The Illinois High School Association Board of Directors met via conference call on Wednesday, where they approved changes to IHSA Policy 13, which governs the regulations for safety and heat acclimatization for preseason football practices.
The revamped Policy came from a joint recommendation between the IHSA's Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) and Football Advisory Committee (FAC). The two groups collaborated on the proposal at a meeting on April 17, which included presentations by representatives from the Korey Stringer Institute and the Sports Legacy Institute. A draft of the proposal was provided to the IHSA board of directors last week, who asked that it be made available to IHSA football coaches and athletic directors for feedback, before reconvening and adopting the policy on Wednesday afternoon.
"This policy is the result of a collaborative effort between the IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee and the Football Advisory Committee," said SMAC committee member and University of Illinois Associate Professor of Orthopedic Surgery Dr. Preston M. Wolin. "These guidelines are based on the most recent scientific evidence, as well as the expertise of the coaches who will help implement them. Both committees believe the guidelines represent a significant positive contribution to the health of our athletes."
Key items in the Policy include daily and weekly practice time limits for players during the acclimatization period, as well as required durations of rest between practices. The policy, which can be read in its entirety by clicking here, also provides coaches with a day-by-day itinerary that outlines the practice limits and equipment allowed on each practice date, starting with the first day of practice.
"Both committees should be applauded for their efforts on this policy," said IHSA Associate Executive Director Kurt Gibson. "The Sports Medicine Advisory Committee was very close to bringing forth a recommendation after their meeting in November, however, they felt like it was important to bring the Football Advisory Committee into the conversation first. To their credit, they also wanted to hear from the individuals who would be charged with implementing and executing the policy. This policy indicates great progress, but there are still more steps that need to be taken by our membership to make it whole. "
The committees also support additional changes that could be approved by the IHSA member schools during the 2013-14 school year. These include moving up the start date for football practice two days from a Wednesday to a Monday, eliminating live tackling during the summer contact period and requiring schools to follow the day-by-day acclimatization schedule utilized in Policy 13 during summer contact days. The three additional changes all require amending IHSA bylaws and can only be altered via the Association's legislative process, which requires member schools to vote the change into effect. The annual process runs from October to January, and it is the hope of the committees and Board that all three will be passed next year and in place for 2014.
"This new policy will undoubtedly change the way we, as coaches, approach preseason practice," said Metamora High School Football Coach Pat Ryan, who is a member of the FAC and a past President of the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association. "Coaches are going to have to get more creative with when and how they schedule practices, as well what they do with their time. Next year's bylaw proposals are strongly supported by both committees and are a crucial final step to this process, as they will further aid us in being able to effectively prepare our teams in a safe manner. Change is always difficult, but the game is changing and we need to adapt to continue to put the safety of our players first."
The IHSA will offer multiple interactive online webinar meetings for high school coaches over the course of the next few weeks, where they can get questions answered, along with further clarifications on the policy and the science behind it.
"I think most coaches understood that changes were on the horizon," said IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman. "We now want to be in a position to give our coaches as much information as possible to make sure they are comfortable with the new policy. Their input will be critical moving forward as we develop educational materials, like a best practices presentation."
The committees agreed that the IHSA should address growing concerns over contact and head injuries in football by creating a "best practices" presentation or video on football fundamentals. The educational component would be shared with youth and high school coaches in Illinois and would focus not only on technique, but also on philosophy.
"I commend our committees on a policy that is supported by medical experts, football coaches and school administrators," said Hickman. "Football safety remains in the spotlight nationally and it was important that our committees took their time to study the data and institute a policy that they felt was best for student-athletes in Illinois. It is paramount that we use a meticulous approach in dealing with such important matters, rather than react quickly because of what is occurring in other states or elsewhere."
During their call, the IHSA board of directors stressed their desire to see schools implement the Policy 13 acclimatization schedule during this summer's contact day schedule, even though this schedule could not be mandated until 2014 at the earliest, due to the bylaw process.
"I feel like it is common sense, but we still cannot stress it enough," said Wauconda Principal and IHSA Board President Dan Klett. "The day-to-day acclimatization schedule schools will be mandated to use when the season starts in August should also be used when they conduct contact day workouts in June or July. Legislatively, we cannot make the change until next year, but it would be irrational not to follow a policy endorsed by some of the top individuals in the medical field."