As more and more families keep their children away from youth football because of safety concerns, the sport’s governing body is attempting to stem that by introducing a new package of rules changes. The new format brings the game much closer to flag football in order to quell some of the current format’s inherent violence.
- Each team will play six to nine players instead of the current 11
- Kickoffs and punts will be eliminated
- Players will start in a crouch instead of a three point stance
- The field will be smaller (though there are no specifics)
Here’s what Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy — also a board member at USA Football — had to say about it:
“The issue is participation has dropped, and there’s concern among parents about when is the right age to start playing tackle, if at all,”
“There are, legitimately, concerns among parents about allowing their kids to play tackle football at a young age, so they can look at this and say they’ll be more comfortable that it is a safer alternative.”
Whether these changes will do enough to assuage concerned parents remains to be seen, as the link between traumatic brain injuries and the repeated head trauma from football continues to grow and grow.
USA Football executive director Scott Hallenbeck said, “All of this is all about how do we do a better job, and a smarter job around the development of athletes and coaches in the game of football.”
Flag football participation has increased by 8.7% over the past year, Hallenbeck added. In contrast, participation in youth football has fallen by 20% since 2009 although there was a small rebound of 1.2% in participation in 2015. A recent Reuters poll suggests that 73% of parents surveyed would either be “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to let their kids play football.
The first scrimmages with these new rules were played back in September with youth teams in Cleveland, and the initial evidence was positive, although more work will still be needed.
“By bringing the field in, first of all, I think there’s better form tackling because less speed, less momentum, more one-on-one tackling,” said St. Ignatius High School Head Coach Chuck Kyle. “I didn’t see as many pileups, because there’s seven people” on a side, not 11.
Although at the recent convention, held three miles away from the Pro Bowl in Orlando, not everyone was quite ready to accept the changes to the sport, even at youth level:
“There are a lot of geniuses out there that are diminishing football right now,” said Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden. “There are a lot of geniuses that are trying to damage the game, and ruin the game. Do you feel it? There are a lot of geniuses that want to eliminate all sports, including recess.”
“Not on my watch, and clap your hands if you’re with me on that,” he added, to loud applause.
However, most at the convention believe that the modified rules package will help the sport become safer for the players and allay concerns many parents have about its safety.