THE FUTURE OF FOOTBALL- We Are Headed In Right Direction

THE FUTURE OF FOOTBALL- We Are Headed In Right Direction

We all know that this is not the same game that we played growing up. It has changed. It is changing. And it will continue to change. Head injuries, and the media’s constant focus on them, have drastically affected football.

So, in most articles written by football coaches, this is the point where the author rails against the media and the political types and the rules officials for making changes undermine the integrity of our game. There are various arguments, but the rhetoric and the guys spewing it are pretty much the same all across the country, from the NFL to the youth ranks. So, before we start looking at the future of this game, let’s get a handle on “They are taking football out of football” Guy.

Disclaimer: Before you read my list, I have to self-report.  I have often been this guy, and am probably guilty of every single thing on my own list. But, we all learn from our past and our mistakes are sometimes the most important leg of our journey.

So, with tongue fully inserted in cheek, let’s define “They are taking football out of football” Guy.

1) He has never read an injury report without questioning at least half of it and the trainer that wrote it.

2) He loves war metaphors. There is nothing that is more apropos than comparing a high school football game to the most epic battles in history. Isn’t it obvious that charging a field at Gettysburg is the same as kickoff team?

3) He and his former teammates will always be tougher than the current generation…uphill both ways in the snow and all of that.

4) He thinks that two-a -days are actually a right of passage for a 15 year old kid. If you didn’t go through them, you are somehow missing the essence of your manhood and probably won’t be able to have children.

5) He thinks he probably had 50 concussions and what they call a “concussion” nowadays wouldn’t have knocked him out for more than a series.

6) He loved going to practice everyday. More than that, he loved hitting people and he can’t understand why his 142 pound d tackle doesn’t get pumped up for the Oklahoma drill.

7) He runs the Flexbone or the Double Wing and thinks it is impossible to be physical from a 2-point stance.

8) He has a VHS tape Ronnie Lott’s greatest tackles.

9) He thinks that yelling actually motivates kids to play better and that it will make them tougher as they venture on in life.

10) He tends to start a lot of sentences with, “When we played…”

I’m sure, like me, you read that list and can remember a time when you were that guy. Or, maybe you still are that guy. But that guy is going by the wayside and if we are still that guy, soon we will be irrelevant. The game has changed. Get used to it. You are not going to reverse the tide of the culture. You are not going to convince everyone that concussion protocol and player safety are being overstated and that it is all a media conspiracy. You aren’t going to persuade the head linesman that the receiver wasn’t defenseless or your free safety didn’t launch. This is the way the game is moving. Adapt or die!

If you love football for the right reasons, then it is your job to adapt to the new direction and get on board with the new world. Embrace the rules. Look at the positives. Think about how you would feel if you were a parent, or if you were a 92 pound freshman, or if you were the parent of a 92 year old freshman.
These rules are good. It is a good thing that kids are being protected. It is a good thing that people are actually aware of concussions and their ramifications. The only reason people don’t like the new rules and the new direction of football is that they have some inflated and over- exaggerated love affair with the game that was…the way it was when men were men.

Here is the truth…it wasn’t that great. It wasn’t really that awesome. It wasn’t cool to get your bell rung and just keep playing. It wasn’t cool to wonder if you were going to get knocked out every time you went across the middle. It wasn’t cool to tackle with your head down.  (By the way, my coaches never taught me to drop my head.  In fact they cautioned against it.  But, the referees did not police it and, let’s be honest, using your head as a weapon is actually very effective).  It wasn’t cool to run until you passed out or threw up.  It wasn’t cool to do 10 days of two-s-days in a row.  A lot of ex-players like to say, “We knew what were signing up for.” No we didn’t. I was 14 years old. My parents signed me up. I didn’t know I would get 80 stingers and 7 concussions over the next 12 years. I didn’t know that getting my head across to the ball side actually caused degenerative nerves in my neck. I didn’t know that I would have to ice my knee every night. No one told me that. I just listened to my coaches. (I don’t blame them either. They were just teaching the game the best way they knew). Let’s face it, in a lot of ways, the game we played sucked! The game is better now and it is getting better every year as we learn and research and adapt.

So, with that being said, Let’s try to forecast the future. I am not a prophet, but as I read the landscape of the NFL, the NCAA, and the more progressive school districts, there are trends that seem to be pointing toward change in the next few years.  So, here are a few predictions.

 

1) CONTACT PRACTICES WILL BE LIMITED (OR ELIMINATED)

For a lot of us, this is not the future, it is the present. If this hasn’t happened in your state yet, it is coming.  I used to live in California, which just passed AB 2127 last year.  I currently live in Washington and I just voted on a rule regarding contact limitation at an AD meeting last week. Practice limitations are coming nationwide.

This started about 12 years ago, when they NCAA took a stand against two-a-days, citing player safety mostly related to hydration issues. High schools did not immediately follow suit, but after the death of 4 players in 2008 and 4 players in 2009, many schools and school districts imposed limits on two-a days.

As concussion research progresses and people begin to realize the dangers of head to head collisions, there will be increasing pressure to limit weekly contact.

The NCAA has imposed limits. Last year, the Pac 12 imposed limits. It is coming to every state and every high school soon.

In Washington, the WIAA is trying to craft a rule that makes sense. The amendment that I voted on last week calls for only 2 days of contact per week. So, practically speaking, most coaches would probably hit on Tuesday and Wednesday.  I actually voted “no” on this amendment because I believe it doesn’t go far enough and it is too rigid. first, it doesn’t address playing multiple games in a week, like JV on Monday and Varsity on Friday.  Third, it is much too rigid as, under this rule, a team would not be allowed to hit on Monday for 15 minutes, Tuesday for 20 minutes, and Wednesday for 20 minutes, but would be allowed to hit for 2 hours on Tuesday and 2 hours on Thursday. That doesn’t make any sense.  I would like to see a time-based rule…90 minutes of contact per week or something along those lines.

Still, despite the rigidity of some of these laws, the states will eventually get it right and contact practices will be limited in every state in the country. The trend is too strong to fight. Alabama, Arizona, California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, and Texas have already passed laws and the NFHS has recommended limits

But I am going to take it a step further. I think contact is going away all together. That’s right. Mark my words. The state politicians and educational leaders are going to eliminate contact in high school football practice.

Again, this is is simply me reading the tea leaves but my prediction is that they will let us hit during fall camp to establish proper technique and teach best practices, and then they will ban it for the rest of the season until game day.

Now, before you call me crazy, think about where the game was ten years ago. Did you ever think there would be flags for hitting defenseless players?  When we played we were taught to look for defenseless players.  Did you ever think the state government would tell you how much you could hit during practice?  When we played we wore pads everyday.  It was a gift if we got to practice in shells.  Did you ever think that two-a-days would be banned? Did you ever think that the NFL would all but eliminate kickoff returns? The game is changing so fast. Contact elimination is coming too.

 

2) THE 3 POINT STANCE WILL BE BANNED

Roger Goodell actually mentioned this as early as 2010, but it is gaining traction in the last year or so. It is the next logical step to reduce head injuries.

In a lot of ways, the 3 point stance is counter intuitive. You can’t put your head down to tackle. You can’t put your head down to run people over. But, we teach kids to line up with their heads down. And, yes, I know that in a proper 3 point stance the player is actually looking up and can see his opponent. But, that’s not how kids line up when they are tired. They drop their head and make contact with the crown of their helmet. That is dangerous, it should be banned, and it will be. The only safe way to block and tackle is to use the chest and the shoulder pads.  I would be shocked if they allow the 3 point stance in the coming years.

At the higher levels of football, the 3 point stance has become obsolete anyway. Most offensive tackles and outside pass rushers in the the NFL and college play from a 2 point stance or a sprinter’s stance designed for get off rather than leverage. Only the guards and defensive tackles play from a true 3 point stance anymore.  If they want to see a reduction in head injuries, it makes sense to make people stand up straighter.

 

3) THE CHAINS WILL BE LENGTHENED OR A DOWN WILL BE ELIMINATED

This might be a little bit of a stretch and there isn’t as much evidence to support it, but my gut tells me that they are going to change the yardage to attain a first down or reduce the number of downs. My guess…1st and 15.

Running plays are much more difficult to police because of all the bodies at the point of attack and the necessity of leverage in order to move the man across from you. Therefore, they are much more dangerous and more likely to result in a head injury. There is no better way to force teams out of running situations than to make them go 5 extra yards or give them one less down to go 10 yards. They play 3 downs in Canada. And, at least some people, seem to prefer it,

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but this is what really convinced me. Check out this article about Chris Peterson and his staff at the University of Washington. They are teaching the rugby style tackle, where you aim for the near hip, wrap up and roll toward the back of the offensive player. This sounds like sacrilege to anyone raised in the 80’s and 90’s where we prided ourselves about getting our head across the ball carrier to stop his forward momentum. Of course, the rugby tackle is safer and it takes the head out, but we all know that this “arm tackle” isn’t going to do much to a 225 pound running back that runs a 4.6.

The difference is that in Rugby there is no line of scrimmage and no line to gain, so it doesn’t matter if you tackle the guy now, or 5 yards from now. All that matters is if you get him on the ground. But, in football, every inch matters so we will use every piece of our body, including our neck and head, to stop forward momentum.

But, what if the offense only had 3 downs or had 4 downs but had to go 15 yards? Offenses would be forced to pass more often and defensive players will be more willing to give up a few yards after contact, thus taking the emphasis off a stop of forward momentum.  Of course, as long as the first down exists, 4th and inches will always be part of the game and leverage will always matter.  You can’t completely take this out of the game, but less running and more pass plays would help reduce the play after play banging of offensive and defensive linemen.

I, for one, applaud Peterson. Coaches have to take a stand. Eventually, the rules will catch up.

SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR US?

Well, for one, let’s look at the practical side. If you believe these changes are coming, you should probably adopt a system that de-emphasizes contact. Like I’ve said before, I love all kinds of football and I think all systems can be successful in the right environment, but If you are Wing T or a Power I guy these changes probably scare the heck out of you. Your system is based on leverage, physicality, and power blocking. But, more than that, your rhythm is based on live reps and full contact against a live defense. Have you ever tried to execute the Wing T without Pads? It is really hard to be efficient in practice if you can’t practice your stuff at full speed.

The competitor in me loves the new direction of football because I love to throw the ball. For those of us that believe we can Win With the Pass, these changes are welcomed. We see offensive football as a game of 7 on 7 and we can practice our stuff full speed without pads. The only reason we need to be in pads at practice is just to get used to the weight and the movement restriction. Our linemen play in a 2 point stance and most of their day is spent on picking up blitzes and pass pro technique. They can hit the sled without pads and they can do one-on-one pass pro once a week on contact day. I happen to be an Air Raid guy that wants to throw it 50 times. And, I love the fact that my opponent is limited by the new rules while we can practice all week at full speed.

But, competition and X’s and O’s aside, let’s not forget the motivation behind the new direction of football.  We can’t ever take all the violence out of sports, but at their core, these rules are designed to protect kids and to make the game more enjoyable and accessible. And for that reason, they are good for all us…even the guy that thinks football is being taken out of football.