Concern Over Concussions Changes Playoff, Practice Plans in CT High School Football

Concern over concussions is impacting the high school football playoff calendar, and the practice regimen throughout the season.  The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference has voted to increase to one week the minimum time between playoff games a high school team can play.  Previously, high school football games could play two games in less than a week, at times with as little as three days between games.  In making the revisions, which eliminated a quarter-final round next season, the CIAC indicated it would “continue to evaluate possibilities for changes to the regular season and postseason schedule for the 2015 season and beyond.”

In addition, the organization’s Sports Medicine Committee approved policy changes that cut back on “permitted allotment of person-to-person contact time in practice” aciacnew-300x230nd are “intended to limit live action,” including:

  • Prior to the start of the regular season a coach may conduct person-to-person contact drills up to 120 minutes during practice plus conduct one full scrimmage or seven-on-seven scrimmage per week under game-like conditions.  If a second scrimmage is conducted the time (60 minutes) must be deducted from the 120 minutes allowed.
  • From the start of the regular season through Thanksgiving a coach may conduct person-to-person contact drills up to 90 minutes per week.
  • During the post season a coach may conduct person-to-person contact drills up to 60 minutes per week.

The Hartford Courant reported that “for the first time, there will be limitations on contact drills in practice throughout the season.”football

Guidelines on the Web

The CIAC website includes an 8-page document developed  by the National Federation of State High School Associations, “A Parent’s Guide to Concussion,” which includes the admonition  (in bold type) “when in doubt, sit them out!”.  The policy was revised and approved in April 2013. CIAC is a member of NFHS, which also offers a free on-line course on the subject for coaches and administrators.

The guidelines indicate that “following a concussion, many student-athletes will have difficulty in school.  These problems may last from days to months…”   The guidelines also explain that “At this time we do not know the long-term effects of concussions (or even the frequent sub-concussive impacts) which happen during high school athletics.”

The CIAC website includes a link to the “Sports Medicine & Concussion” information under two drop-down menu categories on the organization’s website: “CIAC for Students & Parents” and “CIAC for Administrators. “  It is not listed among the “CIAC for Coaches” links.

Regarding the schedule changes, Ledyard head coach Jim Buonocore, who serves on the committee that approved the revisions, told the New London Day, "You had teams playing three games in 10 days, which is not healthy." The Day reported that quarterfinal and semifinal games were played the Tuesday and Saturday after Thanksgiving because the playoffs had to be completed in two weeks. The CIAC didn't want to extend the season another week due to weather concerns, and because it would further interfere with winter sports.

The CIAC has changed its high school football playoff format in 2010, and intends to revisit the issue, balancing the traditional Thanksgiving conclusion of the regular season with the health interests of students on teams reaching the playoffs, the realities of New England winters, and the academic and school sports calendars.

Additional information about concussions and high school sports is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.