The American Journal of Preventive Medicine isn’t the first place administrators, athletic trainers, coaches, and team physicians refer to for guidance. However, a study published there in January and cited last week in Scientific American warrants their interest.
Parents’ interest, too.
If they pay attention to the results of that study, the glacial pace for football reform in most states is bound to quicken dramatically.
In Iowa, it already has. That state’s high school athletic association’s leaders began planning long before the Preventive Medicine study was released. In March, they announced that starting this fall, football teams will be limited to no more than one practice per day and no practice will be allowed to exceed three hours.
The first two days of practice will be without any gear at all. Equipment may be added starting the third day but no full contact will be allowed until day six. In all, teams will be required to follow a 14-day heat acclimatization schedule.
No such rule changes will be in place in Indiana this year, but plan on it for 2014. The Indiana Football Coaches’ Association and the IHSAA are working to have new rules in place by then. Knowing that, coaches in the Hoosier state would be foolish not to observe voluntarily what is being done in Iowa or what was similarly put in place by several southern states last year.
As for Illinois, if the IHSA doesn’t take action by 2014, expect the state legislature to do so. Earlier this year a bill was introduced in Springfield that would limit contact in football practice to no more than once a week. It was never brought to a vote. However, as surrounding states take action, pressure on legislators from the general public is bound to increase.
The Illinois legislation was primarily intended to curb concussions. Well-intended, it wasn’t very practical. Full contact, once a week during practice, which is now the rule in the NFL, may work with professionals but not with high schoolers still learning the game.
At the college level, the Ivy League limits full contact practices to no more than two per week.
More concerned with heat than the amount of contact at the time, the NCAA banned consecutive two-a-day practices 10 years ago. The net effect, though, was to dramatically decrease contact. That was the result of coaches finding their players to be more energetic the day after a single session. Consequently, in the 10 years since the rule was instituted, most college teams have essentially eliminated two-a-day practices.
The Preventive Medicine study focuses on heat rather than contact and presents compelling statistics. Authored by researchers at Connecticut, North Carolina, and Ohio State, the article reports that the exertional heat illness (EHI) rate in high school football is 11.4 times greater than all other sports combined.
While it takes place all over the country, EHI happens primarily in August, with 60.3% of cases in that month, and a disproportionate share occurring TO linemen and AFTER the second hour of practice.
Knowing those hard numbers should make for easy decisions regarding the future of football on both sides of our state line.