Roundtable: What are the effects of reducing contact in football practice?

Leon Halip

The Pac-12 has established policies that will reduce contact in practice in favor of teaching the correct tackling methods. We've all seen the damaging effects multiple concussions can have on a young player's career (e.g., Zack Follett, Jahvid Best), but plenty of defenses with inadequate time to practice tackling have struggled. The CGB writers put our heads together to discuss these changes.

Avinash Kunnath: The upside is that it protects players and puts them at less of a risk to get injured and particularly guards against the risk of concussions.

The flip side is that it might put Pac-12 teams at a disadvantage in their early non-conference games with less time to practice contact. And less time to practice contact might make teams less prepared than their counterparts in bigger matchups.

What do you guys think about this new rule?

Leland Wong: It's going to be a double-edged sword, especially at first. The boon, as stated in the press release, is to reduce the number of injuries. We never want to see players get injured, especially not in practice. Perhaps the biggest concern is players being concussed, which is a hot topic in athletics due to research connecting concussions to players becoming suicidal, depressed, and paranoid and suffering from advanced neurological degeneration that results in Alzheimer's-like symptoms.

This will negatively affect the Pac-12 schools as they will be less adept and perhaps even hesitant in tackling compared to the student-athletes at other schools. And let's not forget that most of us open the season with out-of-conference games, so there will be no time for the players to re-acclimate themselves against other Pac-12 programs.

Overall, I'd call this initiative a welcome change. Yeah, football is inherently a violent sport and injuries happen, but it's a great idea to try to reduce the risks and this is a way to do so without immediately alerting the more traditional fans. For the next few years, this will probably hurt the Pac-12 as our players will be a few steps behind our out-of-conference foes, but we have to look at the big picture--if this program becomes successful, it could be implemented by the NCAA and level the playing field across all schools and, most importantly, reduce the injuries to student-athletes across the country.

LeonPowe: I think it's an odd thing to try and legislate. While the new attention to trying to reduce injuries and concussions is admirable, if they were really serious about it they would mandating game rule changes and different equipment requirements. Changing practice feels like a bunch of lip service to me.

As to the perceived disadvantage at first I thought, meh as soon as we get into game speed, they're football players they'll be ok. But then I thought about how difficult it is already to jump to game speed as it is. Like if a game is a 10 intensity, practice with full contact would be like a 7 and practice with less contact is like a 5. It would be harder to jump from 5 to 10 without a stop at 7.

Sebastian penalized for helmet-to-helmet hit (via TheBearInsider)

Vlad Belo: My first reaction is to like most of the parts of this initiative. But the headliner -- less contact in practices -- I don't like. I realize that the motives are good here. The conference wants to reduce injuries. But this is football. It is a contact sport. Many if not most of the student-athletes who play the game probably love the game because it IS contact sport.

I might sound like an old curmudgeon here (and maybe I am), but it seems like tackling isn't what it used to be in the sport, both at the college and the professional level. So now there will be even less contact? What will that do to the quality of the play on the field?

Again, I realize the motives here are good. I just wonder if they Pac-12 is policing the game to the point of being detrimental to the game.

Scott Chong: This seems like the most relevant part:

"The final policy will be released at Pac-12 Football Media Day on July 26. Going forward, the Pac-12 will look at guidelines around contact in practice to ensure that student-athlete well-being is being closely monitored, both in the amount of contact and in providing our student-athletes and coaches with ample opportunity to teach and learn the correct tackling methods during the spring and preseason."

I'm all for proper technique. At risk of sounding old(er), I think the Sportscenter generation has fallen in love with the big hit instead of wrapping up with a form tackle that also lessens the risk of head and neck injuries.

Looks to me like they haven't come out with a formal policy just yet. Until then, I'm in wait and see mode. If "less contact" means abolishing the use of outdated drills like the nutcracker, I'm all for it. If it means playing with kid gloves during practice only to have our players' heads taken off when they get to real games, that really doesn't make a whole lot of sense. You'd like to think that there will be some reasonable balance struck.

Even so, there have been a lot of pro teams who have been very successful by limiting the amount of hitting and pad work; most notably the Walsh-era 49ers. I don't know that you necessarily have to go all Bear Bryant on guys to get them to fly around and be physical.

The fine details aside, I like this initiative as a whole because I think that issues related to the players' health have been brushed under the rug for far too long.

TwistNHook: I'm concerned that these potential rule changes might minimize the big hit as compared to the oh so boring form tackle that also lessens the risk of head and neck injuries. BORING!

Major sideline hit by Avery Sebastian (via TheBearInsider)

JahvidKnowsBest: I don't really think this will have a tremendous impact on PAC-12 defenses. What you want to focus on in practice is tackling form, the actual collision is not that significant. During seasons most teams will downgrade all tackles to simply "wrap," which is where the defender approaches and grabs the ball carrier as if he was going to tackle him, but then does not bring him to the ground. So you hardly ever have guys really going balls to the wall tackling unless it's in a spring game or scrimmage like setting.

Until more details come out about the issuing, it's hard to say exactly what kind of effect this will have. I really think they just want to stop teams from doing drills that encourage significant head to head collisions. These drills, while fun and often exhilarating for players, generally do not reinforce or help instruct players on proper technique, and are more of an exhibition of machismo than anything else. We all remember the drill in "Friday Night Lights" where a player stands in the center, encircled by his teammates, and his repetitively run over by people running at him from different angles. That's an actual drill; hopefully not used anymore. I think the Pac-12 commissioner has stuff like that in mind in terms of these regulations.

I can't imagine that any regulation would be instilled that would actually put the pac-12 at a disadvantage in terms of out of conference play in any way possible.

Berkelium97: Now that the Pac-12 has put the kibosh on the "real physical" aspects of practice, I hope their next move isn't to limit how much time we spend "flyin around out there."

HydroTech: I think this rule will hurt the Pac-12. It may leave our players more healthy going into the season but they will be lacking sufficient practice being physical, hitting hard, and making bone-crushing tackles.

I don't think you have to look any further than the 2011 NFL lockout. During the 2011 preseason, there were no workouts or training camps for 18 weeks and 4 days. Although the 2011 NFL season started on time, NFL defenses were atrocious due to both their inability to practice their schemes, but also to practice football basics such as tackling. In fact, four out of the six passing yardage totals of all time were established during this season: #1 Drew Brees (5,476 yards), #2 Tom Brady (5,235 yards), #5 Matthew Stafford (5,038 yards), and #6 Eli Manning (4,993 yards). While the NFL has become a pass-happy league in the past half century, anyone who watched NFL games during that season saw tons of sloppy missed tackles leading to huge gains on the offensive side of the ball.

I think this decision to limit player contact has good intentions but will leave the Pac-12 at a huge disadvantage against other conferences in non-conference play.

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Sound off, Golden Bears! Vote in the poll below and tell us what you think in the comments section.

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