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The concussion issue may soon be tackled at the state level in Connecticut.
A proposed bill to raise concussion education and awareness has been referred to the house and could be voted on during this short session.
The language of the bill, as currently proposed, would mandate concussion education for all student-athletes and parents at the high school level, along with informed consent signed by a parent prior to athletic participation. Any suspected concussion must be reported to a parent within 24 hours. Also, concussions will have to be reported annually to the state's department of public health.
While geared toward high school athletics, there is also a provision that youth sports organizations will have to provide a concussion information sheet to athletes and parents.
The proposal was sparked by the Parents Concussion Coalition, a collection of parents in Connecticut with children who suffered life- changing concussions. The group formed two years ago, aiming to protect young athletes and strengthen the state's current concussion laws. It started with PTA meetings and eventually got the ear of legislators.
In 2010, Connecticut became the third state to pass a concussion law. It mandated concussion education for high school coaches, along with remove-from-play and return-to-play protocols.
Connecticut has since fallen behind.
There are only three states which don't require concussion education for parents, four which don't require concussion education for athletes and six which don't require informed consent. Connecticut falls into all three categories.
"This will bring it up to the basic safety measures that most states have," said PCC member Diana Coyne, whose son's football career was cut short because of multiple concussions. "We were hoping that it would be a much stronger bill with some really good primary preventative measures to reduce the exposure of concussions. All that's in the bill will only help after you've had a concussion."
The PCC pushed to add football practice contact limits to the bill, which would have made Connecticut the first state to legislate it. But the CIAC, the state's governing body for high school athletics, stepped in and set up contact practice limitations earlier this year. Among the guidelines, teams are allowed 90 minutes of contact drills per week from the start of the regular season through Thanksgiving.
"It's a step in the right direction," Coyne said.
While the PCC was looking to make Connecticut the first state to legislate contact practice limits, other states have already set the precedent. In fact, a handful of high school governing bodies have them in place, including football-crazed Texas. According to KTBC- TV in Austin, football injuries have decreased since the contact restrictions were put in place.
At the professional level, NFL teams are allowed 14 full-contact practices during the regular season and the NCAA has discussed regular-season practice limitations. Nothing is in place, though the Ivy League and Pac-12 took it upon themselves to limit teams to two weekly full-padded practices during the regular season.
CIAC associate executive director Paul Hoey explained the CIAC wanted to regulate practice limits, because once it became a law it would be difficult to modify, among other reasons.
"This allows more flexibility in making changes," Hoey said. "We've been doing this since 1921 and we've shown the importance of the safety of our kids. That's why we're opposed to the legislation."
Hoey also acknowledged the concern over concussions had a "significant impact" in the recent changes to the state's high school football playoff format. Under the new format, the quarterfinal round has been eliminated. The playoffs will still consist of 32 teams, but now there will be eight divisions -- and consequently eight state champions -- instead of the previous four- division setup.
Teams played as many as 15 games last season. This also allows a minimum of one week's time between games, which was a strong recommendation of the Connecticut State Medical Society.
Some coaches are not happy with the new playoff format or the push to legislate concussion education and awareness.
"This baffles me as to why it has to come through legislation," Foran coach Jeff Bevino said. "Making more people aware of it and the education people are getting from this, it's all a good thing. I want to make sure that gets across. But what's happening is it's overkill, and it's scaring people away from football."
As for the contact limits, Bevino said many coaches throughout the state enforced them before the guidelines were made.
Hand coach Steve Filippone says Connecticut does not need this proposed law, and points out the state has one of the most rigorous training programs in the country, which includes a three-hour concussion education course.
Filippone was a big advocate for adding a quarterfinal round to the playoffs in 2010. He also voted in favor of the new playoff format, citing that "we as a game need to take steps to ensure the public that we get it."
Filippone asks, rhetorically, why the quarterfinal round had to be eliminated abruptly without substantial data showing it led to injuries.
"It had to be an external force."
And he thinks it was the PCC.
"I can't guarantee it, but it seems like it came at an opportune time and it coincides," Filippone said. "I don't question their role as watchdogs, caring and loving parents, or their desire to see change. But in my opinion, we made it a very high priority to deal with the pressure created by that group and we succumbed to it."
Hoey says it was not because of the PCC and that it was an ongoing topic of discussion.
Nonetheless, concussions are a hot topic right now. Everyone is talking about it, Filippone says. Playoff formats are changing because of it. The media covers concussions on a seemingly daily basis. Filippone sees football ultimately being played above the waist; a lot like rugby. There isn't much more to change to make the game safer, he says.
"It's a very serious issue," Filippone said. "But all the great things of our game and what happens to young men when coached properly are getting lost in this frenzy of concussions. In the long run, this could be a good thing. It will be.
"It's important we do everything we can to make this game as safe as possible."