Football solution is more time

Posted Sept. 18, 2008, at 11:26 p.m.

I’ve had this math problem for the last three years now.

For a while I let it go, believing it was just my problem — much like the problem I had the first time I took college calculus.

But now there’s talk among some of the state’s athletic administrators, coaches and trainers about the same math problem, which involves the current preseason format for high school football in the state.

Under this format, no contact is allowed during the first two days of practice, and full contact is not allowed until Day 5, or the Friday of the first week.

Such a conditioning period is fine by me and can serve as a model for all sports seasons.

But the math problem comes with the schedule that follows: the first two days of full-contact practices, then Sunday off, followed the next day by the first full-contact scrimmage against an opposing team. While those scrimmages are controlled, there are limits to that control when it comes to blocking and tackling — particularly with just a couple of days of full contact to prepare.

Scrimmage day is followed by three more days of practice before the first no-holds-barred exhibition games Friday or Saturday of the second week of practice.

To recap, players have two days of full-contact practices, then a day off, then two days of full contact against other teams within a four- or five-day span.

It seems there aren’t enough full-contact practices to prepare players for the first scrimmage, then not nearly enough time between the scrimmage and the exhibition game.

The reality is that the second week of practice may be the most physically demanding week of the season. Once the regular season begins, teams play Friday or Saturday, then build back up for a single game the next weekend.

Given the current preseason schedule, it’s no surprise that some coaches say they are finding a higher prevalence of injuries before the start of the regular season now than they did under the previous format that allowed for more contact in advance of scrimmages and exhibition games.

The goal for all is the safety of the athletes, and in that regard there are steps available to address these concerns.

Consider the precedent of high school baseball and softball. The Maine Principals’ Association allows pitchers and catchers an extra week to strengthen their arms before regular preseason practices begin for the rest of the team.

Allow football teams a similar additional week of preseason practice devoted solely to conditioning with no contact, no double sessions and strictly monitored time limits in order to address any heat-related concerns of mid-August.

Then allow limited contact the Monday and Tuesday of the following week, with full-contact practices the next three days leading up to the initial preseason scrimmage on the second Saturday.

After that scrimmage, teams then would have a full week for recovery and preparation for the exhibition game, just as they now have between regular-season games.

Continue to have the two-week hands-off period between coaches and players just before the start of preseason, just move it up a week for football to allow for the extra week of conditioning practices.

Football is a unique sport because of its level of contact, and with that uniqueness comes a responsibility to do everything possible to enhance the safety of all who play the game.

Much has been done, but perhaps there’s room for more — and that’s more than a math problem.

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