Posted: 1:47 pm Saturday, August 14th, 2010

High school rule changes help the fight against concussions 

By Matt Porter

Nothing earth-shattering came out of Wednesday’s Palm Beach County Coaches meeting at John I. Leonard, but here are two changes of note:

1. Expanded concussion rule

Before, the National Federation of High Schools rulebook directed officials to remove an athlete from play “if unconscious or apparently unconscious.”

This year, the language prompts officials to remove an athlete from play if he or she shows signs of a concussion. In addition, the player must be cleared by an “authorized medical professional” before re-entering a game.

An approved medical professional is a medical doctor, orthopedic doctor, licensed physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner. In the state of Florida, “approved medial professional” does not mean a certified athletic trainer.

Schools are recommended, but not required to provide a medical professional at games. “It comes down to money,” said Tom Urso, training coordinator for the East Coast Football Officials Association and a Palm Beach County football referee. “Some schools have them, some schools don’t.”

During the football coaches portion of Wednesday’s meeting, only two coaches said they had approved medical professionals traveling with them. Roughly 20 programs were represented at the meeting.

(Of course, if a player shows obvious signs of a concussion, a sensible thing to do is have them sit out and visit their doctor the next day, rather than rush to get them back in the game.)

During last year’s football season, Urso said, he sent one player off for concussion-like symptoms. Data is not kept of how many players were sent off in total.

2. Expanded sideline ‘restricted zone’ rule

This rule is just to keep everyone in line.

On a football field, there’s a box between the 25-yard lines, in front of where the rest of the team team stands.

Coaches can stand in that box between plays, but must return to the sidelines while the snap is imminent. Previously, coaches could stay there during play.

If an official makes contact with a coach, player or other team personnel (a photographer, for example) during play, the ref will call a personal foul and 15-yard penalty. On second offense, the offending team’s head coach will be booted from the game.

Urso said he’s never run into anyone during a play, and didn’t hear of it happening anywhere in the area last year. “It’s a safety issue,” he said.

Other (very) minor changes: Before, a player’s gloves could not be the same color as a penalty flag. Now they can be, which means if they want to, players like Boca Raton’s Keith Byars II can further coordinate their uniform colors. … Also, teams may only have a maximum of four players on the field during a coin toss.