PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

August 3, 2013

COLEMAN: Football rules slowly evolving game

David Coleman
The Port Arthur News

— Football is changing and the cause is named MORE.

No, I’m not talking about Sir Thomas More, because that would be weird. Let me explain by going back in time.

Nearly 60 years ago, Paul “Bear” Bryant brought his scrappy team from Texas A&M out to the West Texas town of Junction for some unorthodox training. Well, it wasn’t necessarily unorthodox; players almost died from the brutal heat and practices.

That was back in a time when men were men and we didn’t care about heat exhaustion.

Last year, the University Interscholastic rule added more rules on two-a-day practices to make them safer. It cut down on the contact in those first few “conditioning” days to help keep players safe.

Coaches universally were okay with this move, because they want to keep their charges safe. That is a paramount goal of them and their medical staffs. They wouldn’t dream of going back to the ways of the old days, because they have more knowledge about what practicing in those conditions can do.

Thus, they’re forced to become more efficient in their practices. That bleeds over into the regular season, where they go full-contact less so they can have more healthy players on the field on gameday.

More knowledge can also lead to more panic. That might have been why Texas state representative Eddie Lucio III introduced a bill last year to limit football teams to just one full-contact practice a week.

He wasn’t trying to cut down on heat-related health problems. He was trying to lessen the effects of head-based trauma.

That could be why the UIL in turn introduced more rules this year. In 2013, teams will only be able to practice at full-speed for 90 minutes per week. Most coaches I talked to this spring said they rarely went 90 minutes of full contact each week before this rule. Like I said, they have a vested interest in keeping their players healthy and ready to play on game day.

The more rules are added, though, the more the game changes. Let’s consider a few facts about football.

Fact No. 1 – Football is a violent, dangerous game.

Fact No. 2 – We do not know enough about the effects head trauma can have on young adults.

As we’ve gained more and more knowledge about what effect concussions can have on young players, concussions and head trauma have become more and more of a hot-button topic. It’s not going away, either.

The NCAA is involved in a class-action lawsuit about concussions. The NFL is bracing for a similar lawsuit from its former players.

There are solid reasons why rules in football are changing, but with those changes the game is also evolving. Take the new college rules on targeting players. South Carolina defensive end Jadaveon Clowney took the world by storm with his hit on a Michigan running back. The play was seen over and over again on ESPN SportCenter’s Top Plays. It jumped him up to the top of the 2014 draft class.

Under the new rules, that same hit would get Clowney ejected this year.

Football fans cannot like that. How many conversations have you had with longtime football fans complaining about how wimpy quarterbacks these days must be, since they’re not allowed to be breathed upon by the defense any more.

Things aren’t the same as they were back in The Bear’s time.

Except that things are as exciting as ever in the football world. For the first time since one of Bryant’s recruits roamed Kyle Field, an Aggie won the Heisman Trophy by totaling more total yards than anyone else in SEC history. The Super Bowl might have had some lighting problems, but Colin Kaepernick made things exciting until the end with his brand of run-pass excellence.

Players now are bigger, stronger, faster than they were. Coaches know more about workouts. They have more equipment to improve speed and explosion. They know more about nutrition and how it can impact play on the field.

More. More. More.

That’s created a situation where guys who used to play left tackle or defensive end are suddenly running 4.4 in the 40-yard dash and dropping back into pass coverage. The faster players go, the harder they’ll impact each other.

That’s simple physics even Sir Thomas More can understand.

What it means is that even if the game were the same as it was 60 years ago, the players are not. Our knowledge is different, too, which is why the game is evolving.

It may evolve for the better and it may devolve for the worse. In 20 years, we may look back at that Clowney hit like we do The Bear’s Junction Boys. Awed that it happened but knowing that it existed in a time long ago.

Football is changing. These new UIL rules won’t be the last. There will be more.

David Coleman is a sportswriter for the Port Arthur News. He can be emailed at dcoleman@panews.com and found on Twitter at @MDavidColeman.