Could the NFL be next?
The Canadian Football League is taking two serious steps to improve player safety.
The league announced Wednesday that with eight weeks left in the season it is immediately discontinuing full-contact practices outside of training camp. Teams were previously allowed 17 full-contact practices each year during the regular season.
The CFL will also be expanding its schedule beginning next season to give teams an extra bye week. The league currently plays an 18-game schedule over 20 weeks, and even with two bye weeks per team some clubs still end up occasionally playing three games in 11 days. Beginning next season, the schedule will be expanded to 21 weeks and teams will have three bye weeks. The league already plays an abbreviated two-game preseason schedule, in contrast to the NFL’s four exhibition games.
“We have developed and agreed upon these changes in the spirit of partnership and in pursuit of a shared goal: making the game we all love safer for the elite athletes who thrill our fans with their skill and talent,” CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said in a statement. Ambrosie, it’s worth noting, is also a former CFL player.
The obvious next step is to wonder whether the NFL would ever make a similar move. The NFL currently limits its teams to 14 contact practices during the regular season, 11 of which come in the first 11 weeks of the season. During those first 11 weeks, teams can only have two padded practices in a single week once. One padded practice per week is already a significant reduction in contact compared to previous eras but limiting collisions to gameday obviously has its merits, as the CFL has decided.
It’s a difficult question, though, because contact practices, despite the obvious health concerns, are valuable to players who need to work on their tackling, blocking and line play. This spring, The MMQB’s Albert Breer spoke with coaches who speculated that backup linemen are more difficult to develop when you can’t hit in practice. The NFL will no doubt be keeping a close eye on how the rule changes impact the game north of the border.