Thoughts on Weight Restrictions for Football

Submitted by Swayze Howell Sheen on December 7th, 2012 at 4:30 PM

There was a discussion in another thread (click here) about Roger Goodell and the potential for kickoff elimination as a way to curb concussions. 

My thought* (which I shared in that thread) was simple: if the powers that be really care about concussions, there is probably one real way to address them: by imposing a maximum weight for playing football. The thinking is this: players are simply just too big and fast these days.

Of course, there are a lot of possible nuances to such a scheme, including different limits per position, and what the actual limits should be. Your idea goes here!

My feelings on Goodell's positioning is that it all relates to potential lawsuit deflection, i.e., concrete small actions he can point to saying "look, we have been trying to make it better!" The real problem lies in something more fundamental: huge, fast men bashing heads over and over. Unless that changes, concussions, for better or worse, are likely here to stay.

That, or some kind of awesome weird big football helmets.

big helmet pic

Your thoughts?

* - actually my wife suggested this. She is pretty smart though.




December 7th, 2012 at 4:35 PM ^

it would be like the under 5'7" intramural basketball league i participated in at michigan!

another way to help would be to make the field bigger, spreading people out and making it harder for those massive hits to occurr.  i for one, have long believed that the NBA court and rim height should've been changed a long time ago.


December 7th, 2012 at 4:40 PM ^

A 5'7" height limit is artificially low for grown men.  A weight limit of say, 230 pounds would not be.  Football players, just in the last few decades, have grown much, much larger than they ever were before.  Is it really all due to nutrition and advanced training methods?

The thing I've long wondered is how big players would be today if we could magically go back in time and prevent steroids/HGH from ever existing.  Would we still have linemen in the 210-220 lb range?



December 7th, 2012 at 4:47 PM ^

For a century, football players were normal-sized human beings, and teams were able to move the ball, even while using much less sophisticated offensive schemes.  It's not like the last generation has seen a renaissance of the power run game.  If anything, the 300-pound manbeasts are making it harder to run the ball now - there just isn't much room at the line of scrimmage.   


December 7th, 2012 at 5:55 PM ^

So, you're saying that in order for a 6'5 guy like me to play football (let's look past the implausibility of someone with the athletic talent of igneous rock playing football on a high level for a second) I would have to weight 230 pounds? I'm not in great shape, but I'm not exactly a beef monster, and I'm not there right now. If I were 230 I would be, at best, wide-receiver skinny. Which would work fine if I ran a 4.4 40, but would basically eliminate me from any possibility of playing any other position with my actual speed capabilities.


December 7th, 2012 at 4:37 PM ^

Plenty of concussions are caused by CBs and Safeties, some of the smaller players on the football field. I'm a wimp, but I bet I could give someone a concussion if I launched full speed at their head while wearing what is basically a suit of armor. The issue is how and where contact is made.


December 7th, 2012 at 4:42 PM ^

I thought the same thing. Most of the concussions aren't happening in the trenches, but out in the backfields. Some of the injuries occur when a player is taken to the ground, so they may look at helmet safety from the standpoint of turf impact too, but most of the ones I see involve ballcarriers, or receivers.


December 7th, 2012 at 7:25 PM ^

the most recent literature has shown a high corelation of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) with the number of hits, not the severity. As such the highest proportion of football players with CTE are lineman, and receivers (despite their concussions seemingly the most puplicized) are actually last in proportion.



December 7th, 2012 at 4:52 PM ^

I don't know if weight limits would affect the concussion rate, but they would likely reduce injury incidence in other areas.  Players might not suffer so many lower-body injuries if they weren't carrying so much weight, for instance.  And collisions would be somewhat less forceful coming from smaller players, which could mean fewer injuries all over the body, not just in the head.

The biggest benefit of a weight limit, though, would be that it would presumably lead to a decrease in steroid use, since players wouldn't feel the same pressure to put on huge amounts of weight without losing agility.  Steroid use could well be a factor in many of the early deaths ex-NFL players have suffered.


December 7th, 2012 at 5:26 PM ^

Exactly this.  How often do you see concussions when two linemen hit each other compared to when a safety hits a WR, or something like that?  The problem isn't the there are more 300+ guys in the NFL, the problem is that there are more 220lb guys who can run a 4.4.  Those are the hits that cause these brain injuries. 

Think about it - your average safety weighs 2/3 or so what a lineman weighs, but is usually running three times as fast (maybe more) when he makes impact than the big uglies are.  In the secondary, not only are the defenders faster, but the ball carriers are running a lot faster at that point as well.


December 7th, 2012 at 4:37 PM ^

As a lineman who's high school career just finished, I can tell you that the two "diagnosed" major concussions I have had were from kids no bigger than 150 lbs. concussions can happen in many different instances. Both of mine were jarring angles at my chin. Seeing stars happens all the time on the line, heads are gonna hit its part of the game

Lucky Socks

December 7th, 2012 at 4:38 PM ^

I don't have journals of data in front of me, but it's my opinion that concussions don't become a huge problem until high-level college and NFL.  At this point it's play at your own risk.  Sure, we need to make it as safe as possible but football is one of the few sports were "big-boned" or overweight teens can really thrive.  

There's already a weight limit for the younger age groups.  I don't like the idea for high level football. Besides, if they were going to do it it should have been a a decade ago so I could have been an undersized, gritty lineman instead of a slow, undersized skill position guy.

Lucky Socks

December 8th, 2012 at 12:36 AM ^

Maybe it comes across that way. Like I wrote below, I'm not belittling head injuries. There are weight limits for junior football. And even then there isn't any data (yet) on long-term effects of concussions in teenage athletes. We'll get there soon. High schoolers know there is some risk and need to be handled delicately, sure.

In college and the NFL I think a weight limit is no good. There are more creative ways we can work on the problem besides singling out offenders who aren't even responsible for the lions share of concussions. Head injuries are serious but there are plenty of other ways to make a living until we can find a solution. Football is life for some, but it doesn't need to be.


December 7th, 2012 at 11:13 PM ^

play at your own risk?

Only professional sports gets away with that.

Imagine if you job description was to stick a fork in a socket 40 times evey Sunday.

The power might be on or off. Too bad for you if it's on - your own risk


Lucky Socks

December 8th, 2012 at 12:28 AM ^

No way I would accept a job where I had to stick a fork in a socket 40 times. Even if it paid a million dollars, I'd weigh risk-reward. Therefore your analogy supports my original argument. Look - I think we need to make the game safer. I just don't think a weight limit is realistic. Players understand the dangers of playing football and choose to pursue the benefits despite the risks. I do understand that college football might be the only avenue to college for many. Beyond that, it really is play at your own risk. Nobody forces them to play the game and they are well aware of the dangers by now. Maybe not 5 years ago, but by now, everyone knows.

I'm not insensitive to the potential health effects. I'm very aware it's a problem. But it's always going to be a problem in FOOTBALL unless we change the game completely. I'm all for creative solutions but I'm hoping to see football persist as the sport we love, and telling big guys they can't play isn't something I'm interested in.


December 8th, 2012 at 1:52 PM ^

When you get paid millions of dollars a year to do a job, where the injury possibilities are KNOWN, it's YOUR decision to be employed. The employer makes the risk/reward known, or it's at least known publicly. 

It's a free choice made by the players, I don't get how the league gets sued in these cases. I understand previously, where the league didn't make in knowledge of the risks known, but now?... 

I'm not a lawyer, but I simply don't understand how players in the future could sue the league, when the information of the risks/rewards are publicly known, and the players join OF THEIR OWN FREE WILL. Can someone explain this to me?


December 7th, 2012 at 4:39 PM ^

You going to have Goodell weigh the players before the game like Ace Rothstein  weight the french performers? 

I doubt weight has any bearing on this.  How many of those players got their concussions by being hit by the heaviest players (OL and DL)?   I'm guessing its minimal.   I like the idea to ban the facemask or go back to leather helmets.  


December 7th, 2012 at 4:42 PM ^

It's a stupid idea. If anything, you want to make guys bigger and slower.

An object's kinetic energy = .5mv^2, so making the players smaller and faster is actually detrimental to trying to reduce the force of hits.

Also, think about which players cause and receive the most concussions. It's not the linemen that you'd be affecting by this change that get the most concussions; it's the LBs, DBs, WRs, and RBs. They don't need to drop any weight to get under your limit unless you make the limit something like 200 lbs.

Monocle Smile

December 7th, 2012 at 7:38 PM ^

The problem isn't players getting bigger and slower. It's that they're getting bigger and not slowing down. We have nose tackles and offensive linemen reaching high max speeds and even running like 5 second 40 times.

Football is a sport where people get hurt. That's the nature of the beast. If we're going to take point at reducing head injuries, helmet redesign is the way to go. Or even better...have players sign waivers, which a bunch of them already do.


December 7th, 2012 at 4:41 PM ^

First off, pedantic CoE grad, you mean to say mass restrictions.  Secondly force is mass times acceleration and momentum is mass times velocity.  Thus a mass reduction alone is useless if the result is just faster players.  I'd rather get hit by a Jake Long who was doing 20% of his top speed than hitting Denard who is moving at full throttle.  

Reducing the mass does likely reduce some forms of force can be exterted, but you can still get nast results for impulse (force with respect to time).  As mentioned in the other thread, there is an abnormally high number of injuries on kickoffs.  Those are guys moving at high speeds and even if you restrict kickoff teams to a set mass, they'll have a high velocity and thus a large potential change in momentum which means you still have a nasty impulse.  

It has to be across the board training restrictions of some sort.  Getting rid of the fat guys just to create a league full of guys who run a 4.2 and slam into each other at top gear doesn't get you anywhere in terms of reducing the punishment the human body takes.  


December 7th, 2012 at 5:58 PM ^

weight restriction=mass restriction until we play football on the moon.  Pounds(which measure weight) are more commonly used.

Secondly, joeyb is correct that energy is what matters, not momentum.  A semi that strikes you at 2mph has much more momentum than any football player and will not give you a concussion.

Energy varies with the *square* of velocity (unlike momentum), so smaller faster players are more dangerous.  The idea to limit weight to help prevent concussions would prove counter-productive.

Michiganian for Life

December 7th, 2012 at 4:43 PM ^

While concussions certainly to contribute to brain trauma, recent studies have suggested that they are not the greatest factor in degenerative brain disease.  The real problem seems to be repetitive hits to the head (concussion level hits are not required).  This article by Jonathan Mahler talks about it:…

Frankly, I think that these athletes assume the known risks with a playing a violent sport.


December 7th, 2012 at 4:49 PM ^

I don't think the problem is size.  There are a lot of concussions and spine injuries in Pop Warner going on right now.  Smaller populations don't have as much size and strength which create speed and force to do damage.  But, at the same time smaller populations don't have as much muscle, bony, and connective tissue strength to maintain joint structure that helps avoid injury, although I'm not sure that impacts concussions much.  But, both large and smaller populations have things that aid them in injury prevention as well as make them more succeptible to injury.  I mean if everyone was over 300 pounds how many high speed impacts would we have?  Concussions may go down with all very large athletes since they'd be slower and have more mass to brace impacts.  It's really only bad when a larger athlete collides with a smaller athlete and/or does so at high speeds.  


Anways...that's wasn't my point.  My point was that I think our culture is the problem.  It's the fact that so many guys put their head down, lead with the helmet, tackle high (especially when tackling a smaller opponent or coming across the middle), and go for the big hit.  It's part of our culture to show up the opponent, to beat the opponent, to get the big head, etc.  There just isn't a lot of cultural significance around things like good sportsmanship, fair play, etc.  It's not the American way.  The observation is purely anecdotal, but it sure seems like way more guys are leading with their head, going high, and looking for the big hit than did 30 years ago.  A big hit is more of a priority than actually making the tackle for some weird reason.


December 7th, 2012 at 5:02 PM ^

 It maybe more the number of hits people take rather than the severity that causes the biggest problem.  If you get a concussion you don't play simple as that, and that can take care of the severe concussions.  But if you are "Seeing stars happens all the time on the line"  and "heads are gonna hit its part of the game" you have a much bigger problem.  If you are getting sub concussed on a regular basis you are in for a life time of problems and not even think much about it.  It is like small doses of radiation, you can't see it,  you can't feel it and one small dose probably won't hurt you.  But many exposures will kill you.  Large hit probably can't be stopped, that much energy just can't be absorbed but the small contacts maybe can be.  Rule away the huge hits, and tech away the small ones and maybe football can be saved. 


December 7th, 2012 at 5:04 PM ^

If you want a 350+ line you would have to sacrifice on other positions.  That could be a lot of fun to see implemented and would add another layer of strategy.


December 7th, 2012 at 5:06 PM ^

I'm surprised no one mentions mouth guards and the lack of enforcement of wearing them. Proper mouth guards have proven to help prevent concussions. That and having helmets fit properly and are packed with adequate air. Helmets are way too loose. All this being said, nothing will completely eliminate concussions from the game.


December 7th, 2012 at 5:34 PM ^

It is easy to forget that once a huge monster player was someone who was 6'4" and weighed 245 lbs. If you look at the big NFL players of the late 1960's and early 1970's that was pretty big. Now, it is about average for some LB's let alone DT and DEs. The NFL and NCAA may want to bury their heads in the sand but there is some other factor (e.g. PED) at work creating the large numbers of supersized players. There was also a few very big players in the past - Roger Brown of the Lions from their Paper Lion era was one of only two 300 lbers in the NFL. Now, high school lines have been fielded where everyone is 300 lb+. Making the field wider and bigger (like in the CFL) may not help. As others have noted, it is not just the size but the speed - these new big players aren't just chunky but really fast. So it isn't just their Mass but their Velocity squared which is dangerous.

Making the players more conscious of their vulnerability may help - ironically lessening the amount of equipment might decrease the false sense of invulnerability. Do top flight rugby players have the same concussion percentage? (not a regular fan of rugby but perhaps there are MgoBlog fans here who are).

Single platoon with only limited substitution (think of it like a baseball game - once a player is subbed, he's out for the game) would make multi-talented players very important, but still allow running and passing of all sorts. It would place a natural brake on speed - the players would have to save their strength and energy. It would also allow small schools to compete more readily with big schools. Often small schools have a few talented players but can't fight the depth of a big school. We'd see more NCAA MBB tourney style upsets. BUT of course, this won't happen - too much money, and the increased specialization and speed is too entertaining on TV. Few QBs would develop to the degree they have today, if they also had to play DB. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady probably couldn't run well enough to stay on defense. Devin Gardner, Denard Robinson and for those remember, Nolan Cromwell would have been OK as DB/QB. All of the discussion about where to kickoff, the ease of field goals and such would become moot - no one would field a specialist kicker. So we'd probably not see many 40-50 yard FG attempts and more squib kickoffs.

Perhaps once upon a time, eliminating the unlimited substitution rule and forcing teams to play single platoon style might have worked (this was largely how the game was played in Yost's time I think) As recently as the 1960's this issue was actually still be debated. Just too much money today to take a step in that direction.


December 7th, 2012 at 6:32 PM ^

I played rugby here at Michigan, and while I'm no expert on the subject I can tell you that out of the 59 or so guys on the team this year, I think about six got concussed during the season.  They teach you to tackle completely differently in rugby, actually - instead of putting your head across the ball carrier's body like in football, you aim to put your head more towards the back of his hip and wrap your arms around the back of their knees. 

The thing is that a hundred years ago with leather helmets, the problem was not with concussions, but rather skull fractures.  After an increasing number of deaths in football a motion was put forth for a better helmet, which evolved into the helmet we know today - it doesn't do much to stop concussions, but it will stop your skull from splintering.  At the time, that was seen as a pretty fair tradeoff. 

snarling wolverine

December 7th, 2012 at 6:36 PM ^

I think this is an interesting topic.  I'm not sure why the OP is getting so many negative votes.  Even if you personally disagree with this idea, I think it's worthy of discussion.  

I think football players probably would be healhier overall, both during and after their careers, if they weren't so huge.  Especially linemen.  It's just not that healthy for your body to carry 300+ pounds.  Concussions are just one issue.  All that weight puts a lot of pressure on your joints, not to mention your heart.