Pac-12 limits full-contact practices to two per week

LOS ANGELES -- The Pac-12 became the second Division I conference to limit full contact practices, citing concerns about student-athlete safety.

Pac-12 teams will be able to conduct a maximum of two full-contact practices per week during the regular season, commissioner Larry Scott announced Friday at the conference's media day. The Ivy League is the other Division I league to formally limit full contact (also two days a week).

Stanford's David Shaw confirmed there was unanimity among Pac-12 coaches on the change. The limits go beyond those of the NCAA.

Scott said the guidelines "struck a fine balance between staying healthy and staying sharp."

College coaches around the country have been hitting less and less because of injury concerns. But coaches being coaches, some don't want to be told how to run their programs.

“I think that's a slippery slope. I think we've got to be careful there,” Penn State's Bill O'Brien said. “It's a contact sport. It's a collision sport. It's played by tough guys who like to hit each other. At the same time, the health and safety of the player there is nothing more important. I still would like us to study it more."

The issue of player safety and head injuries may be the No. 1 issue in college sports at the moment. The NCAA is facing a 2-year-old lawsuit that is seeking class-action status. In May, the SEC said concussions are the NCAA's responsiblity. The Big 12 has a position statement on concussions. The Big Ten and Ivy are collaborating on a head injury study.

I asked Urban Meyer this week about the prospect of someone telling him how often his teams could hit during the week. The Big Ten and Ivy are partners in a head injury study.

“If it's for the safety of the player and it's scientifically proven I'd certainly listen,” Meyer said. “I am into that right now. I don't think [the conference would] have to come to us.”

Meyer said he has adjusted punt and kickoff drills in practice to lessen injuries.

In the Pac-12, preseason practices will be limited to one full-contact drill on days when there are two-a-day practices. If full-contact drills are conducted around a two-a-day, only one of those shall be more than 50 percent full contact.

During spring practice, the NCAA allows eight full-contact drills. The Pac-12 will now limit those practices to only two in a given week.

The Pac-12 defined full-contact as "any live tackling, live tackling drills, scrimmages or other activities where players are generally taken to the ground." So-called “thud” practices when a player is wrapped up but not taken to the ground are not considered full contact.

“I think the new practice guidelines are a good idea,” Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. “I'm kind of glad the conference took the lead on that. This is kind of a message from our coaches.”

The Pac-12 is moving forward with its student-athlete health and well-being research program. In 2014, the conference will convene a summit on student-athlete welfare. It is committing $3.5 million in research grants.

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