In 2012, athletic directors from several districts around the state championed an amendment to the WIAA Handbook that would have effectively ended spring football in its current form by disallowing athletes from using school-issued football pads during the offseason.
The amendment was met with harsh skepticism by area coaches and ultimately failed to pass through the WIAA Representative Assembly.
In a few weeks, the struggle to limit offseason football workouts will close another chapter as the assembly concludes voting on another amendment with similar intentions.
The state-mandated “dead period”, when coaches are not allowed to have any contact with players, begins July 31 and ends on the first day of fall camp. But between the end of the final spring sports championship and July 31, coaches are currently permitted to hold unlimited practices, padded or otherwise, including full-contact scrimmages with other teams.
Common practice among KingCo schools is two weeks (ten days) of spring football, passing camps or seven-on-seven tournaments in the summer and a team camp hosted by a local university (Puget Sound, Central Washington) that serves a team-bonding experience and allows for controlled scrimmages with other schools.
WIAA High School Amendment 10, entitled “High School Football Practice Requirements,” would change all of that by limiting the number of days a team can practice between the end of spring sports and July 31 to 10 padded, full-contact practices and a total of 20 days under the supervision of the coaching staff. While weight lifting and conditioning workouts would not be subject to the new 20 day rule, seven-on-seven competitions and team camps would.
According to many around the ultra-competitive KingCo conference, including Skyline’s Mat Taylor, the rule would have some unintended consequences.
“I’m very flexible, you can ask any kid that has played for me and also played baseball or lacrosse,” Taylor said. “It is forcing me to basically make spring football activities mandatory.”
Without the option of wearing pads for each practice after the mandatory three-day acclimation period, Taylor said those designated practices in full-gear become that much more important and will force his players to make a decision between select baseball, national lacrosse and soccer tournaments and offseason football work that paves the road for the fall trips to the Tacoma Dome.
Eastlake head coach Don Bartel enters his first year leading the Wolves after stints at Enumclaw and most recently as the defensive coordinator of the Spartans’ state title squad in 2012.
Even with a Pac-12 bound linebacker in Peyton Pelleur, Bartel said the focus is always on safety through proper fundamentals and added that reducing repetitions in a sport like football is more likely to cause injury in a full-speed situation than prevent it.
“I can’t tell you how much piece-by-piece tackling work we did with that group to make sure they were safe,” he said.
The WIAA has a different stance, citing research suggesting repeated, low-impact head trauma lowers the threshold for major injuries over the course of time.
John Miller of the WIAA said despite the uncertainty of coaches in opposition to the amendment, it is simply another added dimension to the safety concerns currently reshaping the game.
“It revolves around the current stuff we’re seeing with regard to the risk of concussions,” Miller said. “We see throughout the country that limitations are being placed on the amount of contact coaches can have with athletes during the off-season.”
Miller cited a new piece of legislation in Texas– a place where football is as firmly ingrained into the culture as anywhere in America- that aims to limit full-contact practices to once per week in-season.
Ferndale, which made eight straight 3A state tournament appearances from 2003-10 and won the 2005 state title behind quarterback Jake Locker, was one of five schools listed on the amendment and athletic director Vic Randall said the school signed off on the proposed legislation with the safety of student-athletes in mind.
Randall said while the amendment may not be popular with some coaches, regulating out-of-season football practice statewide in necessary in his view.
“In my mind, they wanted to set some standards,” Randall said. “Our intent was to get the dialogue going and bring people together to talk about it.”
But others have said it seems more like an attempt to punish the coaching staffs and players willing to commit to spring and summer activities, since they already limit contact and full-pad practices in an effort to mitigate head trauma and other injuries.
“The issue of 20 practices has never bothered me because we have never done more than 20 at Skyline,” Taylor said. “It is going to force me to change the way I do things.”
The Spartans current schedule calls for eight practices in shells (helmets and shoulder pads) that do not include scrimmaging, five days of passing camps and four days at a team camp.
If Amendment 10 passes, some of those days will be reduced to little more than glorified conditioning, according to coaches.
Those in opposition to last year’s amendment contended many practices in shells or even full pads are more to acclimate players to playing in full gear than an opportunity to have contact, and are often used a preventative measure in the case of passing camps, where receivers and defensive backs risk head trauma by incidental contact without helmets.
Bartel said among other unintended consequences, the football scene could see even more growth of the already expanding “combine” system, where private individuals that are unaffiliated with the WIAA or any school host testing events and passing competitions for prep athletes.
College coaches are not allowed to attend such events because of NCAA recruiting bylaws, but those who run the camps are still able to cull a volume of preps, including some of the top prospects, based on the promise of recognition.
“We already have guys running this stuff that is basically a money-maker,” Bartel said. “They will run these kids ragged.”
WIAA Representative Assembly docket
The voting on this year’s amendments began on April 1 and will conclude April 19, with each amendment needing 60 percent of the total votes to be adopted as a regulation.
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