Sam Mellinger

Big 12’s new contact rule might not change that much

K-State defensive back Dante Barnett extends to make a tackle against Baylor in 2014.
K-State defensive back Dante Barnett extends to make a tackle against Baylor in 2014. File photo

The first bit of real news from Big 12 Media Days here came before the first question. Bob Bowlsby, the commissioner, mentioned in his opening statement that the league had adopted what is believed to be the first-of-its-kind limitation on contact for football teams.

Rustin Dodd has the news here, but basically, schools voted to limit themselves to just two “live contact opportunities” per week. That includes games, so most weeks, there will be just one day of full-contact practice.

Among those listening to Bowlsby’s words was Robert Smith, the former star running back for Ohio State and the NFL’s Vikings, who now works as a college football analyst. Smith retired from the NFL after eight seasons, in large part to avoid injuries, and has been outspoken about player safety.

Smith noted that all the coaches who spoke here on Monday expressed support for the measure. Most of them added that it would not drastically change how they run practices.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “And adding people in the booth, keeping an eye on players on the field, the awareness obviously is much better now. They’re doing a lot of good things in trying to monitor players and limit the amount of contact they get, especially to the head.

“The mentality has changed. Twenty years ago, there were a lot more teams that said you have to practice a certain way, you have to get your hits in, and you have to be in pads to do that.”

Smith said the one-full-contact-practice-a-week plan is what he did with the Vikings, and that in college it was usually two. There are ways to stretch those rules, including what is sometimes called “thud,” where defenders hit and wrap ball carriers but don’t drag them to the ground.

But it’s worth noting that many coaches run closed practices, so monitoring the amount of contact is difficult at best.

And here’s another point: if football has a safety problem, and most coaches won’t have to change their ways to follow this new rule, then it’s easy to wonder what affect this can have.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send email to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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