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IOWA CITY — Just as normalcy creeps over the horizon, football might change again.
The NCAA Football Oversight Committee is expected to present changes to college football practice procedures before the NCAA Division I Council on May 19. Those changes include reducing the number of full-padded fall camp practices from 21 to eight, limiting full-squad scrimmages to two and banning full-speed collision drills, such as the “Oklahoma Drill.”
The proposed legislation is in response to a recently published five-year study in the Journal of American Medical Association that found almost 50 percent of concussions were sustained in preseason camp, despite it only making up roughly 21 percent of the football season. The study enlisted 658 football players across six NCAA Division I programs from 2015 to 2019, using Head Impact Telemetry System, a helmet attachment that tracks the severity and frequency of head impacts.
“Part of playing football is you’ve got to learn how to take a hit,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said after Saturday’s open practice at Kinnick Stadium. “There’s techniques and all of that involved.”
After consulting the training staff, he said over the past five years, Iowa has averaged 1.5 concussions per year, including one year with three.
A 2015 study in the Journal of Neurotrama, which surveyed 730 players from NCAA Division I football teams of different positions, found while there were no statistically significant differences between the number of diagnosed concussions among football players of different positions, players who experience more frequent lower-intensity hits were more likely to experience post-impact symptoms and undiagnosed concussions.
Ferentz said, unlike the NFL, which the NCAA tends to follow closely, NCAA players don’t have preseason games, which provide more practice opportunities.
The NCAA already has reduced fall camp. In 2017, it banned two-a-days. In 2018, it reduced the number of preseason practices from 29 to 25.
Currently, teams have 25 practices over 29 days in the fall, which won’t change, but the types of practices are what would change this fall depending on the May 19 meeting’s outcome.
Right now, teams hold 3 1/2 scrimmages and are required to have two padless practices. The new rules would require nine padless practices, eight practices in helmets and shoulder pads and no more than eight practices in full pads with full contact. Full-padded practices also can’t be held back to back.
Ferentz alluded to the SEC-proposed practice schedule changes reported by Sports Illustrated, which suggested to extend camp from 29 to 35 days to allow more days to spread out practices and allow rest. The NCAA rejected that plan.
“I’m not a big SEC guy, but they have the right idea of 35-25, I would recommend 32 is probably enough,” Ferentz said. “When we did shift to one-a-days, that was my first observation, was it’s almost impossible to sanely have 25 practices in 21 days, we’re going to have a tired team.
“What would make more sense is if guys have more time away to look and read a little bit and recover, that's healthy.”
Iowa had 11 players on the sideline with injuries at Saturday’s open practice, but Ferentz noted there were no concussions that he knew of so far. Saturday’s open practice concluded the spring football season.
“I’m a little concerned as an adult, you only learn to play football by playing football,” Ferentz said. “I’m not a medical expert, but I can go back 20 years ago where concussion equipment wasn’t as good and there was no protocol for treatment.”
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