Commentary on Proposal for Limiting Contact in HS Football

It has been over a week now since I wrote the high school sanctioning body in Illinois about making a change to limit contact in high school football.  This was not done to promote myself, nor was it to hammer a sport many – including me – love.  It was an attempt to get out in front of the issue and make proactive changes to protect not only the players but the game of football.  It is a genuine good intention on my part.

Since the letter went out via email and on this blog I have had many responses from many different people and places.  There have been questions and comments about what was written and in this post I will address as many as possible.

Let us begin with the deafening silence on the issue.  As in only one email in response (24 sent out) from the IHSA and its board of directors.  That response was as follows; “Thanks, Dustin”.  Yup that is it.  Not that I was expecting an invitation to HQ to break this down but maybe some questions or comments or stonewalling, nope – nothing.


Cost became a hot topic on this proposal.  Yes, I concede that hiring an athletic trainer will cost you some money, but seriously would you send you kid to a swimming pool without a life guard?  It is the same thing as sudden death, catastrophic injury or concussion in a swimming pool, they can happen at any time.  As for the other parts of the proposal cost would not be an issue at all.

In fact you could make more money with the proposals; how you ask?  Simple, by putting a lower-level game on before the varsity contest on a Friday night you would drive up attendance for that game.  In our example we use freshman games to be played prior to the varsity games; not only can you save on bus travel but having more people in the stands equates to more gate and more concessions for that contest.


I was asked for order of preference if given the opportunity, along with that I was given the scenario of all the money in the world and limited resources.  Here were my answers (as the pertain to the three proposals);

All the Money

  1. Athletic Trainers
  2. 24 hour hit rule
  3. Only 2 days of contact per week

Limited Resources

  1. 24 hour hit rule
  2. Outsourced Athletic Trainers
  3. 2 days of contact/week

Listen it is simple folks, limiting exposure will reduce the times the individual is put in harm’s way for a potential injury, concussion or otherwise.


I was asked about implementing this on short notice as states, teams, leagues already have officials and schedules in place many years in advance.  That one is elementary, SO WHAT.  It is going to take effort on everyone’s part to make it happen.  It will be like either ripping a band-aid off or pulling it off slowly, it is still going to hurt.


My favorite question was this; “in a perfect world how would you change the sport of football?”  Well in a perfect world there wouldn’t be this blog and there wouldn’t be a need for such proactive proposals.  In a perfect world and the world we are currently in I don’t want to change the game.  I want to make it safer by:

  • Having Athletic Trainers at every full contact aspect of football every level
  • Limiting contact exposure
  • Calling and enforcing the rules currently on the book
  • Having everyone understand that concussions are a brain injury and will require recovery that will be longer than one week for most.

That is quick and dirty.  You can add you questions and comments below.

16 thoughts on “Commentary on Proposal for Limiting Contact in HS Football

  1. Jason Viel May 23, 2012 / 15:13


    I love all of your ideas. I remember when I was in Illinois I hated the fact that we had kids play varsity Friday night and then turn around and play JV on Saturday. Here in Iowa, at least our conference we play 9th grade FB on Tuesday night opposite site of Friday games, and Friday night we start the 10th grade game at 4:45pm with the Varsity to follow around 7-7:30pm. I love it from a coverage stand point because it takes one less day of games out of the picture and as an Athletic Trainer I was usually sitting around twiddling my thumbs on Friday nights from 4-6pm anyway waiting for taping and the game to start. Plus we don’t have too many kids in our conference, a few schools do, playing in both games on Friday night. It is soooo much easier from everyone’s point of view, parents, players, officials, coaches, etc.

    I agree with a statement you made “IF YOU CANNOT AFFORD AN ATHLETIC TRAINER THEN YOU CANNOT AFFORD TO OFFER COLLISION SPORTS” period, end of story. Thank you for everything you do.

  2. A Concerned Mom May 23, 2012 / 15:48

    I can relate to the sound of silence. One question I’ve expected people to raise, is whether or not you might get more injuries during games if athletes are exposed to less contact during practice. (That’s kind of in line with Guskiewicz’s argument about althletes who aren’t exposed to contact at younger ages being more likely to suffer a severe injury when introduced to contact as teenagers … not sure if there’s any data on that.)

    I fully support high school sports and other activities, because I think they help prepare students for successful lives. However, it seems as though there really should be a high duty of care for minors, especially since developing brains may be more sensitive to injury. When it comes to collision sports, it seems as though they should either be run properly, in accordance with minimum safety standards, or not at all.

    • Educator Mom May 23, 2012 / 18:37

      My first thought was also how often I’ve heard that sound of silence. Athletics has many positive aspects for young people. However,those positive aspects become overshadowed when safety is not the primary concern. Those skills they learn to lead successful lives mean nothing if they live lives that are marred by brain injury. How can there be so much silence? And at what cost does that silence come? I think that at some point that even the economic cost to the health and future productivity of our young people must outweigh the economic cost of protecting their safety.

    • Dustin Fink May 23, 2012 / 22:57

      Statistics show there are more injuries in practice… However there are more practices than games…

      • A Concerned Mom May 24, 2012 / 05:28

        Is there any way to determine if the the number of injuries during practice is just higher because there are more exposures, or if the actual rate of injury during practice could be higher based on how practices are conducted?

      • A Concerned Mom May 24, 2012 / 07:52

        Chris Nowinski indicated that 60% to 75% of trauma occurs in practice at approximately 53 minutes into the linked video. He also addressed the biomechanical issues for younger athletes (much of the information has been presented before, one new fact for me is that children’s neck ligaments can stretch more @ approx. 47 min.).

  3. joe bloggs May 23, 2012 / 15:57


    I love the lifeguard metaphor. It is not too complicated. If you are attempting to assess the factors that play into concussion –

    1) When did the subject begin playing collision sports;
    2) Where the subject’s identified and injuries treated;
    3) What was the degree of exposure in both count and intensity (this would include events like non-sports related accidents).

    Subject’s that started early, are subjected to many collisions will tend to not only be more susceptible to experiencing future concussion but also suffering longer-term effects of concussion.

    So start children playing collision sports later, have an ATC and cut the number of hits in all sports.

    Since resistance to change is ever present. One missing element is measurement. Why doesn’t Illinois pilot a well managed conference against the traditional seat of your pants dumb-ass conference. A university, Illinois has a wealth of fine institutions, can design a study to account for medical, sports performance, behavioral, and academic outcomes. I have little doubt which children properly adjusted for baseline differences will have better outcomes.

  4. A Concerned Mom May 23, 2012 / 15:58

    Dustin, Did you see the linked article? Good support for your suggestions.

    “Go out and play the beautiful game of football, but do it the right way and let’s not beat these kids up,” Bob Bourgette, president of the Washington State Football Coaches Association told King-5 news.

    His organization is asking high school teams to cut the number of practice days from as many as 48, down to 20. Less practices, less contact, fewer concussions. The WSFCA position statement was submitted to the WIAA executive board at its April 15 meeting. The program is voluntary this year and Bourgette says he has received positive feedback from superintendents, principals, and athletic directors.”

  5. Dorothy Bedford May 23, 2012 / 16:52

    Dustin, Great letter to IHSA, loved the lifeguard analogy. I think we can all appreciate Mr. Hearn’s reference (in the Maryland case) to the Ivy League limits on hitting in practice (July 2011) because those institutions really do care about the long-term health of student’s brains, and were willing to provide leadership. Ironically, Maryland is one of only three states ( along with Massachusetts and New Jersey) whose state concussion laws call out specific academic accomodations (cognitive rest) to be considered for concussed students – you would think the local authorities would take a hint. I’ll bring up football practice limits in our H.S. league, just like I brought up penalties for excessively rough hockey hits a few months ago, after the Jablonski Minnesota incident. Anyone else ?

  6. A Concerned Mom May 23, 2012 / 17:00

    Sorry, not fully on topic, but sometimes I read these stories and can’t help but think … how was this allowed to happen … it would be interesting to get the background on his 5 previous concussions …

    ” … former Lamar quarterback Doug Prewitt, who suffered his last concussion in a 2011 game at Nicholls State.

    “I don’t remember getting on the bus,” Prewitt said.

    His memory didn’t clear until about two hours into a bus ride home from the game.

    Dizziness, headaches and fatigue followed. His condition left him unable to lift weights for 10 weeks. He felt worse after this concussion than he had after any of his five previous ones. In March, one day before Lamar began spring practices, Prewitt told coaches he had decided to stop playing the sport.

    His first concussion came playing football in the eighth grade, he said.”

  7. A Concerned Mom May 24, 2012 / 05:55

    “In all, the Globe found 72 concussions in boys’ and girls’ hockey and basketball across 44 high school sports programs that qualified for the state tournament this winter. By contrast, a Globe survey of high school football and boys’ and girls’ soccer programs found more than 300 head injuries reported by 78 sports programs. Of those three sports, boys’ soccer posted the lowest numbers.”

  8. Michael Hopper May 24, 2012 / 09:53

    Dustin, you and I both know the argument about “games being scheduled years out” is nonsense. Especially underclass games that I’ve seen changed on a whim. Like one game this year where they changed locations… the day of the game. And officials for underclass games are not hired that far out either.

    As you and I discussed a little bit via email, priorities are the big key. Schools have no problems ordering new uniforms each year and no the players aren’t buying them individually. That kind of thing adds up!

    It’s time every school hires a certified athletic trainer. That individual needs to be there for practices and games. Every Athlete Deserves an Athletic Trainer.

  9. A Concerned Mom May 24, 2012 / 12:24

    I didn’t realize Bailes was the medical director of the Pop Warner youth football league (he must have some interesting conversations with Omalu). Key words to focus on: “we’ll really look at eliminating practice contact, particularly to the head.” (Hey, they could switch to flag football and virtually eliminate intentional contact.) Nightline is supposed to be covering football concussions tonight.

    “”We need to continue to press forward with our medical knowledge, our sports medicine knowledge and make the game safer.”

    The key, according to Bailes, is taking head contact out of the game, especially for young people.

    “I don’t think they ought to have this potential for every play to hit head-to-head, what I call gratuitous, mandatory, obligatory head-to-head contact.”

    That recommendation is at the heart of changes he is proposing as the medical director of the Pop Warner youth football league.

    “I think we’ll really look at eliminating practice contact, particularly to the head. And I think that’s an area that’s been sort of overlooked, that we can immediately do, that will have a big impact,” he said.”

    • Jon May 24, 2012 / 17:58

      Sorry… didn’t see this was already posted….

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