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Pac-12 Announces Plan to Limit Contact in Football Practices

As part of a new Student-Athlete Health and Well-Being Initiative, the Pac-12 conference has announced a plan to limit the amount of contact allowed in football practices starting in the fall.

Although this particular move won't have an immediate impact on current high school student-athletes, it's almost certain to affect some in the long run.

Currently, the National Collegiate Athletic Association allows football coaches to conduct up to five full-contact practices per week. Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said Monday that the conference will limit hits to "less than what the NCAA permits," according to the Associated Press, although it's unclear exactly what the new restrictions will be. The final details of the plan are to be revealed on July 26 during the conference's football media day.

"In our discussions, it became clear this is a topic our coaches are focused on," Scott said Monday, according to the AP. "There is a high degree of awareness about it and a deep commitment to it. It was a high priority."

The Ivy League conference set the precedent for this particular Pac-12 move back in 2011, when it started limiting football coaches to a maximum of two full-contact practices per week. The National Football League's latest collective bargaining agreement likewise restricts coaches to a total of 14 padded practices throughout the regular season, 11 of which must be held within the first 11 weeks of the season. In the youth-football realm, Pop Warner implemented a ban in the summer of 2012 on coaches utilizing more than one-third of practice time for contact drills.

The Pac-12's new student-athlete well-being initiative isn't just limited to football players, however. The conference announced on Monday that it will devote $3.5 million in research grants for projects at its institutions devoted to improving student-athlete health. The Big Ten Conference and the Ivy League announced a similar joint partnership last summer.

The Pac-12 also revealed plans this week to establish a head-trauma task force.

Calls for NCAA Leadership on Concussions

In recent months, the NCAA has faced a slew of criticism over its response (or lack thereof) to the growing issue of concussions in sports.

A scathing column by SportsOnEarth's Patrick Hruby in January accused the NCAA of "largely sitting on their hands" in regards to sports-related concussions due to legal liability. Paul Anderson, the publisher of NFLconcussionlitigation.com, told Hruby that by taking a hands-off approach, the NCAA is delegating legal responsibility to individual member institutions.

"If the NCAA doesn't acknowledge college football's brain-trauma problem in anything but the most general terms, and doesn't try to do anything about the problem beyond making a few general suggestions, then neither a judge nor jury will be able to hold the organization responsible when the sport produces life-altering injuries and subsequent lawsuits," Hruby wrote.

Likewise, Rod Gilmore wrote a column for ESPN.com in April calling for the NCAA to change its rules regarding the amount of contact permitted in football practices. He suggested reducing the number of allowed full-contact football practices to two per week in the first half of the season and one per week during the second half of the season.

The Southeastern Conference recently joined the chorus clamoring for more action from the NCAA.

"Prevention and treatment of concussion injuries is a national concern that needs and deserves a coordinated national effort," said SEC Commissioner Mike Slive in a statement last week, according to AL.com. "For this reason, the presidents and chancellors will make a formal request that the NCAA take the lead in organizing and spearheading a national research effort and examining possible revisions to playing rules in football and other sports."

Chris Nowinski, the executive director of the Boston-based Sports Legacy Institute, recently told Jon Solomon of The Birmingham News that the NCAA isn't working fast enough on the issue of concussions.

"I hope [conferences] are willing to innovate and not wait for the NCAA, which may not ever make the move," Nowinski said.

Data released last fall by the NCAA suggest that the rate of football-related concussions has remained relatively steady over the past eight years, despite the recent wave of sports-concussion awareness.

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