day, that water was a limited commodity for the players during practice. Thankfully, ideas on player hydration have changed. That's made the game safer, which should always be the primary goal. The safety and well-being of our students should always come first.
The fear of the unknown is what spooks us all. Change comes slowly. And a sudden announcement of something that seems like a drastic change will always rattle the cages of those who revel in reacting first and thinking about their reaction later. Change is inevitable in all walks of life whether we like it or not. Learn to live with it.
Dave Brown serves as a special contributor to CHANNEL 5 Sports and produces his Overtime blogs on a weekly basis for www.krgv.com/sports.more »