NATA/American Football Coaches Association Task Force Encourages Rule Change Spearing in Collegiate Football

National Collegiate Athletic Association to Change Rule in Time for New Season

DALLAS, TX, August 4 – When college football preseason practices begin in August, players, coaches and officials throughout the country will receive instruction on new changes in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules on “spearing.” According to the NCAA Football 2005 Rules and Interpretations – “No player shall use his helmet (including the face mask) to butt or ram an opponent or attempt to punish him. There shall be no spearing. No player shall strike a runner with the crown or the top of his helmet in an attempt to punish him.” “The spearing rules were revised to help prevent head and neck injuries,” says Ron Courson, ATC, PT, NREMT-I, CSCS, director of Sports Medicine, University of Georgia, who headed the 32-member task force which the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) and the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) co-sponsored in January 2005. The task force was composed of physicians, athletic trainers, researchers, coaches, football officials and administrators from the NATA, NCAA and other governing bodies. “We want players to be aware of the dangers of head-down contact and spearing, which can cause catastrophic cervical spine and head injuries,” says Courson, who also chairs the NATA’s College/University Athletic Trainers’ Committee. “Each time a player initiates contact with his head down, he risks quadriplegia. Each time a player initiates contact head first, he increases the risk of concussion.” Since 1984, there have been 94 cerebral injuries with incomplete recovery, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at the University of North Carolina. In 2004, five football players died as a result of their injuries, four from helmet-to-helmet contact. “We’ve seen a major reduction in these types of injuries since the original 1976 rule went into effect, and with the new rule change, expect this trend to continue into 2005,” says Frederick O. Mueller, PhD, director for the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at the University of North Carolina. Courson was among the University of Georgia’s medical staff that attended to wide receiver Reggie Brown after a helmet to helmet tackle on Nov. 13, 2004 which rendered Brown unconscious. Another high profile injury that raised widespread awareness last season happened to Drew Hixon, a wide receiver from Tennessee Tech University, who received a violent helmet blow from an opposing defensive back, resulting in a severe closed head injury. Hixon was in a coma following the injury and continues to undergo rehabilitation today. After the Brown injury, it occurred to Courson that he had never seen a spearing penalty called during the time he’d been an athletic trainer in the SEC. He discovered that other colleagues had similar experiences. “In the past, few penalties had been called because the previous NCAA spearing rule left it to the officials to determine if a player intentionally used his helmet to injure,” says Courson. “Our task force conducted a survey of college football officials from multiple conferences and found that officials were hesitant to call the foul in some cases because intent is difficult to determine.” During the 2005 football season, Courson hopes a new NCAA poster will hang in every locker room across the country reminding players of the dangers of spearing. “The idea is to provide a daily visual reminder on safe technique and injury prevention.” The poster, designed by members of the spearing task force, was produced by the NCAA and will be sent to every NCAA institution nationwide. “We are committed to a formal education program on the rule change and are confident that this kind of outreach can ultimately help reduce risk of catastrophic injury,” says David Klossner, PhD, ATC, assistant director of education outreach, National Collegiate Athletic Association. Grant Teaff, executive director, American Football Coaches Association (AFCA), agrees. “The posters will serve as a valuable reminder to players, coaches and officials to play safe,” says Teaff. “We at the AFCA are committed to the health and well-being of all college football players. The NCAA rule change is very significant and will help reduce injuries and enhance the competitive spirit. I’m delighted the NCAA has revised its spearing rules after nearly 30 years.” In addition, educational presentations have been developed for student-athletes, coaches and officials to better understand the mechanisms of injury that cause head and neck injuries. “We have always worked closely with AFCA and NCAA on health and safety programs that ultimately benefit the student-athlete,” adds Chuck Kimmel, ATC, president, National Athletic Trainers’ Association and head athletic trainer at Austin Peay State University. “The change to the spearing rule and the education campaign we are launching truly make this a win-win for all involved.” About the NATA: Certified athletic trainers (ATCs) are unique health care providers who specialize in the prevention, assessment, treatment and rehabilitation of injuries and illnesses that occur to athletes and the physically active. The National Athletic Trainers' Association represents and supports 30,000 members of the athletic training profession through education and research. NATA, 2952 Stemmons Freeway, Ste. 200, Dallas, TX 75247, 214.637.6282; 214.637.2206 (fax).

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