Earlier this week, the Pac-12 announced a new student-athlete health initiative that is aimed at lowering the amount of contact in Pac-12 football practices. Personally, I believe the move is a big step in the right direction of what is going on in football in these times, and that the Pac-12 looks much more progressive than other conference around college football by doing it.
Of course, there are going to be some things that will affect the game as the result of these kinds of moves, but at this point in time, we as fans, are just going to have to live with it and hope that these changes can positively affect the healthy sustainability of the game that we all love. If we want to keep being able to watch football the way we like to, we are going to have to deal with changes, there's just no way around it.
There is an old school mentality that has always been a part of all levels of football that is one of the things that has made it great, but is also one of the reasons that it has been so damaging in regards to health. I will always remember my fifth grade football coach that said on the first day of practice that whichever player ended the season with the most opposing teams' paint on our white helmets would win a pizza - literally encouraging helmet-to-helmet contact for 10-year-olds. I know that he was probably an outlier on the stupidity spectrum of youth football coaches (The fact that he always wore a jacket that either advertised a tavern or some kind of septic service probably attests to this), but I have to think that this kind of mentality was still all over football just a few years ago and only measures like the ones that the Pac-12 is taking that will force it out of the game.
Since the new Pac-12 initiative is just one step in the right direction, I wanted to think of some other similar (hypothetical) ideas that could help move the game in the right direction.
What if an overall safety official was added to the referee crew? I know the last thing anyone thinks sports needs is more refs, but this ref would not be worried about calling holding on every play or roughing the passer, but would simply monitor the health of players, particularly after big hits and determine whether or not they are fit to stay in the game. This would take it out of the hands of coaches, players and team doctors who all have vested interests in keeping a player in the game even if he shouldn't be. These officials would provide an unbiased opinion on whether or not a player should be in the game.
The safety official will also be in constant contact with someone in the video booth who can notify them of players that may look injured. I can't think of any better examples of what this could have stopped than last season when Arizona's Matt Scott was vomiting on the field, with what was likely a concussion and stayed in the game and when USC's Robert Woods took a vicious hit on a punt return this season against Utah, couldn't walk straight or upright and then was back in the game in two plays.
Suspensions for Coaches
When officials review tapes of games and see players staying in games when they shouldn't due to head injury risks, or teams are seen to be playing dangerously and targeting the head too much, coaches could face suspensions. This could eliminate the excuses by head coaches and position coaches of that they didn't know that players were hurt as they will now know that they will be held responsible for not being aware of this, and it will not be a viable excuse. Same would go for having players that are frequently flagged for illegal hits. Players getting suspended always makes an impact, but having coaches suspended makes a much bigger impact and statement. Think about how much notice would have gone into monitoring head trauma had Rich Rodriguez or Lane Kiffin been suspended for the games the week after the aforementioned incidents.
Defensive Huddle Always an Option
Lovers of the no-huddle offense would hate this one, but giving defenses the option to call a defensive huddle if needed would go a long way in ensuring that any injured defensive player can get off of the field. Even with all of the advances that have been made in safety in football, the health and protection of defensive players is something that has been largely ignored. With a no-huddle offense, defenses simply are not able to make substitutions, so a player who suffers a head injury, which isn't an injury that would necessarily keep them on the ground to force an injury time out, may very well stay on the field for numerous plays simply because they cannot get off.
This one could be very susceptible to abuse by defenses if implemented, but could also be very valuable if it is monitored and the rules are set up to make sure that it isn't simply working in the defense's favor.
This one would be more of a big college football change, as opposed to just the Pac-12, and it sounds crazy, but it is a change that I wouldn't be shocked to see happen in college football a ways down the road if the no-huddle offense continues expanding in the way that it has. 15 minutes per-quarter was implemented when every team was huddling and the pace of the game was much slower. However, anyone who has watched a game where an up-tempo team is matched against lesser team with an traditional offense that is outmatched knows how slow and long those games can be and how never ending games between two even-paced up-tempo teams can be. Sure, high scoring games can be exciting, but those 70-63 games that we are starting to see more and more go on and on and on and along with just making games long for spectators, the longer games go like this, the more plays they add for players.
Ultimately, this would be a radical change, but could go a long ways in lowering the number of plays in a game that can expose players to head injuries and maintain the expected overall length of games for players and spectators.