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What Will Football Look Like in 10 to 15 Years?

January 29, 2016 11:09 AM

What Will Football Look Like in 10 to 15 Years?

By Terry O’Neil

On behalf of Dartmouth Head Coach Buddy Teevens and our team at Practice Like Pros, thanks so much for your warm welcome January 21 at the MHSFCA clinic in Lansing.  One of your coaches came to us afterward and said, “I have to change.  I know I have to change.”

We are often asked what football will look like in 10 to 15 years.  We fervently hope that gameday will be unchanged.  We strongly oppose radical proposals such as eliminating kick/punt returns and banning the three-point stance.  Instead, we expect this evolution….  

There will be no contact football below age 14/ninth grade.  But flag football will be a rage – the most popular youth sport ever, far outstripping soccer, baseball and contact football in their peak years.  And boys won’t have all the fun; girls’ flag leagues will boom.  Injury risk is low, engagement is high, every player is an eligible pass receiver, everybody touches the ball.  In the words of Archie Manning, “What a great game flag football is.”

Boys who intend to play contact football in high school will begin preparing in 7th and 8th grades.  They’ll have mandatory, supervised weight training, particularly neck strengthening.  They’ll learn the fundamentals of tackling in a limited-contact format, wearing only shorts and T-shirts, no helmets.  To avoid high-speed collision, these no-pads drills will begin with players just 18 inches apart.

The universally accepted tackling technique at all levels of football will be rugby-style tackling, aka, Seahawks Tackling, as introduced by Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll and taught superbly by his assistant head coach, Rocky Seto. 

High schools will offer both contact and flag football.  To play contact, boys must demonstrate sufficient strength, conditioning and thorough understanding of blocking/tackling.  Their pre-season physical exams will more be rigorous, including intensive heart screening.

Flag football will be an exciting addition to high school sports.  The game will be wide open, high scoring.  There will be no stigma to playing flag versus contact football.  The flag game will be thrillingly fast and skilled. Players, parents and fans will come to recognize, without apology, that contact football is not for everybody.

Coaching of tackle football will be fully revolutionized.  There will be no full-contact practice in spring/summer/off-season.  And none during the season.  Other than games, the only full-contact will be in pre-season, when coaches will be permitted ten minutes of live hitting in a two-hour practice.  All pre-season scrimmages will be played in limited-contact formats.

High school coaches will learn this approach from our own Buddy Teevens, the only Division 1 college coach who never allows his team to tackle in practice.  Never.  His squad goes full-contact only 10 days per year – on their 10 gamedays.

What?  In a game of torn ligaments and spilt blood, his players don’t hit each other in practice?  Is he successful?  Dartmouth’s record in the past 23 games is 20-3.  In the season just finished, the Big Green won the Ivy League title for the first time in 19 years.  Its defense -- the defense that never tackles in practice – finished top-6 in all defensive categories among 125 FCS college teams.

Litigation in the next 10-to-15 years will be fierce.  Personal injury claims will target not just school boards but also coaches, individually named as defendants for wrongful death and conscious pain and suffering.

Football science in the next decade will feature a study of neuro-catastrophic injury at the high school level.  The past three seasons have produced an alarming 20 contact-related deaths and dozens of permanent physical disabilities.  We’ve learned virtually nothing from these tragedies.  Some of these boys were buried without so much as an autopsy.

The suspicion is that many of them were victims of second-impact syndrome in which an injured brain, still bleeding and swelling from a first concussion, suffers another blow.  If we can secure funding for this project, two of the nation’s top neuro-scientists, Dr. Ann McKee and Dr. Robert C. Cantu, have committed to execute the research.

Another scientific advance, long awaited, is an objective test for concussion.  It’s a blood test that will identify certain proteins present only in a concussed brain.  This break-through will allow doctors, finally, to declare a decisive diagnosis.  Without an objective test, take it from the parent of a college football player:  Impetuous young men will hide symptoms in order to stay on the field.

But here’s the headline:  Friday night and Saturday afternoon will be approximately the same as you see today.  No rules changes are forthcoming to reduce danger any further.  Injury risk will be correctly quantified, labeled and accepted by participants -- no longer denied by administrators -- but it will be limited to gameday.  In order to preserve itself, high school football, and maybe the college game, too, will concede practice-field reforms outlined above.

But that’s years ahead.  Meanwhile, Practice Like Pros continues touring the country to show high school coaches – not tell them, show them on video – how to practice with less contact.  Rocky Seto tours with us.  And Dr. Bob Cantu.  And Warren Moon, Anthony Munoz, Mike Ditka, Tony Dorsett, Leonard Marshall, Cornelius Bennett, Sam Wyche and many others – all appearing for no fee -- because they’ve seen the future of football. 


Terry O’Neil is the former executive producer of CBS Sports and NBC Sports, former senior vice president of the New Orleans Saints.  Presently, he is founder/CEO of Practice Like Pros, a national movement to reduce death and needless injury in high school football.  Web site address is  


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