As part of a national effort to reduce possible concussions, the GHSA executive committee voted unanimously Monday to cap the amount of time football teams can conduct live contact drills in practice.
According to GHSA executive director Gary Phillips, the association became the seventh state governing body to adopt new National Federation football practice standards. The standards fall in line with similar practice cutbacks made in recent years at the NFL and NCAA levels.
“You’re never going to get concussions out of this sport,” said Phillips, a former high school football coach. “The whole point everybody is after is trying to minimize the risk, to cut down on the number of opportunities the kids are in, the number of instances they’re in where we see athletes getting hurt, getting concussed.
“The NFL started this. They changed their practice rules. They rarely even go live on anything anymore. The colleges have had regulations in place for a long time. When you’re looking at the data, you have to figure out where the problem starts, and most of it starts in high school. Kids in youth football have incidents, but the majority, because there are so many kids that play nationally, (are in high school).”
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The proposal adopted at the executive committee’s spring meeting at the Marriott Macon City Center limits contact during both preseason and regular-season practice, with the biggest effect taking place during the preseason.
Full-contact drills will no longer be permitted every day during the preseason. They will be limited to 135 minutes per week, with contact taking place on no more than two straight days. Full contact will also be limited to a single session of a two-a-day practice.
During the season, full contact in practice will be limited to 90 minutes per week, or 30 minutes per practice, spread across three practices. Full contact on back-to-back days will be permitted, but three straight full-contact practices will be prohibited.
“The big thing is going to be the time working on tackling,” said Bleckley County athletics director Benjy Rogers, a member of the executive committee. “But this bill is movement in the right way to rectify concussion management. In the long run, it’s going to be better for the kids.
“A lot of schools aren’t fortunate enough to have athletic trainers. We’re fortunate enough to have one who works in our school system. Maybe this takes some pressure off coaches with concussions and diagnosing concussions.”
Coaches will have to maintain written practice plans, with those plans subject to inspection by the GHSA.
Penalties for not following the new standards are strict. A first offense carries a fine of $500 to $2,500 per occurrence, with a second offense resulting in probation and a postseason ban.
“It’s good to have everyone on the same page and looking out for the best interests of the kids,” said Peach County head coach Chad Campbell, an executive committee member and a member of the football subcommittee. “Some people have already been putting this in place anyways, especially with the contact.”