July 29, 2014
There are new rules that will take effect in January of 2015 that will curb the amount of full-contact football practice drills at California high schools. Area coaches have given the new rules mixed reviews, based on a sampling of reactions gathered by Prep2Prep.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed the law AB 2127 last Monday prohibiting high schools and middle school teams from having full-contact practices lasting longer than 90 minutes in one day, allowing teams to conduct no more than two full-contact practices per week during the season and teams from holding contact practices during the off-season.
The California Interscholastic Federation, the governing body for prep athletics in the Golden State, supported the bill sponsored by Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova).
The intent is to limit concussions and other serious head injuries. Texas already has a rule in place that limits full-contact practice to once a week.
"This is about protecting kids, as well as parents' peace of mind," Cooley told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Even at the youth football level, there is concern. USA Football's "Heads Up Football" program has been teaching proper tackling techniques to youth leagues around the country and has huge backing from the NFL, reports Mitch Stephens of MaxPreps.
Despite all of the concern about head injuries, the new rules for 2015-2016 have prompted much debate among coaches in the Bay Area and beyond.
"I think it's a shame to be honest," Los Altos High coach Trevor Pruitt said. "I think it's going to ruin football programs across California. I think what it tells parents is to stay away from the sport because it's not safe. I don't think it's fair to the kids of California."
Added Pruitt: "It's necessary to teach proper techniques every day and defenses have to be ready to play. The defensive guys need to work on their craft such as open-field tackling and this is going to make it tough to hone their skills."
Pruitt also thinks California's new rules for 2015 could turn college recruiters off to recruits from this state.
"California is one of the best places in the country for recruiting, but it's not going to be a hot spot if we can't practice," Pruitt said.
To be fair, Cali teams can still hit in 2015 -- just not as much.
The new rules will also impact off-season football camps such as the one Riordan attended last month at Cal. No longer will full contact be allowed at these camps, posing the question of whether some of the events will disappear entirely.
Nevertheless, Riordan coach John Lee sees the wisdom in eliminating full contact during the off-season and limiting the same during the season.
"I'm partial to it, to be honest," he said. "When I was at Sacred Heart Cathedral we used to go to the Marin Catholic camps in June and July and I saw Pittsburg High lose a kid to a broken leg one year and the next year lose their back-up quarterback to a broken leg. We lost our starting tailback and inside linebacker, Michael Wallace, one year."
At Cal, Lee had his team compete in scrimmages where defenders wrapped up offensive players but did not take them down, as opposed to full-speed tackling.
Regarding the new rules limiting in-season full contact, Lee said: "There's no need to beat each other up every day because it doesn't make you any tougher to smash heads five days a week. We get enough of that in the league we play in. Teams like Serra and Bellarmine, they hit. Everyone (in the WCAL) hits."
Alvarez coach David Bottom, Prep2Prep's 2013 CCS Coach of the Year, also likes the new rules set for 2015-2016.
"I think most programs have cut back and limited the amount of hitting anyway," Bottom said. "I think it's a good thing. It's not about how often you hit but how functional and how appropriate your drills are. I don't know a lot of top programs that are hitting three hours a day anyway. I think it's a good move."
Serra coach Patrick Walsh, whose team won the CCS Open Division title last season, agrees with Bottom and Lee.
"I think it's smart to minimize hits," Walsh said. "I think the game can be taught in an environment where players aren't smashing into each other on a daily basis. It's a violent game already and if we can limit the amount of collisions in a week or calendar year I think it's great."
As for Monta Vista of Cupertino coach Jeff Mueller, he sees both sides of the argument.
"It's good and bad because it recognizes that (limiting) concussions is important, but bad because you can't have contact two days in a row and coaches are going to have to change their practice schedules," Mueller said. "I envision other injuries happening as well, like more leg and knee (due to less tackling practice)."
Piedmont Hills coach Matt Kiesle is hardly on the fence; he does not like the new guidelines for 2015 one bit. Kiesle is in his 17th year as head coach of the Pirates and was an assistant with the Pirates and was with Willow Glen before that.
"I think it's ludicrous," Kiesle said. "I think it's going to cause more problems if we can't teach how to block and tackle. During pre-season camp we'd have two 90-minute contact (sessions) every day, teaching the kids how to play. I think this thing is short-sighted. On one hand they want to avoid concussions but I've been coaching for 30 years and I hardly remember one concussion that happened in practice, though I'm sure it happens."
The Los Angeles Times, though, in a recent article reported high school players absorb 600 hits to the head per season and that one-third of concussions happen in practice.
Kiesle hasn't been swayed. He fears the bill was the result of someone "trying to get re-elected" and doesn't think the football community was heard.
"I don't know how many football coaches were consulted on this, because we could have given some ideas on how to limit contact," he said. "This seems awfully restrictive."
The Pirate coach also thinks prep programs without good feeder programs -- Pop Warner, Junior All-American etc. -- will suffer because they get so many players who are new to the sport and don't know the fundamentals.
Asked what CCS thinks of the new rules for 2015, assistant commissioner Steve Filios said: "I don't feel (CCS' opinion) is the focus, but rather our adhering to a state law that will take effect in 3-4 months so we can make schools aware of the requirements so they can obey state law."
Regarding policing of the new rules Filios thinks further study is needed, but also noted coaches (and their schools) who violate the rules could be held liable if an injury occurs.
That could be all the deterrent necessary.