New York high school football league becomes first in the nation to ban kickoffs

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Concussion Legacy Foundation advised on a series of bold changes designed to reduce concussion rates, increase player safety

(NEW YORK CITY) – The Metropolitan Independent Football League (MIFL), which includes 11 New York City-area independent schools, unanimously voted to pass a series of safety measures, highlighted by eliminating kickoffs, including onside kicks, in all conference football games for its upcoming season. The kickoff ban is the first by a high school sports league in the country. The Concussion Legacy Foundation (CLF), led by co-founder and CEO Chris Nowinski, Ph.D., a former Harvard football player, advised on the changes.

“The coaches we interviewed who are former college football players were the biggest supporters of eliminating the kickoff. Their personal experiences, combined with the concussion data we shared, led to an important discussion about whether the kickoff was appropriate for children,” said Nowinski. “The Metropolitan Independent Football League decided the kickoff is too dangerous for minors, and I expect more leagues and states will follow.” 

Kickoffs have the highest injury rate per play in football. In 2015, the Ivy League reported in the journal Injury Prevention that kickoffs accounted for 6 percent of all plays but 21 percent of concussions. In response to this and similar data, football organizations have made rule changes to discourage kickoff returns, with mixed results, but the MIFL is the first to fully ban the play. The reform received unanimous support from MIFL voting members.

“As a coach I want the players and parents to know they are valued as people and their physical health is at the top of any decision we make as a program,” said Phil Treglia, Riverdale Country School head football coach.

Riverdale Athletics Director John Pizzi, who spearheaded the process, tapped Nowinski for guidance after a 2018 football season riddled with injuries.

“We had to cancel the last game of our season because we did not have enough healthy and experienced players,” said Pizzi. “I knew we had to change football in America to make it safer for our athletes.”

Nowinski and a team including 4-time Canadian Football League Grey Cup Champion Tim Fleiszer and Jeff Brooks, Ph.D. interviewed coaches, sports administrators, and medical teams from each school in the league to determine how injuries were occurring and explore what safety measures could be enacted to reduce the rate of those injuries.

In addition to the no-kickoff rule, onside kicks will not be permitted; instead, in the last five minutes of the second and fourth quarter, the offensive team can opt for the fourth-down play to start at their own 40-yard line. The team must advance 12 yards; otherwise, it is a change in possession where the ball is stopped. But the team may not advance past the defensive team’s 48-yard line regardless of the number of yards gained on the play. 

Other approved regulations include limiting full-contact playing time for a player to 15 minutes a week and prohibiting double-session practices on consecutive days. Teams are now required to have both a doctor and EMT/ambulance present at all varsity contests and to provide adequate medical transportation to and from the field for injured players. Finally, traveling teams are encouraged to bring a certified athletic trainer to games.

CLF urges other high school leagues across the country to enact similar rules changes and put the long-term health of their athletes first. Athletic Directors and coaches interesting in learning about making safety rule changes at their schools can contact us at info@concussionfoundation.org.

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