A five-year concussion study released earlier this spring could significantly alter how college football teams prepare for future seasons, members of the NCAA's Football Oversight Committee told Sports Illustrated.
As reported by SI, the impending modifications keep both the number of practices (25) over the same amount of days (29) but adjust the type of practices coaches can hold. Committee members are considering a reduction of full-padded camp practices (from 21 to eight), the complete abolishment of one-on-one collision exercises (such as the “Oklahoma” drill) and limiting a team to two scrimmages per camp (lowered from three and a half).
A 25-practice camp must include at least nine non-contact, padless practices (helmets only). That’s up from the current rule of two mandatory padless practices, which are part of an acclimatization period at the beginning of each camp. The working model would also permit a maximum of 90 minutes of full tackling in any one single padded practice and would prohibit more than two consecutive full-padded practices, requiring coaches to wedge in non-contact and shell (helmets and shoulder pads) practices.
The study, funded by the NCAA and the U.S. Department of Defense, tracked head exposures in six Division I college football teams — Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Wisconsin, UCLA, Air Force and Army — from 2015 to 2019. With more than 650 student-athletes participating, the study found that 72 percent of concussions occurred during practice and nearly 50 percent happened in preseason practice, despite it representing just one-fifth of the football season. Total head impacts in the preseason occurred at twice the rate of the regular season.
“The data is the data,” West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons, chair of the FOC, told SI. “We’re going to have to make changes. We have to reduce the exposure that we’re having with concussions in the preseason practice time period.”
Results from an American Football Coaches Association survey this spring showed that many coaches already adhere to such camp practices, says Todd Berry, the AFCA executive director. The potential new rules have coaches mainly concerned in one area: preparing their young players for high-speed college-level game contact.
“Our coaches don’t want concussions. We don’t go out there and just beat each other up,” Berry says. “There’s no value in that, but there does need to be enough contact to allow players to prepare their bodies for contact or else you’re asking for more injuries on the field. What coaches are concerned about is being able to evaluate a younger player and teach them how to prepare for contact.”
A subgroup of the FOC has spent several weeks ironing out details and will present the changes to the full committee at its meeting today. Afterward, the new policies will be sent to member schools for feedback before the FOC officially recommends the legislation to the NCAA Division I Council, which must in turn okay the changes at its May 19 meeting.
This is not the first time the NCAA has attempted to make pre-season camp — a grueling fixture of football preparation for decades — safer for student-athletes. In 2017, the NCAA banned two-a-day practice schedules, and in 2018, the governing body reduced the number of preseason practices from 29 to 25.