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updated: 4/24/2014 10:58 PM

Football pads take a hit under new summer rule

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Conventional wisdom would seem to tell us that when it comes to safety and football padding, more is more.

More padding would, in theory, offer more protection from injury.

The IHSA, Illinois' governing body for high school sports, sent the opposite message this week.

On Tuesday, the IHSA announced the results of a special legislative vote by membership on a highly publicized by-law that would restrict the equipment high school football teams in the state could use during summer workouts.

Now, full pads, specifically the pads from the waist down, which include knee pads, thigh pads, hip pads and the tailbone pad, are no longer allowed to be used. About half of the IHSA's membership schools voted, approving the by-law 170-87.

"We believe this revision minimizes risk to football student-athletes, while allowing for the teaching of appropriate fundamentals," IHSA executive director Marty Hickman said in a statement. "This is another important step in making high school football as safe as possible while putting all of our schools on an even field regarding football activities during the summer."

The debate about the safety of high school football has been ongoing and fueled by state politicians such as Rep. Carol Sente, a Vernon Hills Democrat. She has spent the last year seeking to pass legislation that would limit tackling as a way to cut down on concussions in high school football.

This could be the IHSA's compromise.

Without the use of full pads, teams won't be able to conduct live drills or scrimmages at all in the summer. Less hitting, less contact. On the surface, that does seem to make the game safer.

But some coaches wonder if such a policy will actually do more harm than good. They say that injuries among football players could actually increase due to unintended consequences.

"If the IHSA's intentions are to make the game safer, then I'm all for it," Antioch coach Brian Glashagel said. "But this appears to be very politically driven. The IHSA is being pressed by politicians to make it look like they are coming up with rules to make the game safer. The (by-law) passes and now the politicians can chalk it up as a major victory. But it's all a bunch of smoke and mirrors. It's a dog and pony show. It's not the right decision.

"You're not making the game safer when you're taking away padding. I'm really concerned now about the kids' legs and all the injuries that can happen when they just fall to the ground, or accidentally hit their leg on a (tackling dummy), or get kneed in the thigh. Honestly, a lot of injuries that we get are the freak ones like that and now the kids are going to have no protection on their legs."

Glashagel says he and most of the coaches he knows won't be all that affected by the new by-law in terms of their summer practice regimens. Many, for fear of injury, don't engage in much live action anyway. But knowing that their players are fully protected, even in drills with no contact, gives a peace of mind that the freak injuries will be better guarded against.

"We barely do anything with contact anyway," Glashagel said. "This isn't going to affect the things we're going to do with the kids. But you just worry about all the things can happen when you're playing a sport where people are falling to the ground."

Also, having even just a little bit of time in full pads over the summer helps get players acclimated to game situations. Even if players aren't being hit in full pads, they can still get used to running in them, passing in them and simply carrying their weight.

"That's the other big part of it," Carmel coach Andy Bitto said. "Will we have enough experience in full pads? You've got to get the kids acclimated to the equipment that they'll be wearing in games.

"But the biggest thing is the injuries that can happen. I don't know that this is going to help the safety of the kids. In the past, we've had all of our linemen wear knee braces in practice, just to prevent against any freak thing where someone might fall on them. We did other stuff like that to make sure the kids were protected.

"This is a concern. I think that whenever you mandate laws to appease people, there are always unintended consequences."

As for the vote being overwhelmingly in favor of this bylaw, Glashagel believes the "yes" votes likely came from smaller schools, Class 4A and below.

"We don't do a lot of full-blast practices, but schools of that size probably never do," Glashagel said. "Eliminating full pads from their practice is probably no big deal. They probably don't use them anyway, so it was easy for them to vote for the by-law.

"We're really not going to lose much either in terms of the way we practice. I just don't like it that they're telling us they're going to make the game safer. That doesn't happen when you remove pads. This is all about appeasing some politicians."

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