Pac-12 safety push to focus in part on reducing practice contact

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Over the past few years and especially over the past several months, a significant amount of time and effort has been focused on the safety of student-athletes at the collegiate level.  Specifically, how to further reduce the risk of Eric LeGrand-type injuries as well as head injuries at all levels of football.

Monday afternoon, one of the most powerful conferences in the country became the latest to take a significant step in the arena of player safety.

In a release, the Pac-12 announced that it has launched a comprehensive student-athlete health initiative that will be implemented in time for the 2013-14 academic year.  The initiative, unanimously approved by the conference’s presidents and chancellors over the weekend, “will build upon current efforts to improve the health and safety of Pac-12 student-athletes while establishing new activities,” the release stated.

“The group acknowledges that it is impossible to eliminate all injuries, but has developed the initiative to find ways to reduce injuries today, share current best practices and latest studies, and conduct research to uncover new ways to keep student-athletes as safe as possible,” the conference added.

Two of the four prongs of the initiative are directly related to football.

The one that will likely garner the most attention is the creation of a formal policy limiting the amount of contact in practice.  While a uniform policy has yet to be finalized — that’s expected to happen at the Pac-12 football media day July 26 — the conference stated that its group “will look at guidelines around contact in practice to ensure that student-athlete well-being is being closely monitored, both in the amount of contact and in providing our student-athletes and coaches with ample opportunity to teach and learn the correct tackling methods during the spring and preseason.”

Additionally as related to the sport this site covers, the conference will continue the push to reduce injuries from the neck up by creating a Head Trauma Task Force.  That group, headed by the Pac-12’s General Counsel and Director of Football and will include coaches, administrators and doctors from Pac-12 institutions, will look to find ways to limit damage and exposure to student-athletes.

“Pac-12 institutions house the leading medical trainers, doctors, and scientists working to enhance student-athlete health and well being,” said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott in a statement. “Our athletic departments and coaches have been very progressive in this area and are deeply committed to advancing these efforts,” he added. “This initiative seizes on our opportunity to embrace, support, and coordinate all these efforts and build a framework to advance them with new resources, expertise and funding.”

Other prongs of the initiative include the following:

  • Student-Athlete Health & Well-Being Research Program: Under this new program, the Pac-12 will establish a steering committee of top doctors and researchers from Pac-12 institutions, convene a summit in early 2014 where doctors and researchers share research and joint initiatives, and commit $3.5M in research grants for projects at Pac-12 institutions aimed at improving student-athlete health and well being.
  • Student-Athlete Health Conference: This Pac-12 will lead and enhance the annual Student-Athlete Health Conference. This meeting has been in existence for 10+ years as a forum for doctors and medical trainers from Pac-12 institutions to share best practices, review ongoing research studies and evaluate Pac-12 policies. In its first year as a Pac-12 event, the Pac-12 will introduce new speakers and programs to advance collaboration of all 12 universities, and establish an official process for implementing recommendations put forth by the conference.

“The health and well-being of our more than 7,000 student-athletes competing within the Pac-12 each year is of paramount importance,” said Pac-12 CEO Group chairperson Ed Ray. “This new initiative is a great step towards taking advantage of the full resources of our research institutions for the benefit of our student-athletes.”

Iowa linebacker announces transfer

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Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has been known to have a program that could play some solid defense more often than not, but the depth at linebacker just got a bit more shallow this Memorial Day weekend. Redshirt sophomore Anthony Garbutt has announced he is leaving the program.

“After prayer, consulting with my family and Coach Ferentz, I have made the decision to leave the University of Iowa,” Garbutt announced in a statement on Twitter. “I am thankful for my years as a Hawkeye and will continue to support the franchise.”

Garbutt went on to announce he will make a decision after going through a recruiting process. No timeline for his decision was announced.

Garbutt still has three more years of eligibility remaining, although he has already burned one redshirt year after joining the Class of 2015 at Iowa. If he transfers to another FBS program, he will have to sit out the upcoming 2017 season and lose a year of eligibility in the process. He would be available to play immediately this fall if he transfers to a lower division football program.

Report: Navy’s football stadium will host NHL outdoor game between Caps and Leafs

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The NHL has enjoyed the success of their growing number of outdoor games. What started out as an attempt to steal the New Years Day spotlight from the college football bowl season has grown to include additional outdoor games around the country in February and March as part of the league’s Stadium Series. With an abundance of outdoor games, finding new venues to host the outdoor games offers new opportunities to showcase a wide range of stadiums. Navy is now set to get in on the NHL outdoor fun.

The Associated Press reports Navy’s Navy-Marine Corp Memorial Stadium will be used for one game in the NHL’s Stadium Series on March 3, 2018. The Washington Capitals will “host” the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 34,000-seat venue in Annapolis, Maryland. A formal announcement is expected to be made on Monday, Memorial Day. It’s also the same day the NHL kicks off the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators and commissioner Gary Bettman gives his annual state of the league address.

The New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres were previously slated to play in the NHL Winter Classic in Citi Field, home of baseball’s New York Mets.

Heinz Field, the home of the Pitt Panthers, was used to host the 2011 Winter Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, becoming the first college football stadium to host an outdoor NHL game. Of course, Heinz Field is also home to the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, so this college stadium host came with an asterisk. Heinz Field hosted a Stadium Series game this past February between the Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers.

Michigan’s Michigan Stadium hosted the Winter Classic in 2014 between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. TCF Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Golden Gophers, hosted a game in the NHL’s Stadium Series in 2016 between the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks.

There are still a good handful of stadiums worth considering for future NHL outdoor games, especially in the Big Ten. Penn State’s Beaver Stadium has long been suspected of being a potential target for an outdoor game, but any plans involving Beaver Stadium may have to wait until after the stadium’s facilities are upgraded as part of the school’s upcoming athletics department renovation. Ohio State’s Ohio Stadium could also be an attractive candidate for an outdoor game in the future as well.

A couple other venues for possible Stadium Series game sin the future should include the Los Angeles Coliseum and the Rose Bowl. The NHL has already played an outdoor game in Dodger Stadium, back in 2014, so the league is not afraid to play outside in LA (and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara hosted a game in 2015). If they return, playing in either historic stadium would seem to make sense, although it is possible the NHL would prefer to wait until the new home of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams and Chargers is completed before making a trip to LA again.

Alabama DB Tony Brown has chance to prove he’s fastest NCAA athlete in nation

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Forget the 40-yard dash. Alabama defensive back Tony Brown is setting his focus on the 100-meter dash.

Brown, a track star in addition to being a fixture on the Alabama defense, qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in the 100-meter dash after finishing in the top 10 at the NCAA East Regional at Kentucky. Brown is a two-time All-American on the track.

Let this serve as another example of the caliber of athletes Nick Saban is bringing in to his program. Recruiting analysts have been noting for years the importance of recruiting athletes with skills in more than one sport, and Alabama has that with Brown. Brown was one of the nation’s top hurdlers in high school, and that success on the track has continued in Tuscaloosa.

Brown brings the pain on the football field too, of course. Just ask former Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams what kind of damage Brown can bring.

Helmet sticker to Gridiron Now.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey still not a fan of early signing period

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The SEC will gather in Destin, Florida this week for the annual spring meetings. This will be the first time the conference has come together since the adoption of an early signing period in college football, which is something that has not been well-received by some in the SEC. Among the dissenters in the early signing period conversation has been SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who says he is still no fan of the new recruiting calendar.

I still don’t think that’s best,” Sankey said in an interview with the Associated Press last week.

“I think the early signing date has an impact on high school football,” Sankey said. “I think moving the recruiting calendar has an impact on high school football. I think we all have to be concerned about football and its strength and health at every level. Whether it’s a minority voice or a singular voice, I think those are important issues to consider.”

The stance by some around the SEC against the idea of the early signing period is notably different compared to just a few years ago. At the spring meetings in 2014, the SEC football coaches voted unanimously in favor of an early signing period starting on the Monday after Thanksgiving. Former SEC commissioner Mike Slive, however, expressed his preference to keep the only signing day in February.

As far as the voice coming from the commissioner’s office in the SEC is concerned, the narrative has not changed following the changing of the guard.