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Football practice guidelines updated

Recommendations rely on evolving science, seek to bolster safety

Updated football practice guidelines that seek to make student-athletes safer were released today.

The Year-Round Football Practice Contact Recommendations are the product of the second Safety in College Football Summit, which was held in February 2016 in Orlando, Florida. They serve as an update to guidelines published in 2014 that address contact in football practices throughout the year.  

These updated recommendations, supported by the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports and endorsed by the NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee and 20 other scientific, medical and football organizations, are based on emerging scientific consensus.

Contemporary research reveals the risk of concussion is greater in practices that allow tackling relative to practices that allow contact without tackling. Research also indicates that head-to-head contact carries a greater risk of concussion in football than head-to-ground contact. The recommendations clarify definitions regarding noncontact and live-contact practices (which include both “thud” and tackling practices) and offer several guidelines for practice contact and frequency throughout the year. These guidelines will continue to evolve as understanding of brain injuries and exposure to contact in the sport deepens.

“Today’s release is the culmination of innovative research, data assessment and collaboration,” NCAA Chief Medical Officer Brian Hainline said. “We are extremely pleased to have the support and endorsement of leading medical groups and football organizations from around the country. The NCAA and all involved believe that these recommendations will continue to improve the health and safety for all student-athletes participating in the sport of football.”

Key changes to the recommendations include:

Preseason:

  • Discontinue two-a-day practices. (A second session may include walkthroughs or meetings but no helmets, pads or conditioning.)
  • Extend the preseason by one week.
  • Reduce live tackling or thud practices from four to three a week. 
  • Ensure three noncontact or minimal contact practices per week.
  • Ensure noncontact or minimal contact practices are held the day after a scrimmage.
  • Implement one day per week without practice.

In season:

  • Permit only one live contact tackling practice per week.
  • Permit only one live contact thud practice per week.
  • Implement three or more noncontact or minimal contact practices per week.

Postseason:

  • If more than two weeks elapse between the final regular-season or conference championship game and a bowl or postseason game, then allow up to three practices per week of live contact (including two thud); add three days of noncontact or minimal contact practices per week; and ensure the day preceding and after live contact tackling practices should be noncontact or minimal contact.

Spring season:

Hold a noncontact or minimal contact practice every day after a live scrimmage.