All over the country, parents, doctors, schools and athletic associations are discussing football, and what measures can be taken to safeguard participants against concussion and traumatic brain injury — short of not playing at all.
New Jersey’s high school athletic association has just taken a drastic step in that pursuit.
15 minutes of full contact
On Wednesday, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) adopted new rules aimed at player safety concerns.
The biggest change: teams can engage in full-contact drills in practice for a total of 15 minutes per week, a sharp reduction from the previous 90 minute limit the state association allowed. During the preseason, teams may have six total hours of full-contact work, which includes scrimmages. There was no preseason limit previously.
The NJSIAA says its new rules are the most restrictive in the country.
The state already had a ban on full-contact spring and summer practices, which remains.
Participation numbers are down
From 2016 to 2017, New Jersey saw a 6.8 percent decrease in the number of players playing high school football, which amounted to 1,700 kids. Only three states, Colorado, Montana and Oklahoma, saw a higher-percentage decline in participation. Concerns about player safety was often cited as a reason for numbers going down.
Somewhat surprisingly, the NJSIAA implemented the changes on the recommendation of the New Jersey Football Coaches Association, as well as Practice Like Pros, a group that advocates for the same practice restrictions New Jersey just put in place.
“I think this is a positive thing based on what we know now about player safety and the more education that we are all getting all the time about how to keep players healthy,” said Kevin Carty Jr., the coach at Hillsborough High School in Hillsborough Township.
Carty is a past president of the coaches association and said that other coaches in New Jersey, including him, have already been practicing with the 15-minute limit in recent years; now all schools will follow suit. The restrictions are meant to increase safety, but could also help slow the decline in participation.
“We’re not doing this as a recruiting ploy,” Carty said. “It’s just we want to keep our kids safe and we want people to know this is happening. By making it a mandate statewide, it can ease the fears of a lot of parents that they won’t have to investigate that their coach is doing it the right way.”
At least seven other states have limited full-contact work, described as tackling a player to the ground, to 60 minutes per week.
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