Amid mounting concern over concussions and head injuries in football, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association has endorsed a new set of safety standards that will be enforced at the state playoff level this fall.
The Tommy Tough Football Safety Standards — named for Thomas Cutinella, a Long Island football player who suffered a fatal head injury in a 2014 high school game — focus on minimizing the risk of injury, particularly with targeting and leading with the helmet.
“It’s an effort to be more attuned to player safety and limit the risk of injury,” said NYSPHSAA Executive Director Robert Zayas. “We can never completely get rid of risk, but we can minimize it.”
“It’s a great thing for all of us to make sure everyone is on the same page, as far as removing the head from the tackle, changing the way we’re teaching (tackling),” Schuylerville head coach John Bowen said. “We’ve turned the corner — we’re doing it significantly different now. I think it’s taking the game in the right direction — take the head and face out of the hit.”
According to the Section XI athletic website, as part of the standards, a player flagged for an illegal hit must leave the field for at least one play, in addition to the appropriate yardage penalty. Flagrant illegal hits will still carry an ejection penalty.
Having a player leave the field for a play will “serve as a teachable moment for those kids,” Zayas said. “One of the coaches can take him to the side to tell him why that hit is dangerous for him and the opponent.”
NYSPHSAA’s Central Committee endorsed the Tommy Tough standards at its July meeting, leaving it up to each section how they adopt it this season. The standards will be enforced at the state level this season, beginning with the quarterfinals (regionals) of the State Football Tournament.
“Right now, we’ve left it up to the sections — that’s the way the membership wanted it, and it will be up to the membership if they want to make it mandatory in the future,” Zayas said.
In a Daily Gazette article last month, Section II football chairman Bob Dorrance said Section II has not yet adopted the standards, adding, “We want to make sure we implement it and do it correctly and consistently across the section.”
“Play in and play out, if we’re able to put the kids in safe angles, safe approaches, safe contact points, safe points of aim, I think we’re heading in the right direction,” Bowen said.