The Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) recently asked its Board of Governors to restrict full contact hitting and scrimmaging to two days each week for its members. There is still a debate as to whether this decision should be a mandate to member schools or simply a suggestion.
AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese said the organization is concerned with the long-term health risks that accompany repeated blows to the head. He also noted that football’s future depends on organizations like AHSAA being proactive. Savarese said he believes practice restrictions, teaching proper tackling and even widening the field should all be implemented.
“We have to make parents feel more comfortable with allowing their children to participate in contact sports,” Savarese said. “President Obama said he would have to consider if he would allow his own child to play football. It’s a very strong statement. I don’t think we can just put that thought aside because there are a lot of parents saying that now.”
The NFL has for the past couple of years limited live contact during the season to no more than one time per week and has essentially banned full contact from off-season mini-camps. In college, the Ivy League has limited live contact to two practices per week, although neither the NCAA or the NAIA have been proactive and followed suit.
Part of what concerns Savarese and others looking at high school football is the fact that between 2008 and 2011 participation in football fell across the county by some 1.4 percent. In California, participation during this period fell by about 4 percent.
Participation in Alabama has stayed steady over the past few years at between 22,000 and 23,000 students. Some think that this may be related to the fact that over the past five seasons the University of Alabama has won three national titles and Auburn University won one.
One interesting observation Savarese made was that it may be time to consider widening the football field. It is true that in basketball the size of the court in high school is smaller than what is found in college and pro basketball. High school players today are bigger, stronger and faster than their counterparts were 20 years ago. Perhaps it is time to consider widening the field to try and reduce the congestion in the middle of the field that can lead to an increase in hard hits.
Savarese’s comments reflect the fact that concerns over concussions and traumatic brain injuries are no longer confined to the National Football League, which is currently facing more than 3,000 separate lawsuits from former players or their families related to head injuries and problems experienced by former players later in life.
No one is advocating that high schools switch over to playing flag football. These schools are facing soaring costs for equipment as manufacturers try to make safer helmets and protective gear. So far, there have not been many lawsuits filed by former high school players alleging injuries caused while playing high school football.
This does not mean that high school leaders should do nothing. It will be interesting to see how this situation plays out in football crazy Alabama and in other states. At this time, fewer than 15 state associations even allow their members to conduct spring training. This largely reflects concerns over the danger of too many violent hits.
Football fans should closely monitor this situation. In 10 years, many schools may have trouble finding enough players to even field competitive teams, unless this problem can be solved. How times do change…
Greg Tyler is the Library Director at the United States Sports Academy. He has also taught courses at the Academy in sports law. He worked for years in youth sports as a coach, league administrator and as a soccer referee. He has a law degree and practiced law for a number of years. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.