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Orange County Register (California)

The head coach in Sacramento just sent in a new play.

Local high school football teams are trying to figure out how to run it.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday signed into law AB2127, which limits full-contact football practices at the high school and middle school level. The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, will limit teams to two full-contact practices a week during the season, with such practices restricted to 90 minutes, and prohibits any full-contact practices during the offseason.

The restrictions represent the latest and perhaps most aggressive attempt to reduce concussions and other head injuries incurred in youth football. The rules apply to public, private and charter schools.

Under the new law, California high schools also must observe new concussion protocols. A student-athlete suspected of sustaining a concussion or head injury must be removed from athletic activity for the remainder of the day and cannot return to athletic activity until being cleared by a licensed health care provider.

The California Interscholastic Federation, the governing body of high school athletics in the state, supported the bill sponsored by Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova. The bill was also supported by the Brain Injury Association of California.

When the bill passed with a bipartisan vote on June 19, Crespi coach Troy Thomas said he sensed that most coaches understood the need to change how teams practice.

"I just think we have to do something," Thomas said at the time, "and I agree we've got to look at every opportunity to make the game safer."

But Lakewood coach Jimmy Nolan wondered Monday if football should be accepted for what makes it "the biggest sport in the world."

"The best way to reduce risk is to not play football. Football is a different animal," Nolan said.

"But at the end of the day I'll go along with whatever CIF says."

After hearing about Brown's signing Monday, coaches and administrators said the next step could be the hardest: finding answers to their questions about how to implement and follow the new rules.

"Full-contact practice" is defined in the new law as "a practice where drills or live action is conducted that involves collisions at game speed, where players execute tackles and other activity that is typical of an actual tackle football game."

Many coaches will be uncertain what that definition means, said Glenn Martinez, the assistant commissioner of the CIF Southern Section, which includes most Southern California high schools. Martinez is in charge of the section's management of football.

" 'Game speed.' What does that mean? What is 'full contact?' And how do they define exactly what offseason is?" Martinez said.

"We're going to need better definitions of this."

Martinez expects those definitions will be sorted out by the CIF state office. The Southern Section is one of 10 sections within the state CIF.

Growing awareness of concussion issues already has affected high school athletics in Southern California. This past school year, the CIF Southern Section adopted a rule that limits, to 18 hours a week, a student athlete's participation on a high school sports team. The 18 hours includes competitions and practices.

Similar practice rules are in place in more than 15 states, including Alabama, Arizona, Illinois and Michigan. In Texas, teams are allowed only one 90-minute full-contact practice per week.

At the college level, the Pac-12 Conference reduced full-contact practice to cut down on head injuries.

While the new rules were being finalized in Sacramento earlier this summer, Thomas began to plan the changes he would need to make.

"As we've planned out our summer and our weekly schedule during the season, we're definitely going to reduce the number of days in pads," he said. "We're going to do two days in pads and we're going to reduce the number of full-speed plays that we do during the week, too."

Thomas added that he thinks most teams will see the benefits of the changes and that coaches will take them a step further to keep players as safe as possible.

"These are my boys," he said, "I want to make sure that we're doing everything we can to get them prepared to play in a safe manner but also looking at what we can do to look at the amount of maybe, exposures, to opportunities to get a concussion."


July 23, 2014




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