Illinois Paves the Way for HS Football Policy


ihsa-1487882592-2402It has been a long time coming… Not a new post on this blog, rather, a proactive and thoughtful policy/plan for high school football safety. This process has not been easy and there is no way I can take full credit for this but I do have some rather exciting news regarding something that I, personally, have been working on for six years.

Today the Illinois High School Association Board of Directors approved a new policy, Policy 13 that states:

Weekly Player Limitations for Football
1. A player shall not play in more than 2 games in any one week, and shall not play in more than one game in a single day. For the purposes of this section, a week is defined as the seven-day period running from Sunday through the following Saturday. (It is recommended that if a player does play in 2 games in a given week, one of those games is only as a one way player. [i.e., only plays on offense or defense or special teams])]
2. Players cannot play in games on consecutive days or be involved in live contact/thud in practice the day after playing in a game.
3. 1 play in a game equals a game played.
NOTE: If a player plays in a game that is stopped due to weather or other circumstances and completed the next day, the player can participate in the resumed game the following day.

Back in 2012 I wrote this piece on what I thought would be a better way to protect our athletes that chose to play football in high school. The proposal I wrote up in 2012 was before all the changes that have happened in the NFL and NCAA. This crazy idea made even more sense after all of those adjustments because the levels above high school were adding protection for the athletes, yet the most “populated” level was not. Although the policy added today to be implemented in the 2019-2020 school year, was not as was written on this blog; it is a very good one for protecting our players.

Thankfully there were some people who wanted to listen to this and decided to take on this challenge, one way or another at the state level. I have been lucky enough to be part of the last phase of this as part of the Illinois High School Association Sports Medicine Advisory Committee via the Players Safety Council. Committee member, athletic trainer Greg Gaa, has been the spearhead of this for the past four years. The process was never easy including up to the Board of Directors deciding on this today.

This policy is more than for concussions, although it is the catalyst, it is about player safety and recovery.   Kids were playing three levels of football games in a week due to low numbers, they were also being subject to “full-speed” contact drills on their off-days as well. Something had to give, especially when you looked at the injury numbers for freshman and sophomores (let alone concussion numbers). This policy effectively puts into place a safeguard for the kids; mandated “rest” (albeit active rest) after uncontrolled, high-volume and high-intensity game activities.

One of the biggest barriers was obviously the coaches; many were doing the right thing and based on our data gathering it may have been upwards of 90%. We thank the coaches for doing the right thing but we also thank them for being part of a solution that I feel will potentially save the sport. Certainly there have been plenty of “this will kill football” or “you’re gonna make less kids play” type comments. But if those people step back they will realize two things: 1. the sport is already hemorrhaging players, and 2. this will allow the players/parents that are worried about abuse/”meat grinder” practices being curtailed. In my humble opinion this policy may increase numbers in a few years.

One complaint that is real and will most likely come to fruition was that this policy will “eliminate levels of football” particularly in small schools. Yes, it will. However, if your program has 37 kids is that safe to be having three levels of football anyhow? Forget 37, is 50-60 even large enough for three levels of football? Stupid and archaic conference rules along with the “machmismo” of sport have driven the thought/need of three levels. Maybe as the sport looses players, trimming back a bit might help?

This is a new frontier for Illinois, heck the nation, so there will be growing pains. The most clear is how to run a Tuesday practice if you have players playing on a Monday. Accompanied by: what does a football week with games look like going forward. All legitimate questions and unknowns, but, there are some really smart coaches, athletic directors and administrators that will get that all figured out.

What is most important here is that high school football players in Illinois will be the most protected in the nation when it comes to rest and recovery. What a tremendous day.

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6 thoughts on “Illinois Paves the Way for HS Football Policy

  1. Tracey Fernandez June 11, 2018 / 16:15

    This is such wonderful news, Dustin! THANK YOU for your relentless passion and dedication to making change….it’s never easy. Anything I can do to help the mission keep moving forward, just ask.

  2. Dorothy Bedford June 11, 2018 / 16:59

    What an accomplishment ! Congratulations, Dustin and colleagues. I’m hoping to update the 2016 audit of the 2014 NFHS guidelines for reducing head impact in practice. Now I can add a new questions as I contact the 49 other state high school athletic associations – what about multiple level football ?
    Thank you again !

  3. Mike June 11, 2018 / 20:07

    While I appreciate and am hopeful we can continue to fix football’s significant issues in regards to head trauma, I worry that the unintended consequences of this rule may not be insignificant. The kid who needs reps at the Varsity level now can’t get those reps at the end of a game, and may be ill-prepared when they are asked to play. The starters on Varsity now will have to play not just offense / defense, but now all special teams with less kids available to play. JV squads on Saturdays may be losing players and having more players play both ways because a few guys played punt team on Friday and can’t play Saturday. That doesn’t prepare that young athlete to be thrust into a potentially much more rigorous and potentially dangerous situation.

    1 play = 1 game sounds great in theory. But be prepared for the backlash from coaches and the unintended consequence of potentially hurting smaller programs. I’m an Athletic Trainer at a large high school, and have seen what well intentioned rules have done to my and my colleagues programs. In my state, kids get 5 quarters in a weekend, and 2 consecutive plays = 1 quarter. That way, if they are “only” playing special teams, they still have an opportunity to participate on Saturdays. Just my 2 cents, good luck with the battle on concussions in our sports!!

    • Dustin Fink June 12, 2018 / 08:59

      These are awesome observations and thoughts. Much appreciated. I assure you the committees, Board and staff all took these into consideration.

      A lot of these concerns are based in tradition and “group think”, in my opinion. The kid can still get reps at varsity level, especially if his games are on Monday. If the games are Saturday, maybe that roster is devoid of any players that are needed on Friday? If the school has Saturday games, why can they not switch them to Monday (many schools do this already)? The fear of the “more rigorous and potentially dangerous situation” is overblown and proven unfounded when you look at similar instances in the sport. For example when freshman football players start playing football in HS with no exposure to tackle they are not more likely to be injured, in fact they are better prepared to perform the proper techniques (no bad habits). As for the “tweener” player, exposure to practice with the varsity has at least exposed them to the game differences. And you essentially are disproving your point by using the special teams player as an example. Those are the most dangerous plays in football from an injury perspective, let alone concussion, but you are defending the use of younger and less experienced players in those situations.

      As for the 1 play = 1 game; this was the most debated part. After at least a year of discussion with coaches and others the logging of quarters and plays and determining what is a “safe play” and what is “too much” and all the other factors this was the simplest form. And yes this will hamper smaller programs, but as I have stated, clearly, do we need three levels of football for programs with less than 50 kids? I do like what your example is, except for the fact that I am not for back to back playing, even if its one play. That one play may have been a KO return where that player blocked or was blocked in such a fashion that he was hurt, and that player did not tell anyone because it was simply one play.

      This policy is in place to limit the exposure to young athletes, especially those that play multiple levels of football games/practices – the freshman/sophomores mainly. As Coach Piron explained and dissented in the committee, he and others are already doing this and feel they have it under control. I agree with him, but I disagree that this will change the game. It may change how coaches deploy players but it will not change the game.

      I am hopeful this will be an example of how to protect kids and grow the game in the process… Something has to change, the sport is losing too many kids.

      • Mike June 12, 2018 / 13:21

        Thanks for the great background information Dustin — Most of my concerns become moot if they move JV games to Monday’s or any day that isn’t right after Varsity game day. But if an individual plays in a game Friday (as the punter or kicker or other special team), and then wants to play on JV on Monday, is that too many games in a week in this scenario?

        To your point, if we do nothing we will watch football die a slow and painful death (a la Wrestling) so I applaud your efforts to at least put forth a collaboration of medical and football people and try to come up with solutions.

        A large amount of grade schools around where I am are getting rid of football all together, or combining with 4-6 other schools just to have a “full” 15 person team. The trickle up will happen and in a lot of places is already happening – soon we will see a large number of high schools giving up contact sports out of fear of liability I’m afraid. Keep fighting the good fight to save sports and to educate the masses about appropriate risk.

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