The NFL began its “Forever Football” campaign with a commercial displaying the game from its infancy with muddied fields and leather helmets to a speedy Devin Hester crossing the goal line at the end of the 60-second spot.
It’s geared toward promoting a new focused look at keeping football safe. On the weekend of March 24, Iowa will join the ranks in trying to make one of the nation’s most popular sports safer. At the state athletic directors’ conference, the Iowa High School Athletic Association plans to unveil a series of rule changes regarding football’s preseason practice procedures.
“It’s time for us to catch up with the recommendations that are being made by the research and so forth that’s been done relative to the heat issues in football,” IHSAA executive director Rick Wulkow said.
Limiting teams to one practice at a maximum of three hours highlighted the potential rule changes. Others changes included helmet only (no pads) practices for the first two days, no full contact until the sixth practice, no practices on Sunday and no full-contact scrimmages until 10 practices have been completed.
Wulkow wouldn’t comment on the potential changes, but didn’t refute any of them either.
He did put to rest one rumor.
Cedar Rapids Jefferson’s Michael Moncivais (23, left) and Will Orr (52). (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)
“That there would be no contact for the first 10 days of practice,” Wulkow said. “That’s not true.”
Although not official, the rule changes weaved their way through the coaching ranks in Iowa.
“My first reaction was a little bit of shock and surprise, like most football coaches,” Cedar Rapids Xavier coach Duane Schulte said. “But on the other hand not surprised at all because how things are kind of going and people trying to maintain safety in football.”
The changes are set to only affect the preseason practices.
In the past, teams had two separate practices ranging from two to three hours. Now they will only have one with a three-hour limit. The rules also slice the on-field time even by not allowing any contact until the sixth practice.
“It’s going to force us to look at our practice plans that first week. That’s the week it’s really going to affect,” West Delaware coach Doug Winkowitsch said. “The hardest part is, for us, the first three days in the past, you can hit all the fundamental stuff, but to really get to the technique and the things you’re trying to develop with your kids to get really good at, really requires gear, in my opinion.”
The practice adjustments don’t pertain to the summer camps teams attend. They also don’t mention anything regarding player workouts.
The limit of three-hour practices comes with the modifier of physical activity.
“We’ll still probably do our same schedule,” Schulte said. “There might just be more mental activity in terms of chalk talk and film study and things like that.”
The National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at the University of North Carolina found that since 1995, 52 players died (41 high school, eight college, two professional, one sandlot) from heat stroke. Its study also found that during the last decade, there were 31 heat-stroke deaths, compared to 21 during the previous 10 years.
Due to these numbers a number of states have already taken action. Georgia no longer allows three-a-day practices. Similar to Iowa, players cannot participate in pads until the sixth practice. Two-a-days are allowed but can’t combine for more than five hours and can’t be on consecutive days.
In Texas, teams two-a-days were banned for the first four days, and can’t be held consecutively after. Florida, another football hotbed, banned two-a-days for the first week. They can’t be in the second week, but not consecutively.
“It’s not just an Iowa issue it’s a national issue. It’s just not a high school issue, it’s a college and pro issue,” Wulkow said. “And we’ve done the research and the study and we’re going to lay it out for athletic directors so they have a full understanding.”