Last week, contract talks between the NFL and the players' union broke down. Both sides claim player safety is a major issue. But increased safety can mean higher expenses and money is separating the two sides most of all.

Meanwhile, an NCAA committee proposed several rules changes that would bring college football more in line with the NFL. Among them was moving the umpire's position from the middle of the defense to behind the running back for the safety of umpire and players alike.

If three of the more experienced high school coaches in the region had their way, the rules of the sport from high school to the pros would be more uniform. If they were, Craig Buzea (Homewood-Flossmoor), Mark Hoffman (Valparaiso), and Leroy Marsh (Munster) believe the game would be a lot safer.

"At every level of football, (they should) use the high school rules of no blocking below the waist anywhere on the field except in the tackle box," Marsh said. "When the (National Federation of State High School Associations) adopted this during the '70s, it dramatically cut down on the number of serious knee and internal injuries."

Interviewed separately, Buzea and Hoffman said exactly the same thing.

"Also, ban spikes longer that one-half-inch, like the NFHS rule" Marsh added. "(It would) cut down on knee injuries and broken legs and ankles."

Buzea sees some progress at the game's highest level.

"I think they are on the right track on protecting players from helmet to helmet," he said. "Force players to go back to tackling with the shoulder with proper technique."

Hoffman would like to see rules with real teeth.

"Any contact with the helmet with the intent to injure the opponent (should) automatically carry a removal from the game and a 2-3 game suspension without pay," he said. "This will emphasize the importance of playing the game the way it should be and not the 'great hit!'"

When that "great hit" is made, though, Marsh believes referees must act decisively.

"Take the head out of football during tackling," he said. "And enforce the rule, don't look the other way."

Finally, both Hoffman and Marsh would like to see less contact in practices.

"Limit the number of "full-go" practices, scrimmages and drills at every level of football, especially during the summer and pre-season," Marsh said. "We see way too many hits when there is nothing at stake."

Hoffman would like professional preseason games to be changed to the controlled scrimmages seen in high school and college.

"(You) take the kicking game out of the scrimmage," he said. "Do not allow the runners to be taken to the ground during the scrimmage; (use a) quick whistle."

Those final changes would satisfy not only those concerned with contact but others who are more worried about heat.

John Doherty is a certified athletic trainer and licensed physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at ptatcsport@sbcglobal.net.

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