In response to results from a five-year concussion study released earlier this spring, an NCAA legislative committee is deeply exploring ways to make the annual August camp a safer place, officials told Sports Illustrated in interviews this week. The Football Oversight Committee (FOC), college football’s highest policy-making group, plans to present recommendations soon that will significantly change one of football’s most grueling traditions.
Committee members are considering a reduction of full-padded camp practices (from 21 to eight), the complete abolishment of collision exercises (such as the “Oklahoma” drill) and limiting a team to two scrimmages per camp (lowered from three and a half).
The changes stem from a study published in February that was funded by the NCAA and Department of Defense. The study tracked head exposures in six Division I college football teams from 2015 to ’19, finding that 72% of concussions occurred during practice and nearly 50% 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. More than 650 players from Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Wisconsin, UCLA, Air Force and Army were involved in the study.
The study leaves college administrators with no choice but to again adjust college football’s preseason camp policies, says Shane Lyons, the West Virginia athletic director and the chair of the FOC.
Nobody likes being sued. Right, NCAA?
Though the changes seem significant, they shouldn’t impact the majority of coaches in a dramatic way. 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.
That’s what they say, anyway.
The new rules are the latest way the NCAA is attempting to relax what was once known as the most excruciating and laborious experience in football. For years now, fall camp has seen its teeth removed in the name of safety. In 2017, the NCAA banned two-a-days, and in 2018, the governing body reduced the number of preseason practices from 29 to 25.
The latest 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.
In the latest working model, 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. No more than eight practices can feature full pads and full contact, up from 21 under the current rule.
… The working model would also reduce scrimmages from three and a half to two; would 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 practices.
There was a limit on the changes, though.
… The committee rejected a request from the SEC to expand camp by six days to allow for more days off. According to a letter obtained by SI and sent to the FOC, the league wanted to hold 25 practices over 35 days, lengthening camp to spread out its full-contact practices.
That seems like a player-friendly, pro-safety move, so why not? My guess — and it’s pure speculation, based only on my gut feeling of college football doing college football things — is that it would cost more money to do so. Doing it for the kids is not the NCAA’s prime directive.