04/22/15-Final Changes Adopted for Football in Response to NFHS Task Force Recommendations

April 22, 2015 2014-2015 News Releases

At its regular meeting on April 21, the KHSAA Board of Control adopted policy changes including emergency changes to the bylaws and policies of the KHSAA related to football practice. The draft of changes was released to the membership in March for comment, for final adoption at this meeting after consideration of member school final remarks. A compliance form is being finalized and once approved by the Board of Control in May, will be distributed to the membership to assist in education coaches and ensuring compliance by all schools.

After consideration and following considerable feedback from the membership, the Board approved the staff recommendation to make one change from the draft, and allow the wearing of helmets for on campus, non-competitive, non-contact work in June. Specifically, from June 1 through June 24, the following provisions will be in place (different from the original draft): a) Schools may not issue football equipment included in NFHS Rule 1-5 other than the helmet, with the exception of an all-star game or individual camp as detailed; b) Schools may not organize or participate in any football activities that allow players to be in football gear included in NFHS Rule 1-5 other than the helmet, even if contact does not occur; c) Activity during this period may not include contact (Level 3-”Thud” or Level 4-”Live Action”); d) No session can be held where attendance is taken or any other implied or explicit required activity; e) The KHSAA catastrophic insurance provided by the Association is not in effect during this period; and f) Heat index monitoring guidelines must be complied with during any activity.

The rest of the proposal was adopted as presented to the membership for implementation in the summer of 2015. The revised timeline for practice and contact is listed at: http://khsaa.org/042215-football-equipment-timelines/ 

In addition, necessary emergency changes to Bylaw 23 are listed at: http://khsaa.org/042215-final-bylaw-23-changes-necessary-due-to-emergency-adoption-of-nfhs-task-force-recommendations/

“Make no mistake, there are substantial changes included in this action. There will be an adjustment for all involved, but the number one goal is player safety, and the reduction of exposure to head injuries and concussions. The primary way to achieve that goal, per the Task Force report and research, is to wear full gear less often and reduce the amount of allowable full contact practice,” said KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett. “The second, but perhaps equally as important goal, is the long-term sustainment of the sport as a viable participation opportunity throughout the state. Participation has been trending downward nationally, and much of that decline has been attributed to the recent increase in available information concerning concussions and the fear of many parent groups of allowing their children to become involved due to this data.

“What has evolved from this report are changes that can lead to sustaining football in both the near and short term. Due to the recommendations, there have been necessary losses of some opportunities to practice in full gear for the long term health and safety of student-athletes. Things such as multiple contact practice two-a-day sessions are over. Activities labeled as ‘camps’, which were merely a creative means to practice in full gear prior to the start of full contact practice, cannot be held,” added Tackett. “However, teams are gaining the entire month of July after the dead period for helmet-only practice and for late July practice in shells; insurance coverage that had previously cost the schools for 7 on 7 activities is now being provided; a schedule that truly allows for the athletes to come off of the dead period and gradually add gear has been adopted; a standard to ensure that nearly all schools have the same amount of practice is in place; and a reduction in exposure to head injury and concussion by lessening contact will occur.”

“We are very hopeful that in taking some of these steps, in addition to the initiatives taken the past couple of years, we can preserve this most important and vital sport to our schools and communities for many years to come,” said KHSAA Board of Control president Carrell Boyd. “Parents have to feel comfortable allowing their children to participate, and that means coaching and playing differently than we may have done in the past. These steps will help the sport of football not only survive, but thrive. The Commissioner, the other Board members and I are eternally grateful that our membership has remained engaged and involved and tried to make the best decisions on behalf of students that want to participate.”

BACKGROUND AND ADDITIONAL DETAIL

The NFHS recommendations on football practice were released to the KHSAA in November and discussed throughout the membership and within the Board and staff for several months. Following the receipt of the report, the information was distributed to the KHSAA Board of Control members and placed on the agenda for its November, 2014 meeting for a brief discussion and background. At that meeting, staff was asked to review the information with various football constituent groups, including the Commissioner’s Advisory Committee on Football, and to try and determine best practices going forward, given the restrictions and recommendations within the Task Force report.

Clearly, the recommendations were a call for action in many areas and required immediate changes in the way schools conduct football practice, including the timetables and timelines for the use of school owned equipment. The recommendations include fairly sweeping philosophical changes in terms of more clearly defining the rules limitations on what can be done when wearing certain gear. Key to this discussion was the conceptual introduction of the USA Football terms used to describe the content and intensity of drill work and levels of contact. Those new definitions are:

Level 0 – “Air” – Players run a drill unopposed without contact.
Level 1 – “Bags” – Drill is run against a bag or another soft-contact surface.
Level 2 – “Control” – Drill is run at assigned speed until the moment of contact; one player is pre-determined the ‘winner’ by the coach. Contact remains above the waist and players stay on their feet.
Level 3 – “Thud” – Drill is run at assigned speed through the moment of contact; no pre-determined “winner.” Contact remains above the waist, players stay on their feet and a quick whistle ends the drill.
Level 4 – “Live Action” – Drill is run in game-like conditions and is the only time that players are taken to the ground.

For a complete description and explanation of the terms, including video descriptions, see http://usafootball.com/health-safety/levels-of-contact. Understanding these terms is critical to both the reduction of risk, and the adoption of new guidelines. Coaches and athletic administrators should note that there is a wealth of great material related to risk reduction and the need for revision of techniques in some areas on the USA Football site at http://usafootball.com/.

The complete text of the NFHS report is online and is important for all KHSAA school representatives to read it its entirety. The report is at http://www.nfhs.org/media/1014079/2014-nfhs-recommendations-and-guidelines-for-minimizing-head-impact-final-october-2014.pdf. The risk and increased liability placed on the KHSAA, its schools, its coaches, and all involved in interscholastic football by this report were a call to immediate action. The Board reviewed a first reading of alternatives and ways to comply with the recommendations at its January meeting, and directed staff to take the discussion input from that day, and from various meetings with football coaches and administrator groups in the days and weeks following, and prepare a final draft for review at its March meeting.

One of the key elements that Board of Control members requested for review at that meeting by the staff was to determine if the previous policies on equipment distribution for July (see the information distributed in July, 2014 at http://khsaa.org/071414-reminder-about-changes-in-football-preseason-practice-rules/) could be relaxed in July and allow for more gradual phase-in of equipment. Clearly, if the contact periods were more tightly regulated, therefore reducing overall risk, then some July permissions could return. Clarity was to be sought both from the catastrophic insurance carriers and within the NFHS task force recommendations.

Below is a summary of the report and recommended actions. Please take the time to read these reports in their entirety and the referenced documents.

RECOMMENDATIONS FROM THE NFHS TASK FORCE FOR MINIMIZING IMPACT EXPOSURE AND CONCUSSION RISK IN FOOTBALL (See full report at http://www.nfhs.org/media/1014079/2014-nfhs-recommendations-and-guidelines-for-minimizing-head-impact-final-october-2014.pdf)

The NFHS has issued recommendations on minimizing impact exposure and concussion risks as follows:

  1. Full-contact should be limited during the regular season, as well as during activity outside of the traditional fall football season. For purposes of these recommendations and guidelines, full-contact consists of both “Thud” and “Live Action” using the USA Football definitions of Levels of Contact.
  2. Member state associations should consider a variety of options for limiting contact in practices. The task force strongly recommends full-contact be allowed in no more than 2-3 practices per week. Consideration should also be given to limiting full-contact on consecutive days and limiting full-contact time to no more than 30 minutes per day and no more than 60-90 minutes per week.
  3. Pre-season practices may require more full-contact time than practices occurring later in the regular season, to allow for teaching fundamentals with sufficient repetition.
    1. Pre-season acclimatization protocols and regulations regarding heat and hydration take precedent and should always be followed.
    2. While total full-contact practice days and time limitations may be increased during the pre-season, the emphasis should focus on the proper principles of tackling and blocking during the first several practices, before progressing to “Thud” and “Live Contact.”
  4. During pre-season twice-daily practices, only one session per day should include full contact.
  5. Each member state association should review its current policies regarding total quarters or games played during a one-week time frame.
  6. Consistent with efforts to minimize total exposure to full-contact, head impact exposure, and concussion risk, member state associations with jurisdiction over football outside of the traditional fall football season should review their current policies to assess if those policies stand in alignment with the Fundamentals discussed within this report and, if needed, modify the policies accordingly.
  7. Each member state association should reach out to its respective state coaches’ association on designing and implementing a coach education program that appropriately integrates youth, middle school, and high school football programs in every community. USA Football and the NFHS Fundamentals of Coaching courses should be the primary education resources for all coaches. Education for coaches should also include the proper fitting and care of helmets.
  8. Each member state association should regularly educate its schools on current state concussion law and policies and encourage schools to have a written Concussion Management Protocol. Schools should also be encouraged to share this information with coaches, parents, and students annually.
  9. An Emergency Action Plan (EAP) with clearly defined written and practiced protocols should be developed and in place at every high school. When possible, an athletic trainer should be present at all practices and games.

ORIGINAL RECOMMENDATIONS – IN CONSIDERATION OF THE RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE NFHS TASK FORCE, “RECOMMENDATIONS AND GUIDELINES FOR MINIMIZING IMPACT EXPOSURE AND CONCUSSION RISK IN FOOTBALL”, THE FOLLOWING POLICIES SHOULD BE IMPLEMENTED BY THE BOARD OF CONTROL SOLELY FOR FOOTBALL, AND IMPLEMENTED IMMEDIATELY FOR THE 2015 PLAYING SEASON:

1. That all prior use of the word “contact” in existing regulations and interpretations, be changed to “full gear”, “shells (helmet & shoulder pads)”, “helmets only’ and “no gear”, based solely on the gear that is being worn. The use of equipment to define “contact” should be eliminated.

2. For the purpose of guidelines for football, the KHSAA adopt the definitions contained in the USA Football Regulations. These specific guidelines and terminologies would
Definition of Levels of Contact:

0 – “Air” – Players run a drill unopposed without contact.
1 – “Bags” – Drill is run against a bag or another soft-contact surface.
2 – “Control” – Drill is run at assigned speed until the moment of contact; one player is pre-determined the ‘winner’ by the coach. Contact remains above the waist and players stay on their feet.
3 – “Thud” – Drill is run at assigned speed through the moment of contact; no pre-determined “winner.” Contact remains above the waist, players stay on their feet and a quick whistle ends the drill.
4 – “Live Action” – Drill is run in game-like conditions and is the only time that players are taken to the ground.

For the purposes of this rule:

“Contact” will be defined as drills run at the Level 3 – Thud and Level 4 – Live Action Level, and Drills run at the Level 0 – Air, Level 1 – Bags and Level 2 – Control level shall be defined as “Non-Contact”
All drills in shells (shorts, shoulder pads and helmets) shall be “Non-Contact”.
In helmets- only, only Level 0 – “Air” and Level 2 – “Bags” drills may be conducted

3. In response to NFHS recommendation 1, 2 and 6 (spring practice), that the regular season and during spring practice, during non-game situations (practice), a team may participate in “Thud” or “Live Action” drills and game time simulations for no more than ninety-minutes per team, per week.
4. In response to NFHS recommendation 1, 2 and 6, During the spring practice period, a team may participate in “Thud” or “Live Action” drills and game time simulations for no more than six of the practice sessions, and that the practice sessions be structured as follows:

Two days Non-Contact (0 – “Air”, 1 – “Bags”, 2 – “Control”)
Two days Contact (3 – “Thud”, 4 – “Live Action”)
One day Non-Contact (0 – “Air”, 1 – “Bags”, 2 – “Control”)
Two days Contact (3 – “Thud”, 4 – “Live Action”)
One day Non-Contact (0 – “Air”, 1 – Bags, 2 – “Control”)
Two days Contact (3 – “Thud”, 4 – “Live Action”)

5. In response to NFHS recommendation 3, existing rules address these recommendations, and the only change necessary is clarification in the existing interpretations using Thud and Live Contact to illustrate allowable actions during practice as well as highlighting what is not permissible during the acclimatization and acclimation periods.
6. In response to NFHS recommendation 4, while the majority of this limitation is in place, the rules should be amended such that only one period on the multiple practice days be allowed to involve “Thud” or “Live Action”, regardless of permitted gear.
7. In response to NFHS recommendation 5, it is recommended that football players be limited to eight (8) quarters per week with the following provisions:

Each week is a Friday through Thursday period;
Participating in one play in a game at any level counts as one quarter;
Any playing time greater than 6 minutes counts as one quarter;
A playing time period of 6 minutes or less counts as one half quarter;
A player be limited to 4 quarters in any one day, 8 quarters in one week.

8. In response to NFHS recommendation 6, it is recommended to approve Recommendations 3 and 4 as detailed above
9. In response to NFHS recommendation 7, it is recommended that the education component is contained in existing training and recommends staff to include helmet fitting information in the annual rules review for coaches.
10. In response to NFHS recommendations 8 and 9, it is recommended that existing KHSAA regulations address these concerns.