If you're a college football fan, this past week was bittersweet.
The Phil Steele College Football Preview hit the newsstands. It's the go-to book for hard-core fan, chock-full of information, ratings, charts and data produced by a college football junkie who lives outside of Cleveland.
At about the same time, however, came a Sports Illustrated story revealing that former Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski, who committed suicide at the age of 21 earlier this year, was found to be suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative brain disease found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma.
According to the story, Hilinksi had the brain of a 65-year-old.
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These growing revelations regarding CTE make those of us who love football fear for the long-term future of the sport. It is bad enough for NFL players to be diagnosed with the disease. It's something quite different when a college football player is found to be suffering, as well.
The sport has taken some steps to make the game safer, but subtle changes aren't going to fix the problem. Sooner rather than later, radical moves will be required. Here are five suggestions:
▪ 1. Reduce college football's regular season to 10 games. Schedules didn't expand to 11 games until 1970. The 12-game schedule became permanent in 2002. Money was the reason, of course. The extra opponents are normally guarantee games, however, in which big schools pay big money to smaller schools for a lucrative home game. Instead, conferences should play an eight-game conference schedule leaving members two non-conference games -- one home, one away. That's it.
Yes, this would mean reduced revenue for athletic departments. Because of television rights fees and larger stadiums, football is the big-ticket item. Still, better to take a revenue hit now than for the sport to disappear because not enough young men are willing to take the health risks.
▪ 2. Eliminate contact drills in spring practice. You could make a strong case to eliminate spring practice entirely, but coaches would argue for the increased teaching time. OK then, make it about teaching. There is no real need for blocking and tackling drills four months before the start of training camp.
▪ 3. Eliminate kickoffs. The NCAA rules committee has taken steps in this direction. The latest change says a fair catch of a kickoff inside the 25-yard-line is the same as a touchback. There has been talk of moving kickoffs to the 40-yard line, a move the Ivy League recently made that significantly reduced injuries.
Time to bite the bullet. Eliminate the kickoff altogether. Watching a kick sail out of the end zone is a waste of time in a game that has grown longer in recent years. After a scoring play, place the ball at the opponent's 30-yard-line and start from there.
▪ 4. Spend more on player safety. Alabama just opened a $14 million Sports and Nutrition Facility that features 25,000 square feet, five performance chefs and four dietitians. That's great. But how about spending that money on hiring more trainers and medical personnel? How about developing safer helmets, better equipment and more studies into how to treat and avoid concussions?
▪ 5. Eliminate youth and middle school tackle football. Back in the 1990s, when Bill Curry was coaching at Kentucky, the former NFL center said he believed kids should not play football in pads until high school. Studies have backed that up, showing that repetitive blows to the head, even in a helmet, can damage a developing brain.
Tom Brady is considered the greatest quarterback of all time. Jerry Rice is considered the greatest wide receiver of all time. Neither played tackle football until high school.
There are other ideas. Reduce the number of bowl games. Eliminate the clock stoppage after first downs. Outlaw the three-point stance. Mandatory absence after a concussion. Create a licensing board like the one used in boxing. All are worthy of discussion.
The game's very existence could be at stake.