NJSIAA passes bill reducing practice contact to lowest limit at any level of football
The New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association has imposed a dramatic reduction in full contact allowed during the football season.
The state’s athletic governing body announced Wednesday that in-season, player-on-player contact will be reduced to 15 minutes per week and six hours total during the preseason, including scrimmages. Last season, the limit for in-season contact was 90 minutes per week with no limit during the preseason.
The 15 minutes per week during the season and six hours during the preseason refer to tackling where a player is taken to the ground. 'Thud' contact is not restricted.
The new rule makes New Jersey the most restrictive state in the country in terms of high school practice regulations and the most restrictive at any level of football from youth to the NFL. The impetus for the rule change came from a proposal by Practice Like Pros and the New Jersey Football Coaches Association.
“We thank Terry O’Neil and Practice Like Pros for educating us on this issue,” NJSIAA executive director Larry White said in a news release. “When Practice Like Pros and our New Jersey coaches came to us jointly with this recommendation it was not a difficult decision. The NJSIAA strives to be a leading state association in matters of health and safety for our student-athletes.”
The NJFCA and Practice Like Pros submitted a joint proposal to the NJSIAA in July 2018. It was approved in October by the NJSIAA’s Sports and Medical Advisory Committee and on Wednesday by the Executive Committee.
The state of Michigan is also considering a similar contact reduction, according to the release.
Reaction from Shore Conference coaches has been predictably mixed.
At Toms River North, the Mariners already have very limited full-contact drills.
"We don't go to the ground more than 10 minutes a week," said Mariners head coach Dave Oizerowitz. "Every drill is a 'thud' with a quick whistle and we have moved toward emphasizing rugby-style tackling as opposed to the more traditional head across the bow."
Red Bank Catholic head coach Frank Edgerly echoed what Oizerowitz said in terms of it not affecting the Caseys' day-to-day routine, but he questioned the need for the drastic reduction.
"I understand the importance of making the game safer; I embrace it and agree with it," Edgerly said. "We don't do anything live. We 'thud' and by Week 3, Week 4, we're in full pads on Tuesday, uppers Wednesday and helmets only on Thursdays. Even when we used to be in full pads [every day] no one led with their head or was going to the ground. That's where I think coaches have to evolve. This is where coaches have to use their heads and get over the outdated mindset of extreme contact breeds toughness."
"But I find this new rule hyper-aggressive. Having a chance to coach in the NFL and the restrictions they have, we didn't practice tackling during game weeks. People complain how bad tackling is and there's a reason why. Those are guys who are so gifted and talented but they're now in a scenario where they used to be routinely practicing tackling through Pop Warner and high school and now the only practice is on game day."
While the new rule is designed to prevent injuries, Edgerly is worried it could have the opposite effect.
"A big thing with young players is not only learning the fundamentals of contact but overcoming the fear of contact and gaining confidence from repetition. If that's limited, you're going to see more injuries [during games]. How are we supposed to get kids ready now that you want to moderate scrimmages, but on Friday nights we're going to cut it loose full speed?
"My question is where is the research and data that says 15 minutes if the right amount of time? I'm not saying it's not out there, but let's see it. What is this stemming from and what is the basis for it? I think this is politics and liberalism bleeding its way into athletics."