With the football offseason getting ready to move into summer camp mode leading up to the start of the season, the NCAA released a new set of recommended guidelines regarding player safety with a special emphasis on concussion treatments and practice habits. Among the recommendations was a limit of two contact practices per week during the season. The new guidelines are a result of months of collaborative work between the NCAA, College Athletic Trainers’ Society, various medical organizations, coaches and conference commissioners.
Unlike official rule changes, the recommendations released by the NCAA on Monday are said to be working in “real-time,” which allows the NCAA to change or modify the guidelines on the fly as more research becomes available rather than wait for the next season to come around.
“Medicine really is a process that’s much more fluid, which led us to the guideline approach rather than pursuing legislation,” NCAA Chief Medical Officer Brian Hainline said. “The words we like to use are ‘living, breathing.’ We’d much rather have a living, breathing document that can shift based on emerging evidence.”
However, because these are simply guidelines, it is still up to the conferences and schools to choose to adopt them and make them a standard. The NCAA cannot punish a school or conference for operating under other methods or policies, but it can say “We told you so.” Because this was a combined effort, it is expected these guidelines will be adopted throughout the sport.
“These guidelines are strict in concept but flexible in design, allowing coaches ample freedom to design practice schedules while limiting the amount of full-contact situations that players will experience,” said Montana State University head football coach Rob Ash. “There is no doubt in my mind that coaching staffs across the country at all levels will enthusiastically endorse these guidelines and incorporate them into their football practice regimen.”
The Pac-12 has already instituted a policy limiting conference members to two contact practices per week. Some of these philosophies have started to spread across all levels of football, including the NFL where some teams have rethought the way practices are run.
Here is how the guidelines read, according to the NCAA;
- Preseason: For days when schools schedule a two-a-day practice, live contact practices are only allowed in one practice. A maximum four live contact practices may occur in a given week, and a maximum of 12 total may occur in the preseason. Only three practices (scrimmages) would allow for live contact in greater than 50 percent of the practice schedule.
- Inseason, postseason and bowl season: There may be no more than two live contact practices per week.
- Spring practice: Of the 15 allowable sessions that may occur during the spring practice season, eight practices may involve live contact; three of these live contact practices may include greater than 50 percent live contact (scrimmages). Live contact practices are limited to two in a given week and may not occur on consecutive days.
When it comes to player safety, especially regarding concussions and other forms of head trauma, there really is no bad way to go about establishing new guidelines. The Pac-12 changed their habits last season and any fears about the level of play may have been put to rest as the conference continued to gain praise on a national competitive level. How will these new guidelines be received throughout the country? That remains to be seen, but feel free to share your reactions in the comment section.