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Football: Rule Changes Can Make a Difference


There is no denying it: football has been getting a lot of bad press in the last decade. No matter what aspect of the game you look it, or what level of play you focus on, there has been scandal and controversy: domestic violence all too vividly on display in the Ray Rice video; the NFL protests sparked by Colin Kaepernick; and of course, the increasing evidence of traumatic brain injury causing CTE later in life that can start as early as junior high, the discovery of which was told on the big screen by Will Smith in the movie “Concussion.” All of this negative press about football has led to a marked decline in participation in the sport at all levels.

It has also led to some important attempts to make the game safer. On October 1, 2018, the results of rule changes in the Ivy League Athletic Conference were published in a research letter in the medical journal JAMA. The rules changes involved moving the kickoff and touch back lines in football games, and were made in 2016. The concussion rate before the changes was 10.93 concussions per 1,000 plays; after the changes, the rate dropped to 2.04 concussions per 1,000 plays; this marks a 69% reduction. The year before the rule changes were instituted, 2015, kickoffs represented only 6% of all plays in football games, but 21% of concussions in the Ivy League Conference. (The Ivy League Conference consists of: Princeton, Dartmouth, Yale, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, Brown and Cornell.)


A previous study also showed promising effects of protective rule changes. Between 2009-2014, all 50 states plus the District of Columbia enacted what are commonly known as TBI or concussion laws. These laws mandate more protection in football practices and games for players with respect to traumatic brain injury risk. An example of one such law is more rigorous screening and tougher requirements before a player that has been out with a concussion can be allowed to play again. Georgia passed its own TBI or concussion law in 2013. The law, known as the “Return to Play Act,” requires public and private schools youth athletic activities and public recreation facilities to provide information to parents on the nature and risk of concussion and head injury and to establish concussion management and return to play policies. The law also provides for the endorsement of concussion recognition education courses.

On October 19, 2017, a study from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, in conjunction with Colorado School of Public Health and Temple University was published. The study sought to determine the effect of state-level TBI laws on trends of new and recurrent concussions among U.S. high school athletes. After an initial increase in concussion rates due to increased awareness and reporting—which is typical after more protective measures are enacted—a significant decline in concussion rates was found. This decline proves that the concussion laws are having a positive impact.


The next step might be to expand the rule changes regarding the kickoff and touch back lines from the Ivy League Athletic Conference to all of college football. Another good step would be to focus on what additional protective measures could be enacted that would lead to a similar decline in concussion and injury rate that the state-level TBI laws have had. Continuing to make football safer will keep players healthy, and will ensure that the game is played for decades to come.


If you or someone you know has been injured playing football or another sport, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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