NAPLES — A staple of high school football and a rite of passage for many young athletes could be eliminated in Collier County if new rules are passed by the state's prep sports governing body.
At a meeting last week, the Florida High School Athletic Association board of directors discussed a new rule cutting down preseason practice times to reduce heat-related illnesses. Among the requirements are that teams would not be allowed to hold two practices in one day during the first week of the season.
With school starting earlier in the area than in others across the state, the new guidelines could mean no more two-a-days for Collier County football teams. The prospect of losing practice time early in the year has some coaches concerned about being fully prepared once the games start.
“Where it's truly going to hurt is teaching the fundamentals of tackling and blocking,” Gulf Coast coach Pete Fominaya said. “The less time you spend on the field, the less time you have to teach proper techniques that avoid head injuries and concussions. The less time spent on tackling, the more injuries you see down the road.”
While teams are in spring ball now, practice for the 2012 season begins Aug. 6. Under the proposed rule changes, teams could only practice for three and a half hours during the first seven calendar days, and could not practice more than once a day. Any weightlifting or conditioning would count against the maximum amount of time.
In Collier County's public schools, teachers return to work a week before students, which usually coincides with the second week of practice. Head coaches and many assistants are teachers, and thus must spend their days at school that second week, often leaving the first week of football practice the only time available for two-a-days.
“I understand the changes because of the liability,” Barron Collier coach Dan Pallante said. “In Florida you have to limit the amount of time in the heat because it’s so difficult to handle. A coach would be crazy if they didn’t do it.”
Pallante said the Cougars might try to still work in two practices a day the second week, despite the coaches being in school. That could mean doing two short sessions in the evening.
However, the new changes, if passed as listed on the board of directors meetings agenda, would require three hours off between practices.
“It might possibly mean the end of double sessions in the state of Florida,” Pallante said.
No rule changes have been made just yet. Last week the Daily News reported the changes were official when a member of the FHSAA public relations staff said in an email that the rule would go into effect this fall. However, FHSAA senior director of athletics Gary Pigott emailed the Daily News on Friday to say the rules will not be finalized until June at the next board of directors meeting.
For Lee County football teams, the changes might not be as dramatic. Recently, Lee public schools have started a week before Collier, so the football coaches have been in school the first week of football practice.
“We don't have two-a-days because the county starts so early,” South Fort Myers coach Grant Redhead said.
Redhead added that he isn't worried about losing practice time due to the three-and-a-half-hour limitation because he never has practices that long to begin with.
“We're on the field for two hours and 15 minutes, max,” Redhead said. “After two hours, you lose (the players) mentally. If you can't get your work done in two hours, you need to plan better.”
One of the biggest concerns of the new practice policy is that weightlifting and conditioning would be included in practice time.
Some teams have their players lift before school so they have adequate time to recover before practice in the afternoon. The new rules would force coaches to balance time spent in the weight room and time spent on the field.
“The more fit a person is, the less prone they are to injuries,” said Palmetto Ridge athletic director Trent Holt, who is in Orlando this week for a meeting of statewide ADs. “Do you forgo fitness and conditioning to focus on fundamentals? That could place a student-athlete at a greater risk of getting injured.”
The proposed changes are revisions to an appendix in the FHSAA Handbook. In the handbook, the appendix “Considerations for Fall Preseason Practice” suggests the same rules regarding preseason acclimatization, but they are merely guidelines and not requirements. By adopting the new policy, the FHSAA would require its schools to follow the preseason practice schedule.