I'm someone who has loved football all my life - played as a kid through high school, went to a football university, now I ref youth games. That said, all of us who love football should be concerned about how our sport may affect its participants, especially since Chris Henry may have gotten severe brain damage because of football. My personal opinion is that this should lead us to do a serious investigation of our sport and see how common and severe concussions are - is this severity limited to the pros? Is it because all the players are hopped up on PEDs? Is it because the NFL has a particularly long and grueling season? Or do former high school football players have some of these issues as well? The news posted on the board of a UPenn player having severe head trauma raises even more concerns.
But even before an investigation occurs, I think we ought to prepare ourselves for the fact that our sport may need to change. It won't be the end of the world - changes were made at Teddy Roosevelt's direction to save the game 100 years ago, and they can be made again. Before I list changes I think would be beneficial, I'd like you to know that I grew up on smash mouth football as a a former player in a power-I football team (albeit at split end, and mainly playing defense as a cornerback). I also played rugby union, so that may color my judgement as well. But if the game needs to open up, here are changes that I think will help.
One last aside - the two things that make football the greatest of games is the high amount of contact AND the high amount of strategy. That's what I love the most about football, and why I hope it can adapt to the 21st century. One thing I hate - the high amount of specialists. In my opinion, it's why collegiate and professional football players are less healthy than other major athletes - they are heavily conditioned for 5-8 seconds of extreme violence, and then 30 seconds of rest.
So here's my proposals - #1 is kinda crazy, 2,3,4 and 5 are related and a good idea I think, 6 & 7 intrigue me, and I think 8 is totally bats. But I wanted to get the creative juices flowing
1) Remove facemasks, return to soft pads and helmets (gives higher incentive to players to not lead with their heads)
2) Initiating head-to-head contact is an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty
3) Tackles must occur below the shoulder, the tackler must wrap up. High tackles and no wrapping up result in an unsportsmanlike conduct.
4) Unsportsmanlike conduct results in a one down "power-play" (so the offending player is suspended for a play, and the offending team plays with 10 players) and the loss of a down/replay of the down, in addition to a fifteen yard penalty from the original line of scrimmage or the dead ball spot (whichever is worse)
5) 3 unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on a player result in an ejection for the remainder of the game, 3 on a team/quarter result in a power-play for the remainder of the quarter (aka 3 strikes you're out)
6) Reduce the play clock to 15 seconds (so players have to be in better aerobic shape)
7) Re-institute substitution restrictions that existed before WWII, or at least some form of substitution restrictions, or the "iron-man" arena league rules (more on this below)
8) Teams will have 6 downs to score a touchdown (every down is goal-to-go)
Possible Substitution Rules:
1) Have a "substitution" ref on either sideline - ensuring that each team subs correctly.
2) Designate three players on the field as "platooners" who can come off and go on at anytime (on offense your center, QB, and one other). Who your platooners are will be designated before the game. Give them a bright colored armband to distinguish them easily for refs.
3) Only two other players may be changed out between plays.
4) Injury subs - if a player must be taken out who is not one of those five, he must sit out for the remainder of the quarter.
#8 is a rugby-league inspired rule. I imagine it will result in lower scoring, more punting, a higher amount of importance on field position, more field goals, and more passing. I personally think it's a bit ridiculous, but I wanted to throw it out there anyway.
All this is of course pending further study on the concussion issue. How crazy do you think the rules are? Are they implementable? Will these rules reduce/eliminate head trauma in football?
There are a few articles on ESPN today about Chris Henry (recently deceased Bengals receiver) being posthumously diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
"The doctors at the forefront of this important work -- Julian Bailes and Bennet Omalu -- say CTE causes behavioral changes. Substance abuse, violence, erratic and unpredictable behavior -- it's all straight out of the handbook.
Local radio is reporting that he has in fact passed away. A sad ending for a troubled player.