Written by Corbett Smith
UIL committee recommendation limits in-season, full-contact football practice
AUSTIN — The days of full-contact drills such as Bull in the Ring and the Oklahoma Drill might be numbered in Texas high school football.
On Sunday, the University Interscholastic League’s Medical Advisory Committee unanimously recommended limiting football programs to 90 minutes of full-contact, game-speed practices per player per week during the regular season and playoffs.
The recommendation, which has to be approved by the UIL Legislative Council in June and signed into effect by the commissioner of education, appears to be in response to House Bill 887, filed by State Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, that would limit full-contact practices to one per week in an effort to reduce concussion risks.
Since the inception of the Medical Advisory Committee in 2001, every recommendation from the group of doctors, trainers and administrators has been approved.
“It’s been the record of the Medical Advisory Committee since the start to be out front on issues,” UIL athletic director Mark Cousins said, giving as examples requirements for Automated External Defibrillators, concussion protocols, and limiting two-a-day practices to address heat-related concerns. “I think it’s just another example of the fact that they are continually studying these issues to make sure that they are out in front and looking at all the things that are out there to make sure that the game is as safe as it can be.”
The UIL had discussions with Lucio, the bill’s co-sponsor Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Galveston, and supporter Rep. Scott Turner, R-Rockwall, who played nine seasons in the NFL.
The committee’s recommendation reflects the language that would have been found if the bill was brought to the floor for a vote.
During the debate on the issue, Cousins mentioned that the Ivy League, as well as the NFL with its new collective bargaining agreement, had instituted full-contact restrictions.
Currently, there are limits to the amount of practice time, but nothing that governs how the practice is implemented. Under the language of the recommendation, the new rule would define “full-contact” practices as something done at game speed, with tackling or blocking to the ground.
Texas High School Coaches Association executive director D.W. Rutledge, a member of the committee and former state-title winning football coach, voted for the proposal.
“I think, for the vast majority of the coaches, that fits in their practice schedule without them having to make any adjustments at all,” Rutledge said.
Cedar Hill coach Joey McGuire agreed.
“I think the majority of people, once you hear the full thing, I think they’re pretty much already following that,” McGuire said. “You’re talking about the intent to take somebody to the ground. When we get into district and when we get into the playoffs, we really never have the intent to take anybody to the ground. We’re trying to keep people up.”
The same is true for Class 5A Division I state champion Allen and 4A Division I state champion Denton Guyer. Allen coach Tom Westerberg and Guyer coach John Walsh said their players don’t tackle to the ground during in-season practices.
“I don’t think there are a whole lot of people that are full-contact, live game speed like that much anymore,” Westerberg said.
The committee was careful to place restrictions only on in-season practices. Members John Seals and Albert Hergenroeder, both doctors, expressed reservations for similar restrictions to be placed in spring football or preseason activities. They suggested the majority of teaching and instruction on blocking and tackling techniques would be during those times.
McGuire called the exception “huge.”
“You’ve got to prepare them, and there is a lot of technique work,” McGuire said. “In spring football in a couple of weeks, we’re not game-planning. You’re not sitting there trying to get ready to stop somebody. You’re more working on the fundamentals of football.”
Staff writer Greg Riddle contributed to this report.
Corbett Smith has offered additional insight and answered readers' questions on Twitter. Here are some of his tweets:
@corbettsmithDMN: Underlying thread is this: UIL wants to act before the Tex. Legis. does something. Changes better done in-house than by state law #txhsfb
@corbettsmithDMN: The big deal here: there's heat on UIL from legislature on variety of issues, and keeping state house at bay is critical for UIL's future ... For all its faults, UIL serves with interest solely on public education in state. State legislature has motives beyond that.
@ParkerCollins: How long until they make a final decision?
@corbettsmithDMN: June 11 is UIL Legis. Council meeting. No recommendation from the Med. Advisory board has ever failed to pass into rule
@corbettsmithDMN: D.W. Rutledge, exec. dir. of THSCA, voted yes. Said majority of programs in the state already comply with 90-min. rule in-season. #txhsfb
(Cedar Hill football coach Joey McGuire) @Coach_McGuire50: @corbettsmithDMN I trust Coach Rutledge. If he has heard what they call full contact and is good with it so am I.
@sloan_coach: @corbettsmithDMN limiting "full-contact" practices will cause more damage in the long run. Repetition of proper technique is a better choice
@corbettsmithDMN: @sloan_coach That's why rule would apply in-season. Board recognizes need for proper instruction on technique in pre-season/spring.